If you are among the millions who gawk at spectacular photographs and other images from space, you may have Bruce C. Murray to thank.
The former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who died Thursday, considered photography and imaging in general to be as important as the esoteric measurement of fields, radiation and particles that were the cutting edge of astronomy at the time he took the helm.
When Murray's tenure began in 1976, most researchers there considered visual imagery a "stunt" unworthy of time and money. But Murray, who had argued forcefully for giving imagery its due since joining the lab in 1960, persisted.
He had been instrumental in the launch of Mariner 4 in 1965, the first deep space mission to beam back close-up pictures of the surface of Mars. He led the agency during the Viking and Voyager missions, before stepping down in 1982.
Since then, optical and other types of imaging have proved their scientific merit and helped raise public support for the agency's missions.