DN Staff

July 11, 2001

1 Min Read
Space pioneer dies

Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Houston--Robert Gilruth, aerospace engineer and a pioneer of America's space program leading up to the Apollo lunar landing program has died, at 86.


Robert Gilruth receives the President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service in 1962. To the left are astronauts Alan Shepard and John Glenn.

His career spanned 40 years with the NASA and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). In 1952 he was appointed assistant director of the then Langley Laboratory and charged with investigating high-temperature structures, dynamic loads, and hypersonic aerodynamics at the Wallops Island, VA launch range. Gilruth quickly shifted his attention to manned space flight in October 1957 when Russia launched the world's first satellite, Sputnik I.

With NASA's establishment in 1958, Gilruth was named director of Langley's Space Task Group, which developed the engineering basics for the first U.S. manned space program, Project Mercury-including the conical space-capsule shape, astronaut qualifications, launch criteria, and flight-operation procedures. He later became director of the Manned Spacecraft Center (now the Johnson Space Center), where he oversaw 25 manned space flights, from Alan Shepard's first U.S. space flight in 1961 to the Apollo 15 mission of 1971.

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