In 1961, after President Kennedy committed the nation to land a human on the Moon, Gilruth became Director of NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas. He actively directed and oversaw the design and construction of spacecraft, the selection and training of astronauts, and the planning and operation of space flights. In 1973 Bob Gilruth retired from NASA. In later life he suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He died on August 17, 2000, at the age of 86.
Robert Rowe Gilruth was born October 18, 1913, in Nashwauk, Minnesota. He graduated from high school in Duluth, Minnesota, after attending public schools in several communities in that region. He studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Minnesota, where he received his bachelor’s degree, and then a master’s degree in 1936. Bob Gilruth’s first engineering experiences came from watching his grandfather carve little boats to sail on the Minnesota lakes. Gilruth’s parents were both teachers. His mother had an inclination toward math, while his father was “a born teacher, but not an engineer,” who loved to read the classics to Gilruth and his older sister. Gilruth did not want to follow in his parents’ footsteps as an educator. “I was going to build something,” he remembered later. “I wasn’t sure what.”1 Aeronautical engineering grabbed his imagination, although he would continue to invent and build boats for the rest of his life.
When Gilruth was about 11, his father lost his job, and the family moved to Duluth to find work. There the young Gilruth designed rubber-band-powered airplanes, inventing a feathering propeller to reduce drag during glide. Modestly, Gilruth later asserted that he “wasn’t a very good student,2 and said his parents did not see much future in aviation, but the young Gilruth scoured magazines for articles about airplanes. He read American Boy and Popular Mechanics,