Irene Fischer’s workplace recognized her accomplishments by naming her to its hall of fame and presenting her with the DOD’s Distinguished Civilian Service Award and the U.S. Army’s Meritorious Civilian Service Medal. Her peers elected her a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and in 1979 she was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. The University of Karlsruhe granted her an honorary doctorate. An Earth spheroid employed operationally by NASA in the 1960s bore her name. After her retirement from U.S. government service, she received the first Federal Retiree of the Year Award. The successor to her agency, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency facility, has named its Learning Center on its new campus at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, scheduled for completion in 2011, in her honor
Born and educated in Vienna, Austria, Irene Fischer studied descriptive and projective geometry at the Technical University of Vienna and mathematics at the University of Vienna. Her teachers Moritz Schlick and Hans Hahn were among the luminaries of the Vienna Circle; and her fellow students included physicist Victor Weiskopf, sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld, and social psychologist Marie Jahoda. Her father, Rabbi Armand/Aaron Kaminka, was head of the Maimonides Institute and regularly led high holiday services at the famed Vienna Musikverein. He worked for the Alliance Israelite, investigating pogroms in Eastern Europe, and raised money in the United States and Western Europe to help victims.
In 1930 Irene married historian and geographer Eric Fischer, who helped introduce U.S. history, as distinct from British history, to Vienna. The Fischer family founded and ran the Vienna Kinderbewahranstallt, the first professional kindergarten and kindergarten teacher training school in Vienna, a place that also became a refuge for immigrants to Vienna from Eastern Europe.
In 1939 the Fischers, with their young daughter, Gay, fled Nazi Austria, traveling by rail to Italy, by boat to Palestine, and in 1941 by boat around East Africa and the Cape of Good Hope to Boston, where they lived with Eric Fischer’s sister, mother, and brother-in-law, the physician Otto Ehrentheil,