August 19, 1938 - April 30, 2024


Lee Calhoun Pittenger

Lee attended Ripon College and Marquette University, graduating in 1959 with a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering.  While in college, he was a member of wrestling, cross-country and rifle teams.  He entered the Army in 1959, serving for four years as an Ordnance Officer in Germany.  It was there that he met and married his beloved wife, Marietta, by whom he is survived after 60 years of marriage along with their three children, Richard, Jennifer and Katherine; and their eight grandchildren, Madison, Taylor, Connor, Hanna, Emily, Brandon, Ethan, and Averie, and a brother, William.


He was a member of Theta Chi fraternity, Tau Beta Pi honorary engineering fraternity, and Scabbard and Blade honorary military society.


Lee joined Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1963 as a Design Engineer for the Sherwood (magnetically confined controlled fusion) Program, where he developed methodologies for characterizing and optimizing the theoretical trapping region for ALICE-Baseball (the first U.S. minimum-B fusion plasma confinement experiment).


In 1965, he was awarded an AEC Fellowship to pursue graduate studies at M.I.T.’s Department of Nuclear Engineering, graduating in 1971 as a Doctor of Science in Nuclear Engineering.


From 1971 to 1973 Lee held a position as a Lead Experimenter at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, investigating two-phase liquid metal MHD power generation.  He also teamed with other Argonne scientists and engineers in studies of design concepts for future fusion power reactors.


In 1973, he returned to LLNL as an Energy Systems Engineer, designing hardware and developing analytical methods for solving electro- and magneto- static problems related to the magnetic fusion program.  From 1974 to 1976, he was the Project M.E. for the High Voltage Test Stand, a facility for the development of high energy neutral particle beams for fueling and heating magnetically-confined plasmas.  He originated the utilization of high-volume cryo-pumping for the Test Stand and other controlled-fusion experimental facilities.


From 1976 to 1979 Lee served as the Deputy Project Manager and LLNL Group Leader for the design and prototype construction of the Neutral Beam Injection Systems, major components of the Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (TFTR) at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL).  The prototype system exceeded all design specifications, and was selected from among competing designs for construction and installation of four working beam lines at PPPL.  These systems were instrumental in TFTR’s achieving, for the first time in history, a controlled break-even fusion reaction.


From 1979 to 1981 he was the Project Engineer for Vacuum Vessel Systems for LLNL’s Mirror Fusion Test Facility (MFTF).


Lee remained with LLNL, retiring in 2001.  During his tenure at the Lab, he served in many Project Engineer, Group Leader, and Chief Engineer positions.  He made significant contributions in design and analysis in many projects and fields, including:  Laser Isotope Separation, platform design and test for the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), optimization of orbital deployment of kinetic kill vehicles for SDI, evaluation by simulation of the Army’s SADARM smart munition, development of a bullet-tracking and defense system utilizing the projectile’s thermal signature, continued collaboration with Princeton on a follow-on to TFTR, and design and construction of the Target Positioner for the National Ignition Facility (NIF)


He continued working at the Lab, first as a half-time employee, then as a Participating Guest.  During this period, he worked on the engineering and test of lightweight propulsion systems for anti-ballistic missile kill vehicles.  Before his final retirement in 2004, he performed additional analyses to determine optimal deployment of orbiting SDI assets.


Lee’s outside interests included skiing, model aircraft building and flying, hunting and shooting, cycling, and jogging.  He completed many 10 kilometer runs, several triathlons and half-marathons, and one marathon.  He was a licensed Private Pilot and a Deep-water Certificated SCUBA Diver.  He and Marietta enjoyed traveling extensively, visiting countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific. He also shared that love for traveling with his children and grandchildren.  Lee was a good father, a devoted husband and a caring grandfather.


Services for Lee will be held on Monday, May 13th at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church located at 1315 Lomitas Avenue, Livermore California. A vigil will be held at 9:30 am, followed by a funeral mass at 10:00 am. Lee will be laid to rest at the San Joaquin National Cemetery.  A reception will take place also on Monday, May 13th at 4:30 pm at Zephyr Bar and Grill in Livermore.


In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Marines’ Memorial Association & Foundation:

Lee C Pittenger's memorial page - Honor Veterans Legacies at VLM (

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