James C. Fletcher

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Not to be confused with James Cooley Fletcher.
James C. Fletcher
James Fletcher, official NASA portrait.jpg
Official NASA Portrait
4th Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
In office
April 27, 1971 – May 1, 1977
President Richard M. Nixon
Preceded by Thomas O. Paine
Succeeded by Robert A. Frosch
7th Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
In office
May 12, 1986 – April 8, 1989
President Ronald Reagan
Preceded by James M. Beggs
Succeeded by Richard H. Truly
Personal details
Born June 5, 1919
Millburn, New Jersey
Died December 22, 1991(1991-12-22) (aged 72)
Washington, DC
Resting place Salt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W / 40.7772000°N 111.858000°W / 40.7772000; -111.858000
Alma mater Columbia University
California Institute of Technology
Religion The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

James Chipman Fletcher (June 5, 1919 – December 22, 1991) served as the 4th and 7th Administrator of NASA, first from April 27, 1971 to May 1, 1977 under President Richard M. Nixon, and again from May 12, 1986 to April 8, 1989 under President Ronald Reagan. As such, he was responsible for the early planning of the Space Shuttle program, and later for its recovery and return to flight after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. Prior to this, he was president of the University of Utah from 1964 to 1971.

President Nixon (right) with NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher in January 1972.


Born in Millburn, New Jersey, to Harvey Fletcher and Lorena Chipman.[1] His father, Harvey is known as the "Father of Stereophonic sound". Fletcher earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Columbia College of Columbia University and a Ph.D in physics (1948) from the California Institute of Technology.[2] After holding research and teaching positions at Harvard and Princeton Universities, he joined Hughes Aircraft in 1948 and later worked at the Guided Missile Division of the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation. In 1958, Fletcher co-founded the Space Electronics Corporation in Glendale, California, which, after a merger, became the Space General Corporation. He was later named systems vice president of the Aerojet General Corporation in Sacramento, California. In 1964, he became president of the University of Utah, a position he held until he was named NASA Administrator by President Richard M. Nixon in 1971.

During his first administration at NASA, Fletcher was responsible for beginning the Space Shuttle effort, as well as the Viking program that sent landers to Mars. He oversaw the Skylab missions and approved the Voyager space probes and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project.

When he left NASA in 1977, Fletcher became an independent consultant in McLean, Virginia, and served on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh. For nine years, he was active as an advisor to key national leaders involved in planning space policy. Among other activities, he served on an advisory board involved in developing the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan selected Fletcher to administer NASA for a second time, to help the agency recover from the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. Shuttle flights went into a two-year hiatus while Fletcher ensured that NASA reinvested heavily in the program's safety and reliability, made organizational changes to improve efficiency, and restructured its management system. He oversaw a complete reworking of the components of the Shuttle to enhance its safety, including a redesign of the solid rocket boosters, and added an egress method for the astronauts. The Space Shuttle returned to flight on September 29, 1988. Fletcher also approved the Hubble Space Telescope program. He served as Administrator until April 8, 1989, into the term of Reagan's successor, President George H. W. Bush.

Fletcher died in December 1991 of lung cancer at his home in suburban Washington, DC. He was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery. He was a Mormon.



Government offices
Preceded by
Thomas O. Paine
NASA Administrator
1971 - 1977
Succeeded by
Robert A. Frosch
Preceded by
William Robert Graham (acting)
NASA Administrator
1986 - 1989
Succeeded by
Richard H. Truly
Academic offices
Preceded by
A. Ray Olpin
President of the University of Utah
1964 – 1971
Succeeded by
Alfred C. Emery