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ROBERT R. GILRUTH

1913–2000

Elected in 1968

“For aircraft design and testing in subsonic, transonic, and supersonic speed ranges; development and use of satellites.”

BY CHRISTOPHER C. KRAFT, JR.

ROBERT R. GILRUTH, a father of human space flight, never sought public attention, and his leadership and technical contributions were often overlooked. Of the many heroes in the early days of the U.S. space program, Gilruth was among the most respected. He led the United States in the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo efforts and directed the greatest engineering achievement in history: the safe voyages of humans to the Moon.

I worked for Bob as director of flight operations and succeeded him as director of the Johnson Space Center. He was one of the greatest men I have ever known. He launched his career at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia, concentrating on the handling qualities of airplanes. In 1945 he organized and directed free-flight experiments with rocket-powered models at Wallops Island, investigating flight dynamics at transonic and supersonic speeds. By 1952 Gilruth was assistant director of the Langley laboratory, responsible for research into hypersonic aerodynamics, high-temperature structures, and dynamic


Adapted from the biographical memoir of Robert A. Gilruth, by Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., pp. 93-112, in Biographical Memoirs of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 84 (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2003).



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