Houbolt was born in Altoona, Iowa in 1919. He spent part of his childhood in Joliet, Illinois, where he attended Joliet Central High School and Joliet Junior College. He attended the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, earning a Bachelors (1940) and a Masters (1942) degree in civil engineering. He later received a PhD in Technical Sciences in 1957 from ETH Zurich. Houbolt began his career at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1942, and stayed on at NASA after it succeeded NACA, until retirement in 1985.
Houbolt was an engineer at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and he was one of the most vocal of a minority of engineers who supported LOR and his campaign in 1961 and 1962. Once this mode was chosen in 1962, many other aspects of the mission were significantly based on this fundamental design decision. He was a guest at Mission control for the Apollo 11 lunar landing.
He was awarded the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1963. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He was awarded an honorary doctorate, awarded on May 15, 2005 at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and his papers were deposited in the University of Illinois Archives. In 2009, the Illinois House of Representatives adopted HR 540 in his honor. He is additionally commemorated in the city of Joliet: The street fronting Joliet Junior College, which he attended, was renamed Houbolt Road; a mural in Joliet Union Station includes a Lunar Module, in reference to his work for NASA; and a wing of the Joliet Area Historical Museum became a permanent exhibit to celebrate his achievements.
He lived in Williamsburg, Virginia. He lived in Scarborough, Maine. He died at a nursing home there in 2014 of Parkinson's disease.
In the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, Houbolt was played by Reed Birney.
Born in Altoona, Iowa
April 10, 1919 – April 15, 2014