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THOMAS J. KELLY

1929–2002

Elected in 1991

“For leadership in designing, developing, and supervising the construction of the Apollo Lunar Module.”


BY J.G. GAVIN JR. WITH CONTRIBUTIONS BY JOAN KELLY


WHEN THE PRESS REPORTED the death of Thomas J. Kelly on March 23, 2002, the nation learned that it had lost a true space pioneer. Kelly played a major role in validating the advantages of lunar orbit rendezvous as the preferred strategy for sending humans to the Moon. He was instrumental in the development of Grumman’s proposal that resulted in the selection of Grumman Aerospace to design and build the Lunar Module for Apollo. As chief engineer, manager of spacecraft assembly and testing, and engineering manager, he was the engineering leader in the development of the Lunar Module, and, based on his accomplishments, he earned the unofficial title, “Father of the Lunar Module.”

The Lunar Module was successful in every mission and was the “lifeboat” for the aborted Apollo 13 mission. This was the result of an extraordinary team effort, and Thomas J. Kelly deserves a great deal of the credit for forming, leading, and motivating the engineering team. Considering the unknowns at the beginning of the Apollo Program, his team’s accomplishments provide a classic example of inspired systems design. At the time, one of the founders of Grumman commented, “I hope you young fellows understand what you have committed the company to do!”

Kelly was not only a competent, practical engineer, but also a visionary. He worked well with people on a demanding schedule and in a tense environment; the Lunar Module Program was



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