Memorial Spaceflights

Dr. Charles Thomas (Tom) Caskey

"Now, Voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find..."
1938 - 2022


For a 2017 Classroom Assignment “Write an Essay on Fulfillment with Examples”, Tom’s grandson, Sam, (11 years old at that time) described Tom BEST.

Sam Goodner - Mrs. New, 3rd Period - September 19, 2017

How would I describe my grandfather?  Probably a mix between Santa Claus and Einstein. He is one of the most kindhearted and intelligent people I have ever met.  He inspires everyone around him to achieve goals and overcome obstacles in their lives.  He is an honest hero.  Of course, this might sound like me being a typical grandson talking about a typical grandfather; but stay with me as I prove just how wrong that assumption is.

Some things that make up the Einstein part of him include the fact that he was, and continues to be, a world-renowned geneticist.  With Dr. Marshal Nirenberg he discovered the “Universality” of the Genetic Code and determined the mechanism of Peptide Chain Termination. He also discovered 34 disease genes and the understanding of Triplet Repeat disorders. He developed and patented the technology for all the DNA Forensic Identification used by law enforcement and Justice Institutions worldwide.  He was also nominated for a Nobel Prize 3 times, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Now, of course, most people who achieve that kind of success in the intellectual area of their lives would be less in tune to the human part of existence.  My grandfather is an exception to this normality of exceptionality.  When talking to him you can’t help but smile or laugh.  He constantly checks in with anyone and everyone he knows and thoroughly cares and helps with peoples’ problems.  Unlike most, he has no false relationships, and he doesn’t just turn a blind eye when someone is not a hundred percent of who they can be.  He has raised many people out of less than perfect situations and led them onto successful and joyous lives. 

I heard somewhere that there is a certain limited ratio of emotional intelligence to intellectual intelligence.  My grandfather takes this ratio, crumples it up, and throws it on the floor, and lights it on fire.  His life has been one long story of balancing his work and his family so perfectly that he has succeeded with both.  I think one of the reasons he has succeeded professionally is directly because of his ability to truly care for everyone he meets, and vice versa.  He is a true example of fulfillment.

Sam (11 years old)


Charles Thomas (Tom) Caskey, born in rural South Carolina grew up with a spirit of adventure, insatiable curiosity, and abundant energy. Admitted to Duke University Medical School from their waiting list after only two years of undergraduate education, he became a physician, professor, scientist, and beloved mentor - known for his laughter, quick wit, and optimism. 

At the National Institutes of Health (NIH) after breaking the Genetic Code with Nobel Laureate Marshall Nirenberg, Tom headed the Section of Medical Genetics making discoveries including the Universality of the Genetic Code. He was recruited from NIH (1971) to Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas to begin a medical genetics program. He hired a lab assistant and began his Great Adventure (as he described it).

Tom’s life-long vitality, creativity, wisdom and infectious enthusiasm for science and discovery, his passion for sailing/racing his boats, and his ability to identify and recruit internationally bright young scientists became iconic.  He recruited from 31 countries and trained 137 pre and postdoctoral MD., PhD, and MD/PhD fellows, who became Academic Department Chairmen, Presidents and CEOs of Industries, and Nobel Prize winners. He developed his Department of Medical and Molecular Medicine into the largest provider of medical genetics patient care services in the world with specialized diagnostic laboratories and outreach clinics. His department became the largest NIH funded in the nation. 

Tom’s major discoveries included The Universality of the Genetic Code (1967), the first human disease gene cloned (1982) and first Complete Gene Sequence of a Disease Gene. He discovered an entire new class of disease genes referred to as Triplet Repeat Diseases.

The Triplet Repeat discovery resulted in the scientific community re-examination of Gregory Mendel’s Theories of Inheritance and led to the immediate understanding of 11 major diseases including Fragile X Mental Retardation, Myotonic Dystrophy and Huntington’s Chorea. Tom identified 47 disease genes including the Schizophrenia gene. He was awarded 11 patents for major discoveries.  He was described as a “Visionary”, a “Brilliant and Instinctive Innovator”, “Pioneer in Genetics”, and “Father of Molecular and Medical Genetics” and  “Father of Modern Molecular Forensics”.

He authored over 150 books and chapters. He published over 350 scientific papers.

He served the editorial boards of 18 major scientific journals, and on the National Research Review Panels of over 15 organizations including the National Institutes of Health, American Cancer Society, National Institute of Justice, and Muscular Dystrophy Association.

He was a member or Chair of over 50 Scientific Advisory Boards including the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Medical Association for the Advancement of Science, the US Congress Office of Technology Assessment, General Motors, Genome Canada and the World Health Organization, He was a consultant on Genetics and Genomics to government, private, academic, and corporate entities including NASA.

Tom was elected to multiple professional academies and societies including The National Academy of Sciences, The Royal Academy of Canada, Faculty Scholar Cambridge University, Cambridge England, Faculty Scholar EMBL, Heidelberg, Germany. The National Academy recognized Tom for his lifetime of sentinel contributions to Science as:

“One of the rare individuals who has made both major contributions to fundamental biology and major contributions to medical genetics. His early work provided fundamental insights into the mechanisms of protein synthesis. His newer work inaugurated a new era in human genetics.”    

He received numerous national and international scientific honors, awards, and degrees and prizes. He was Senior Vice-President of Research for Merck Pharmaceuticals, President, Merck Genomic Research Institute focused on Gene Replacement Therapy and Genome science; President of the American Society for Human Genetics, President of the International Human Genome Project, and the first President of the Texas Academy of Medicine, Engineering, Science and Technology (TAMEST).

Nominated for both the Nobel and Lasker Award, a Nobel nominator wrote, 

“There is no better human geneticist now doing active research worldwide."

When asked what he felt were his most significant contributions to Science or Society, Tom would usually reply, “I have loved it all – but some of the most satisfying….

  • The Eureka excitement of discoveries. Sequencing the first disease genes and Triple Repeats - the Universality of the Genetic Code – discovering our DNA is universal to all life on our planet, and probably in our Universe.
  • Developing the accurate, rapid diagnostics for Personal Identification now the basis of worldwide application for Forensic Science and ancestry search entities. Working with the FBI and Justice Department through incredible challenges to have the science accepted from the lab into Federal Court systems and educating the Public in understanding and acceptance.
  • Telling my patients or collaborating physicians that we have finally solved "the Puzzle."
  • OR (with his usual infectious laugh), “Hopefully my next patient, idea or experiment will be the most satisfying."

Bon Voyage, our warm and wonderful - fun and funny Tom. What a ride and Adventure it was sharing your life!! It may have been busy - it never was boring. 

   “It’s the laughter we will remember when we remember the way we were.”

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