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Remembering William H. Pickering, Former Director of JPL

This sad note came out from NASA HQ today -- Tom

Point of Contact: Bob Jacobs, Code PM, 202-358-1600

NASA Remembers William H. Pickering, Former Director of JPL

Dr. William H. Pickering, a central figure in the U.S. space
program and former director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL), Pasadena, Calif., passed away Monday of pneumonia at his
home in La Canada Flintridge, Calif. He was 93.

Pickering, known affectionately as "Mr. JPL," served as director
from 1954 to 1976. He was an original "Rocket Man," and one of
few public figures to appear twice on the cover of Time magazine.

"Dr. Pickering brought a vision and passion to space exploration
that was remarkable," said Dr. Ed Weiler, NASA's Associate
Administrator for Space Science. "His pioneering work is the very
foundation we have built upon to explore our solar system and
beyond," he said.

Pickering led the successful effort to place the first U.S.
satellite, Explorer 1, into Earth orbit. Following the success of
Explorer 1, Pickering was instrumental in leading a new era of
robotic space exploration, including the first missions to the
moon and the planets.

"Dr. Pickering was one of the titans of our nation's space
program," said JPL Director Dr. Charles Elachi. "It was his
leadership that took America into space and opened up the moon
and planets to the world."

Pickering started at JPL in 1944, when the laboratory was
developing missile systems for the U.S. Army. He organized the
electronics efforts at JPL to support guided missile research and
development, becoming project manager for Corporal, the first
operational missile JPL developed. It was not a simple project.
In an interview in 1994, Pickering joked about the trials and
tribulations of testing the early guidance systems.

"For the 100th Corporal that we tested, I pushed the [launch]
button, and the darn thing went east instead of north. I never
pushed the button again," he recalled. Eventually, under
Pickering's direction, JPL developed the successful Sergeant
solid-propellant missile.

In 1954, Pickering was named director of JPL, and he soon had his
hands full with the space race. In November 1957, following the
first Soviet Sputnik launch, JPL and the Army Ballistic Missile
Agency were given the assignment to place the first U.S.
satellite into orbit. Pickering directed the JPL effort, which,
in just 83 days, provided the satellite, telecommunications, and
the upper rocket stages that lofted Explorer 1 into orbit on
January 31, 1958. It was considered one of Pickering's greatest
achievements and laid the groundwork for future robotic
exploration of the moon and planets.

In 1958 JPL, managed by the California Institute of Technology
(Caltech), was transferred from the Army to the newly created
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. In succeeding
years, JPL conducted an intensive series of space probes
including Ranger and Surveyor missions to the moon, and the
Mariner missions to Earth's neighboring planets.

On December 14, 1962, the Mariner 2 spacecraft successfully
completed a flyby of Venus, culminating a 109-day journey of more
than 290 million kilometers (180 million miles). It was
humankind's first penetration to the vicinity of another planet.
On July 14, 1965, following a 228-day journey of more than 525
million kilometers (325 million miles) by Mariner 4, Pickering's
team obtained the first close-up pictures of Mars. Four more
Mariner missions reached Venus and Mars before Pickering retired
from JPL in 1976 at age 66.

Pickering received numerous awards throughout his career,
including NASA's Distinguished Service Medal. In 1975, he was
awarded the National Medal of Science by President Gerald Ford,
and in 1976 he was given honorary knighthood from the Queen of
England. He also received awards from numerous science and
engineering societies.

Pickering was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1910. He came to
the United States in 1929 to study at Caltech. Pickering was
naturalized a U.S. citizen in 1941. He obtained his bachelor's
and master's degrees in electrical engineering, and he received a
Ph.D. in physics from Caltech before becoming a professor of
electrical engineering there in 1946.

His widow, Inez Chapman Pickering, and daughter, Elizabeth
Pickering Mezitt, survive him.

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