Loren Wilber Acton (born March 7, 1936) is an American physicist who served as a Payload Specialist for the Lockheed Palo Alto Research Laboratory on Space Shuttle mission STS-51-F. He’s also the father of Cheryll Glotfelty, a well-known environmentalist.
Acton was born in the Montana village of Lewistown. In 1959, he earned a bachelor’s degree in Engineering Physics from Montana State University, and in 1965, he earned a doctorate in Astro-Geophysics from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Acton worked for Lockheed Palo Alto Research Laboratory’s Space Sciences Laboratory as a senior staff scientist. His main responsibilities as a research scientist were conducting scientific investigations of the Sun and other celestial objects using modern space instruments and serving as a co-investigator on the Solar Optical Universal Polarimeter, one of the Spacelab 2 solar experiments. On August 9, 1978, he was chosen as one of four payload experts for Spacelab 2, and after seven years of training, he flew aboard STS-51-F/Spacelab-2 in 1985. Acton had traveled over 2.8 million miles in 126 Earth orbits and spent almost 190 hours in space by the time the mission ended.
Acton is the father of two children and is married. In 2006, he ran for state representative in Montana’s District 69 as a Democrat. In the end, he was defeated by Jack M. Wells of Belgrade, a Republican incumbent.
Acton is a retired Research Professor of Physics at Montana State University, where he founded the Solar Physics group and the Space Science and Engineering Laboratory. The MSU solar group has an active research program funded by NASA and the National Science Foundation, and is actively involved in the day-to-day operation and scientific use of satellite missions for solar studies. On the Japan/US/UK Yohkoh mission “Yohkoh Legacy Archive,” Acton was a principle investigator for the Soft X-ray Telescope (SXT) experiment. The Yohkoh mission was designed to investigate high-energy solar events such as solar flares, eruptions, and corona heating. The solar corona, the sun’s extremely heated outer atmosphere, emits X-rays as its major emission. Yohkoh’s long-term, high-resolution X-ray photography contributes to the understanding of why the sun has a corona at all, and why its intensity varies so dramatically in response to the 11-year sunspot cycle.
The American Astronomical Society’s Solar Physics Division awarded George Ellery Hale the George Ellery Hale Prize in 2000.
In February 2020, he was named a Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society.
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