With the Naval Research Laboratory since 1964, Carruthers has been a driving force in the use of ultraviolet astronomy to learn more about the universe. His most well-known contribution was in developing the Apollo 16 far ultraviolet camera and spectrograph, which was designed specifically for use on the moon's surface to record radiation from the upper half of the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum. "What we had proposed to do was set up a camera on the surface of the moon to observe the Earth and study its hydrogen atmosphere, which extends out to many thousands of miles," explains Carruthers. "Even the space station and the shuttle can't get far enough away to really study the higher atmosphere."
Although the camera itself was left behind, a second version was used aboard the final Skylab flight in 1973 to obtain images of Comet Kohoutek. Carruthers has also been involved in numerous sounding rocket and space shuttle flights utilizing his cameras, including far-UV studies of stars and nebulas, Comets Halley and West and the Earth's upper atmosphere. His most recent experiment was carried out on the unmanned DoD ARGOS satellite mission, launched in 1999.
Carruthers was born in 1939 in Cincinnati, Ohio, but moved at age 12 to the south side of Chicago, Illinois. Even at a young age Carruthers had an affinity towards astronomy and science, building his own telescopes and spending time at local science museums. In high school, Carruthers read about the early space exploits of the Naval Research Laboratory, so as a graduate student, he jumped at the chance to receive a postdoctoral appointment with the organization. He received his Bachelor of Science in aeronautical engineering, Masters in nuclear engineering and doctorate in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, from the University of Illinois.
Carruthers has received numerous awards, including Black Engineer of the Year in 1987, the Arthur S. Fleming Award in 1971, the Exceptional Achievement Scientific Award from NASA in 1972 and the Warner Prize from the American Astronomical Society in 1973. Carruthers was also a member of two independent review committees for the Hubble Space Telescope Project.
Married in 1973, Carruthers is a private man and continues his work at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., as a senior astrophysicist and head of the ultraviolet measurements group. Carruthers is also active in education and public outreach, including promoting science and technology among young African Americans, editing and co-authoring several publications, teaching, and co-producing a series of videos on Earth and space for high school students.