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Gilruth (left) with President John Kennedy.

Dr. Robert R. Gilruth retired from NASA on January 26, 1983.



Former Director, Manned Spacecraft Center, NASA

Robert Rowe Gilruth was born on Oct. 8, 1913, in Nashwauk, Minn.

Dr. Gilruth attended the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minn., receiving a bachelor's of science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1935, and a master's of Science in Aeronautical Engineering in 1936.

Dr. Gilruth's outside interests are primarily concerned with boating. He designed and built the first successful sailing hydrofoil system and has participated in various hydrofoil projects. He completed a 52-foot multihull sailboat, which he designed and built in his spare time. The boat was started in December 1963, and it was estimated would take at least 10 years. The "Outrigger" was launched in November 1973.


Dr. Gilruth's entire professional career has been in Government service. He joined the Langley Memorial Aeronautical 'Laboratory of the NACA after graduation from the University of Minnesota, and began his career in flight research, his principal work being in the field of stability, control and handling qualities of airplanes.

In 1945, Dr. Gilruth was assigned the job of organizing a research group and constructing a facility for conducting free-flight experiments with rocket-powered models for investigating flight of transonic- and supersonic-speed range. This activity resulted in the development of the NACA Pilotless Aircraft Research Division, which later grew into the NASA-Wallops Island launching site.

In 1952, Dr. Gilruth was appointed assistant director of the Langley Laboratory with the responsibility for directing research efforts in hypersonic aerodynamics at the Wallops Island Station and research in high-temperature structures and dynamic loads at the Langley Laboratory.

In October 1958, Dr. Gilruth became the director of the Space Task Group at Langley Field, Va., the organization responsible for the design, development and flight operations of Project Mercury, this country's first manned space flight program.

In 1961, Dr. Gilruth became the director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, and served in this capacity until January 1972. This organization was responsible for development of spacecraft for manned flight, for flight crew selection and training, and for the conduct of space flight missions.

In January 1972, Dr. Gilruth took on a new position with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as director of Key Personnel Development, reporting to the deputy administrator in Washington, D.C. In this capacity, he had responsibility for identifying near and longer range potential candidates for key jobs in the Agency and for creating plans and procedures which would aid in the development of these candidates.

In December 1973, Dr. Gilruth retired from NASA and, in January 1974, was appointed a Consultant to the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

In February 1974, Dr. Gilruth was appointed to the Board of Directors of Bunker Ramo Corporation, Oak Brook, Ill. He was also appointed a member of the National Academy of Engineering Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, and asked to serve as a member of the Houston Chamber of Commerce Energy Task Force.

Dr. Gilruth is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He is also an Honorary Fellow in the American institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; a Fellow in the American Astronautical Society; an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society; and a member of the International Academy of Astronautics.

In April 1974, Dr. Gilruth was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences.


During his career, Dr. Gilruth has received many honors from aeronautical and rocket research societies and from universities. Among these are:

In 1962, Honorary Degrees of Doctor of Science from the University of Minnesota, the Indiana Institute of Technology and the George Washington University

In 1963, Honorary Degree of Doctor of Engineering from the Michigan Technological University

In 1970, Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the New Mexico State University

Robert J. Collier Trophy of the National Aeronautical Association and National Aviation Club, for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics, May 1972.

He also has received the following special honors:

Sylvanus Albert Reed Award from the Institute of Aerospace Sciences, 1950

Outstanding Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota, October 1954

Governor of the National Rocket Club, 1960

Fellow of the American Astronautical Society, December 1961

Louis W. Hill Space Transportation Award for 1962

NASA Distinguished Service Medal in February 1962, following John Glenn's orbital flight in Project Mercury

Medal of Honor of the City of New York, March 1962

Goddard Memorial Trophy of the National Rocket Club, March 1962

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Great Living American Award, April 1962

President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service , August 1962

Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Aerosoace Sciences, January 1963

Spirit of St. Louis Medal by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, March 1965

Americanism Award by the China Burma-India Veterans Association, August 1965

Honorary Member of the Aerospace Medical Association, April 1966

Member of the Houston Philosophical Society, April 1966

Daniel and Florence Guggenheim International Astronautics Award of the International Academy of Astronautics, October 1966

NASA Group Achievement Award to the Gemini Support Team, MSC, November 1966

1966 Space Flight Award by the American Astronautical Society, May 1967

NASA Distinguished Service Medal in January 1969, and also in October 1969, following the first flight to orbit the Moon and following the first lunar landing -- after Apollo 8 and Apollo 11.

One of first 10 selected and installed in the National Space Hall of Fame, September 1969

Rockefeller Public Service "At Large" Award, December 1969

American Society of Mechanical Engineers Medal, December 1970

James Watt International Medal, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, October 1971

National Aviation Club Award for Achievement, 1971

Dr. Gilruth has participated on many scientific advisory committees for the military services and NASA during his career. Among these are:

The Planning Consultants to Committee on Guided Missiles,
Research and Development Board, later called Technical Evaluation
Group, 1946-1947

Industrial Survey Board, Office of Chief of Naval Operations, Department of the Navy

Air Force Scientific Advisory Board to the Chief of Staff, 1952-1957

Committee on Aircraft Construction for the NACA, 1952-1957

The Technical Capability Panel of the President's Scientific Advisory Committee, 1954

Ballistic Missile Defense Committee of the Chief of Staff, United States Air Force, 1955

Leader of Study Group for Department of Transportation of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit automatic train control system, 1973-1974

Member Space Systems Committee of the NASA Space Advisory Council, 1972 - Present

Chairman, Management Development Education Panel, NASA, 1972-1973

Member ad hoc Committee on Fire Safety Aspects of Polymeric Materials of the National Materials Advisory Board (National Research Council, National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Sciences), 1973-1974

Member ASEB ad hoc Committee on Venus-Pioneer Program Costs, 1973-Present

On October 5, 1976, Dr. Gilruth was one of 35 space pioneers inducted into the International Hall of Fame during the dedication of the new facility at Alamogordo, N.M.

Dr. Gilruth retired from NASA on Jan. 26, 1983.


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/07/2002
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