Full name: Robert Rowe Gilruth. Born October 8, 1913 in Nashwauk, Minnesota
, died August 17, 2000.
Bob Gilruth is one of the great heroes of aviation and space travel. Sadly, his genius is known to few outside the aerospace industry.
After graduating from the University of Minnesota, he joined NASA's predeccesor, the NACA in 1937. During World War II, he identified and resolved several problems with the British Spitfire fighter plane. He developed a set of "flight qualities" which still form the basis of standards in designing and testing aircraft all over the world. He was also instrumental in the thin wing design of the Bell X-1, allowing it to become the first plane to break the sound barrier without disintegrating in 1947.
Following the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957, Gilruth formed the Space Task Group, the nucleus of the United States' manned space program. He was the first Director of what is now called the Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX from 1961 to 1972 where he oversaw the development of the Mercury project, Gemini Project and Apollo Project.
Tragically, Gilruth was lost to the twilight of Alzheimer's Disease before his death, aged 86.