Full name: Thomas J. Kelly. Born in 1929 in Merrick, Long Island, New York.
Tom Kelly is known as the "Father of the LEM", the spindly lunar lander of the Apollo project.
Kelly joined the Long Island aerospace company Grumman in 1951, right after graduating from Cornell University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Following the launch of Sputnik, he became fascinated by space related engineering and joined Lockheed in 1958 to work on rockets and space propulsion systems.
He was rehired by Grumman in 1959, when it decided to mount a serious effort to get involved with the burgeoning space industry.
As part of Grumman's preliminary design department, Kelly worked on a number of NASA related projects, including an unsuccesful bid to create the Apollo project's manned spacecraft. At that time, it was felt that the mission would be accomplished either by launching a single super-space craft direct to the moon's surface or by assembling such a ship in orbit (a technique known as Earth Orbit Rendevous).
When NASA decided to use Lunar Orbit Rendevous instead, two spacecraft were required, not one. One spacecraft would be used to travel from the Earth to the Moon and back, and the second spacecraft would used solely for landing on the moon. Grumman was awarded the contract to design and build the lander, known as the Lunar Excursion Module and later just the Lunar Module as NASA decided the word "excursion" was too frivolous.
Although NASA had developed a reference design and Grumman had created a preliminary design already, it was understood that these designs would have only a passing resemblance to the finished LM. Kelly's team was handed the job of creating a concrete design. Incidentally, it was at this point that the idea of using the LM as a lifeboat - as used in the Apollo 13 accident - was first mooted and, everything still being on paper, the capacity of the LM was increased accordingly to accomodate such a possibility.
As the project moved forward, costs and delays spiralled upward, in most part due to unforseen nature of a challange such as Apollo. To assuage Grumman's critics, when the working design was completed, Kelly was moved to head up Spacecraft Assembly and Testing or SCAT. Thus, unusually for any high budget, high technology project, the designer also became the manafacturer.
Despite best efforts, timelines continued to slip and Kelly's team were unable to get the third LM - LM-3 - in shape to fly as planned on Apollo 8, which was to be the first manned test of the spacecraft. Instead, the Apollo 8 mission was reconfigured, leaving the LM behind and sending the first humans into orbit aroud the moon.
However LM-3, renamed Spider, did fly in Earth orbit on Apollo 9 and performed nearly flawlessly, as did all the LMs.
Kelly retired from Grumman in 1992 and currently lives in Cutchogue, New York where he works as an aerospace consultant.