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Obituaries & Guest Book

Virgil Kunde

Saturday, March 14, 2020 from 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm

Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home

Saturday, March 14, 2020 at 1:00 pm

Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home


Virgil George Kunde, 83, of Hagerstown, MD, passed away, Tuesday, March 10, 2020, at his home.

Born Monday, March 30, 1936 in Goodhue, MN, he was the son of the late Fredrick Karl Kunde and the late Marion C. (Lohmann) Kunde. He was also raised by the late Siena (Grote) Deden.

Virgil graduated from Red Wing High School in MN. He later received his Bachelor's Degree from NC State and then his Masters from UMD.

Virgil was an Astrophysicist for NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD. His 50 year career included the Voyager and Cassini projects.

Family was very important to Virgil and he also enjoyed gardening and volleyball.

He was a veteran of the U.S. Army, where he proudly served as a paratrooper and was a member of Morris Frock Post 42.   

He is survived by his loving wife, Joanne Kunde; son, Gerald Kunde and wife Karen of Wolfsville, MD; two daughters, Katherine Casidy and husband David of Smithsburg, MD, and Karen (Bobbitt) Jespersen; grandchildren, Shannon Skinner and husband Chris, Matthew Bobbitt and wife Jessica, Justin Casidy and wife Lynh, Natalie Bobbitt, Melanie Bobbitt; great-grandchildren, Kayla Ashby, (who lives with Virgil and Joanne) Willow Bobbitt, Lincoln Skinner, Andrew Skinner, Jace Skinner; and Theresa, Joey, Robbie, Cory and wife Danielle and their children, Camden and Amelia; Danielle and Jon and their child Carter; and his brother, Charlie and wife Mary.

In addition to his parents, Virgil is preceded in death by his granddaughter, Nicole Ashby and siblings, Virgil and Verna.

Services will be held Saturday, March 14, 2020, at 1:00 pm, at the Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home, 1331 Eastern Blvd. North Hagerstown, MD, with the Pastor Eric Moser officiating.

Family will receive friends at the funeral home, Saturday, March 14, 2020, 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm.

Interment will be at the St. Mark's Lutheran Church Cemetery in Smithsburg, MD.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society or to the Hospice of Washington County, 747 Northern Ave, Hagerstown, MD 21742.

Online condolences may be expressed at

Guest Book

I shall always remember Virgil as a masterful shepherd of the Cassini CIRS project and as an inspiration to myself and to everyone else who had the privilege of working with him.

Ronald and Olga Carlson
Lanham, MD

In addition to being a good friend and mentor, Virgil was among the best scientists in NASA. In 2016 he was awarded the Goddard Space Flight Center Agency Honor Award - Exceptional Technology Achievement Medal. The following citation accompanied that award: "Virgil G. Kunde was Principle Investigator on the Composite Infrared Spectrometer (CIRS) which is flying on the Cassini spacecraft that is presently orbiting Saturn. Cassini was launched in 1997, collected data at Jupiter in 2000-2001 and went into orbit around Saturn in 2004. Kunde was PI on CIRS from the late 1980's to the early 2000's. As PI he led the CIRS original proposal and instrument development, and oversaw the science performed at Jupiter. After retirement Kunde remained on the CIRS team and plays a central role in science and calibration at Saturn. CIRS has made amazing scientific discoveries at Saturn, its rings and many moons, including Titan and Enceladus. CIRS continues to work flawlessly and is will take data until the end of the Cassini mission in late 2017. CIRS is one of the most challenging, successful instruments ever built at Goddard Space Flight Center. Virgil Kunde's amazing accomplishment in bringing the CIRS scientific investigation to fruition deserves the recognition that the Exceptional Technology Achievement Medal will afford. "Virgil Kunde joined Goddard in the 1960's as part of a team developing Fourier transform spectrometers (FTS's) for Earth and planetary missions. Kunde worked on the Infrared Interferometer Spectrometer (IRIS) series that flew on Nimbus 3&4, Mariner 9, and Voyager 1&2. He had the lead role in deriving atmospheric composition from flight spectra and he published the discovery of several new molecules on Titan. Beginning in the 1980's Kunde assumed the responsibility for instrument development and steered the group toward participation in the Cassini mission, then on the drawing board. Along the way he directed a productive balloon FTS project that studied thermal emission from Earth's stratosphere. "By the time of the announcement of opportunity for Cassini Virgil Kunde had a team in place for proposing an instrument and science investigation. He directed an international group of engineers and scientists located at several institutions in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany. His proposal for a spectrometer was selected and during the early 1990's CIRS was built in-house at Goddard. CIRS represented a breakthrough in planetary FTS's, going well beyond the capability of the previous IRIS instruments. The very ambitious design of CIRS involved complex operating modes and several new technologies. "It is quite clear to all of us who worked on CIRS that its success was founded on the abilities and dedication of Virgil Kunde. He had, and continues to have, the full respect and admiration of the CIRS team. He had the important ability to assign technical tasks to capable people and then allow them freedom to do their work. He encouraged team members to think beyond their own subsystems to the design and purpose of the whole instrument. Kunde's management approach often resulted in engineers making suggestions "outside the box" to help ensure the overall success of CIRS. Many members of the CIRS development team still regard that project as the most enjoyable of their careers. The accomplishment of Virgil Kunde in bringing CIRS to fruition on schedule and the pride that his co-workers have in that instrument and its scientific results are testaments to his outstanding leadership. "Virgil Kunde has published, both as first author and coauthor, numerous refereed paper on Voyager and Cassini scientific results."

