Born: 1910-12-24. Died: 2004-03-15.
William Hayward Pickering was born in Wellington, New Zealand. As a teenager, he became a local celebrity by building one of New Zealand's first crystal sets. An uncle persuaded him to enroll at a new university in California, Caltech. He obtained his bachelors and masters degrees in electrical engineering, then a Ph.D. in Physics there before becoming a professor of electrical engineering in 1946. In 1944 he organized the electronics efforts at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to support guided missile research and development, becoming project manager for Corporal, the first operational missile JPL developed. From 1954 to 1976 he was director of JPL, which developed the first U.S. satellite (Explorer I), the first successful U.S. cislunar space probe (Pioneer IV), the Mariner flights to Venus and Mars in the early to mid-1960s, the Ranger photographic missions to the moon in 1964-65, the Surveyor lunar landings of 1966-67, and the Viking landings on Mars in 1976. Following retirement from JPL he worked in Saudi Arabia for two years, followed by the founding of his own start-up company, Lignetics. However he remained in touch with space happenings and was at JPL in January 2004 when the MER spacecraft landed on Mars.
A guideline letter was sent to William H. Pickering, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), from Abe Silverstein, Director of NASA's Office of Space Flight Development, outlining a program of five lunar spacecraft flights, intended primarily to obtain information on the lunar surface. JPL was requested to conduct tradeoff studies on spacecraft design and mission. The scientific objective would be to "acquire and transmit a number of images of the lunar surface." In addition, JPL was asked to "evaluate the probability of useful data return from a survivable package incorporating . . . a lunar seismometer of the type . . . being developed for NASA." This letter provided the formal basis for what was subsequently the Ranger program.
MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth requested of Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director William H. Pickering that JPL fire the Surveyor spacecraft's vernier engine after the Surveyor landed on moon, to give insight into how much erosion could be expected from an LM landing. The LM descent engine was to operate until it was about one nozzle diameter from landing on the lunar surface; after the Surveyor landed, its engine would be about the same distance from the surface. Gilruth told Pickering that LaRC was testing a reaction control engine to establish surface shear pressure forces, surface pressures, and back pressure sources, and offered JPL that data when obtained.