Saturday, June 02, 2007

R.I.P. - Homer Joe Stewart

One of the leading "rocket men" from the era of Sputnik and Explorer has passed on.
Dr. Homer Joe Stewart taught at Caltech and contributed to rocket propulsion and other disciplines at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which he co-founded, for many decades. He had retired from the school in 1980. After WWII, he worked on rocket and missile propulsion systems for the WAC Corporal, Corporal, and Sergeant missiles, among other projects. In 1955, he chaired the Stewart Committee, which, in a controversial decision second-guessed ever since, selected the Navy's Vanguard satellite proposal (based on its potentially greater scientific return) over competing Army and Air Force ideas to become the nation's first satellite program. Stewart encouraged the Army team, headed by Wernher von Braun, to keep working on its idea in case Vanguard faltered. While Vanguard eventually became a significant success, it had a critical failure in a launch attempt shortly after Sputnik 1, and the Army team, in cooperation with JPL, was given the go-ahead to get something up as fast as possible. That project, on which Stewart assisted, became Explorer 1. Homer Joe Stewart was 91.
COMMENT: Erika Lishock and I would have liked to interview Stewart for our book on the first satellites, The First Space Race, but he was already in poor health and was not available. He made major contributions to defense, aerospace engineering, and the exploration of space. We salute a truly great man.

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