In 2000, in recognition of his work as an advisor to the U.S. Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office, he received the Pioneers of National Reconnaissance Medal with the following citation: “As a young Harvard astronomer, Dr. James G. Baker designed most of the lenses and many of the cameras used in aerial over-flights of ‘denied territory’ enabling the success of the U.S. peacetime strategic reconnaissance policy.” In 2002, the U.S. Air Force awarded him the Space Pioneer Award.
In 1966, Jim began a long, productive consulting relationship with the Polaroid Corporation. Dr. Edwin Land had persuaded him that only he could design the optical system for his new SX-70® Land camera, which was introduced in 1972. For the next 35 years, Jim also designed other remarkable, high-volume commercial products. He was most notably responsible for the mathematical design of the Quintic® focusing system for the 1986 Polaroid Spectra camera system, which involved a revolutionary combination of two free-form aspherics to adjust focus by a lateral rotation across the optical axis.
Jim maintained his affiliation with Harvard Observatory and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory until he retired in 2003. After retirement, he continued to work at his home on a new telescope design he told his family he should have discovered in 1940.
Jim received many honors and awards during his long career. In 1958, he was made a fellow of the Optical Society of America (OSA), and, in 1960, he was elected president of OSA for one year, during which he helped establish the Applied Optics journal. He was the only individual to receive all four primary OSA awards in optics: the Adolf Lomb Award, Frederick Ives Medal, Joseph Fraunhofer Award, and David Richardson Medal. In 1993, he was made an honorary member of OSA. In 1976, he was the recipient of the Alan Gordon Award and, in 1978, the Gold Medal, the highest award of the International Society of Optical Engineers (SPIE). In 1953, the American Philosophical Society awarded him the Magellanic Medal. The Franklin Institute awarded him the 1962 Elliott Cresson Medal for his many innovations in astronomical optics.