Don Jennings
College Park, Maryland

The passing of Virgil is extremely sad news to me. I have been in contact with him since the Voyager days, from 1981 on, and even more intensely during the preparation and the exploitation of the CIRS experiment on Cassini. From the beginning, I developed an admiration for Virgil's poise and for his ability to think through the most complex issues with a relaxed mind. One could see the wheels turning relentlessly in his head, and the solution he would come upo with was always for the best interest of everyone, not just his preferred one. I also admied him as a family man. With my colleague Guy Michel, we were given the opportunity to meet his wife and grand-daughter at their Laurel home on several occasions during the 1990s. His passion for his garden amazed me. I can still see him turning over the bricks he used to line the flowerbeds. I will always remember him as a very humane person, humble, and yet with a very significant legacy. God bless!

Régis Courtin
Meudon, France

I have such fond memories of Virgil, playing on the winning Goddard volleyball team, volleyball beach week in Dewey beach and the Rusty Rudder, and of course, our work together on the Voyager IRIS and Cassini CIRS instrument teams. Virgil was a dear friend and a great man of science. I am so saddened to hear of his passing. With loving thoughts to Joanne and his family. Lou Mayo

Louis Mayo
Silver Spring, MD

Joanne and family, I am sorry for your loss. Virgil was a deeply caring man and a successful mentor for many scientists and engineers at NASA Goddard. He was a strong contributor to scientific progress in Earth and planetary science, from ground-based telescopes to high-altitude balloons to the fantastic CIRS spectrometer on the Cassini mission to Saturn. And I know that Virgil cared deeply about his own family. Virgil hired me at Goddard in 1984, and I pretty much spent my entire career with him until my retirement in 2018. We had crazy good times during our (unmanned) balloon flights in Palestine, Texas in the mid 80's (I believe it was our 1984 flight that had a mid-campaign government shutdown, fortunately reversed shortly after we began packing for an early return to Goddard). A ground campaign in Coffeyville, Kansas in 1991 showed us how you could find an even more desolate location. I am grateful for the support Virgil gave me; his support enabled my science career and the stability to start and raise a family. Ad astra, Virgil.

John Brasunas
Washington Grove, MD

I met Virgil in the early 1970s when our respective Team Leaders (Barney Farmer of JPL and Rudy Hanel of GSFC) were battling it out over who got to fly their experiment on the NASA Voyager mission to Jupiter and Saturn. Virgil and I hit it off at a personal level and would chat amicably in the bar whenever we met at a conference, probably exchanging trade secrets that would have given the big guys fits had they known. Rudy’s team won the fight, although Virgil confided that he would rather have lost because he didn’t want to work on Jupiter science. He changed his mind later and the Goddard team went on to do a great job on the mission, and he became the leader for the team’s next big project, the Cassini Saturn orbiter.

Fred Taylor
Oxford, England

Virgil was a friend, colleague and mentor to me for more than a decade. As leader of the Cassini CIRS team for many years, Virgil was highly respected and liked by his team for his dedication, thoroughness, humility as well as humor and warmth towards co-workers. When Virgil offered me a job to work at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center soon after completing graduate school in the UK, I accepted in no small part due to his reputation and character. I have remained at Goddard ever since, now in management, and becoming a naturalized American. Virgil's professional legacy includes the many young researchers he mentored, as well as the large number of important scientific papers that he co-authored, and those enabled by the instruments he built.

Conor Nixon
Columbia, MD

Dear Joanne and family. It's very very sad news. I could not imagine how to cope with that. The only bright side that could help you is to know that Virgil left so many positive and great memories in the souls of a tremendous number of people. Practically in everybody with whom he contacted more than several days. It was a great honor and privilege to work under his button. Probably I am not the best person for such a statement but in my opinion, the great success of the CIRS/Cassini mission is due to the effective leadership of Virgil, his intuition and profound engineering knowledge. Of cause, he was not alone. But without him, it could be a totally different story. He was a very humble and modest person but made a global impact on humankind's research of the Universe. Virgil will be always in my memory as a great person. Please accept my deepest condolences for your family's loss. Let the great memory of Virgil will shine in everyday's activities of those who remember him.

Andrei Mamoutkine
North Potomac, Maryland

Dear Joanne, Kayla, and family, I was very sad to hear the news of Virgil's passing. He was a fine gentleman with such a great sense of humor which he would pull out of his pocket at will. We spent many hours in conversation about family, work, CIRS, politics, and the mundane daily grind. Virgil was instrumental in my career and was a great mentor. And more than that he was my friend. I will mourn the loss and remember him with love and affection. Please know that you are in my thoughts and prayers at this sad and difficult time. My sincere condolences and sympathy. Respectfully, Marcia

Marcia Segura
Laurel, MD

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