Robert R. Gilruth

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Robert R. Gilruth
Robert Gilruth S87-26820.jpg
Gilruth at NASA Manned Spacecraft Center
Born Robert Rowe Gilruth
(1913-10-08)October 8, 1913
Nashwauk, Minnesota, U.S.
Died August 17, 2000(2000-08-17) (aged 86)
Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S.
Alma mater University of Minnesota, B.S. 1935, M.S. 1936
Occupation Director of NASA Manned Spacecraft Center, now Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center
Awards ASME Medal (1970)

Robert Rowe Gilruth (October 8, 1913 – August 17, 2000) was an American aviation and space pioneer.[1] He is noted for being the first director of NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center, later renamed the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center.

He worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics from 1937 to 1958 and its successor NASA, until his retirement in 1973. He was involved with early research into supersonic flight and rocket-powered aircraft and then with the United States manned space program, including the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.



Gilruth was born October 8, 1913, in Nashwauk, Minnesota. He graduated in 1931 from Duluth Central High School.[2] Gilruth received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Minnesota in 1935, and received his Master of Science degree in 1936. While there he was a member of the Professional Engineering Fraternity Theta Tau, of which he was later inducted as a Hall of Fame Alumnus.

Flight test career[edit]

In the NACA Report R755, Requirements for Satisfactory Flying Qualities of an Airplane, published in 1941, he defined a set of requirements for the handling characteristics of an aircraft. Until this point, no set of guidelines for pilots and aircraft designers existed.

Gilruth also pioneered the recording of data from instruments during flight test, to be later correlated with the pilot's experience.[3] This would go on to become the standard operating procedure.

NASA career[edit]

When NASA was created, Gilruth became head of the Space Task Group, tasked with putting a man in space before the Soviet Union. When that didn't happen, Gilruth suggested to President John F. Kennedy that the United States should announce a bigger goal, such as going to the Moon. Soon the Apollo program was born, and Gilruth was made head of the NASA center which ran it, the new Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) (now the Johnson Space Center). Gilruth was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1969 and served as director of the MSC until 1972 and oversaw a total of 25 manned space flights, from Mercury-Redstone 3 to Apollo 15.

Portrayals in dramas[edit]

In the 1996 TV movie Apollo 11 Gilruth was played by William Mesnik. In the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon he was played by John Carroll Lynch.


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