Gilruth, Robert Rowe
Aeronautical EngineerEnshrined 1994 1913-2000
Robert Rowe Gilruth was born on October 8, 1913, in Nashwauk, Minnesota. He attended the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, receiving degrees in aeronautical engineering.
Following graduation, Dr. Gilruth joined the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and began a career in flight research. In 1945, Congress established a free-flight guided missile range at Wallops Island, Virginia. A young man of 31 with little experience except in research, Dr. Gilruth was selected to manage this facility.
With the advent of the space age, NACA was replaced with a new organization, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In October 1958, Dr. Gilruth was selected to direct the initial program for achieving manned space flight, known as Project Mercury. Under his leadership, the first American astronaut orbited the earth only three years after NASA was created.
In 1961, President Kennedy and Congress committed the nation to a manned lunar landing and safe return before the end of the decade. Dr. Gilruth was named the Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center and assigned the responsibility of designing and developing spacecraft and associated equipment, planning and controlling missions, and training flight crews.
Each step of the Apollo Program was unprecedented and required expert direction. Dr. Gilruth provided this direction and personally contributed to the successful Apollo 11 and subsequent lunar landings.
In 1972, Dr. Gilruth was appointed to the newly created position of Director of Key Personnel Development where he identified and helped to prepare the future leaders of NASA.
After he retired from NASA in 1973, Dr. Gilruth continued to serve for several years as a consultant to NASA and the United States space program.
Gilruth died August 17, 2000 in Charlottesville, Virginia.