Karl Kachigan was known as a perfectionist in the Atlas missile program at Convair, the aerospace contractor that designed and assembled the vehicle.
Mr. Kachigan had been instrumental in solving a sloshing problem with volatile hydrogen propellants that earlier had led to several spectacular rocket failures. If any little flaw came to light before a launch, Mr. Kachigan would bring everything to a halt rather than risk a problem after liftoff.
He did allow himself one superstitious practice as a final precaution: At exactly T-minus 18 seconds in the countdown, Mr. Kachigan would cross his fingers for luck.
Mr. Kachigan of La Mesa became the chief engineer and director of the Atlas program – ultimately a division of General Dynamics – leading hundreds of engineers and hundreds of launches for the military, NASA and private companies.
Mr. Kachigan died Dec. 29 at a hospice in Palm Desert. He was 78 and had been battling cancer and pulmonary fibrosis.