Old white man of the day

Rocket Labs is currently making a name for New Zealand in the Space space.? But the New Zealand links go much further back:?Quote.

The launch of Sputnik in 1957 forced the United States into the space race. Fighting the Cold War, the Americans needed to show the world that they too could launch a rocket into space ? and they had to do it quickly. Less than three months later Explorer 1 was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The man behind it: William Pickering from Wellington, New Zealand.

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

In the next ten years, ?Pickering went on to become a pivotal figure in the American space race. Once he and his team had conquered the earth?s orbit, the sky was, literally, the limit. He worked at marrying the possibilities of technology with humanity?s wonderment at outer space. By sending spacecraft to the far edges of the solar system, they made us more aware of the galaxy we live in.

William Hayward Pickering was born in Roxburgh Street, Mount Victoria, Wellington in 1910. His mother died when he was six and he was sent to live with his grandparents in Havelock, in the Marlborough Sounds. […]

In 1923, William started boarding at Wellington College.[…] The young Pickering was inspired by his maths teacher, AC ?Pop? Gifford. Mr Gifford founded the school?s observatory, the place William first looked through a telescope towards the heavens.

Pickering?s ability to marry practical and theoretical science was coached at Wellington College. With schoolmate Fred White […] Pickering built an early radio station. The two communicated by Morse code with others around the world.

After high school Pickering studied engineering at Canterbury University. He completed one year of study before an uncle (who divided his time between living in New Zealand and California), encouraged him to apply to the?California Institute of Technology?(Caltech). Although a new university, Caltech already had an excellent reputation for science and engineering.

Pickering completed a bachelor degree in electrical engineering in 1932, and returned to New Zealand hoping to work as an engineer. Unable to find satisfactory employment, however, he returned to California and to education. He completed his Masters in 1933 and a PhD in Physics in 1936.

That same year he joined the Caltech faculty, teaching electrical engineering. He was made professor in charge of radio and electronics and also appointed to the Scientific Advisory Board of the United States Air Force. As the cold war unfolded the link between academic bodies, research organisations, and the military grew. […]

During World War II Pickering had become involved in the?Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Jet technology was comparatively new to Caltech, but war was to quickly advance the technology from theory to reality. The American military knew it and enlisted the aid of academic institutions. Pickering initially became involved with the Lab through his studies into telemetry ? the science of radio control.

In 1950 he finished lecturing and began working with the?Jet Propulsion Laboratory full time. By 1954 he was the Lab?s Director. His rise to the top was to do with both how well he knew science and how well he knew scientists. His role of director was a multifaceted one: not only was his scientific and technical expertise to the fore, but his antipodean diplomacy was required to lead not only volatile and brilliant scientists, but also work with politicians and military hierarchy during the pressure-cooker political environment of the Cold War.

On October 4,1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. After 10 years of Cold War the Soviets had beaten the Americans into space. Circling the globe every 90 minutes, Sputnik contained a beeping transmitter that could be received by any short wave radio on earth. The American public knew it was there. […]

The Americans were working to match Sputnik, and two months after the Russians? success the Naval Research Laboratory launched the Vanguard. A test launch, on December 7th, 1957, was to be viewed under the glare of the international media, the craft exploded on the launchpad.

Fortunately, Pickering and the?Jet Propulsion Laboratory had been working since Sputnik on their own satellite. If their launch went successfully it would repair some of the US Government?s bruised ego.

Explorer 1 was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on January 31, 1958, less than four months after Sputnik. It orbited the earth for the next 10 years.[…] End quote.

End of quote.

William Pickering 1998, holding the two Time magazines he appeared on the cover of. Copyright of Karen Brown, Wellington

There were many more successes in the next 18 years that we must skip past. Quote.

Pickering retired from the?Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1976 at the age of 66. He returned briefly to Caltech, before taking up a two-year teaching post in Saudi Arabia. […]

William Pickering died at the age of 93 in La Ca?ada Flintridge, California on 15 March 2004. While he had been a US citizen since 1941, Pickering kept close ties with New Zealand. He had a painting of Mt Cook in his office, retained the faint twinges of a Kiwi accent in his voice, and was given an honorary knighthood from the Queen. The knighthood sits beside American accolades including personal messages from five US Presidents. In 1975 Pickering was awarded the prestigious National Medal of Science by President Gerald R. Ford, and in 1994 he was awarded the Japan Prize by His Majesty, the Emperor of Japan.

In 1993 Pickering was awarded the inaugural Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Aerospace Prize for his contribution to space science. In presenting him with the Prize the then current president of Caltech Thomas E. Everhart said:

?More than any other individual, Bill Pickering was responsible for America?s success in exploring the planets ? an endeavour that demanded vision, courage, dedication, expertise and the ability to inspire two generations of scientists and engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.?

His achievements were recognised by New Zealand in early 2011, when the New Zealand Geographic Board named a Fiordland mountain in his honour. Mt Pickering, standing at 1,650m, is found within the Kelper mountain range 20km west of Te Anau. […] End of quote.

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