Space News
space history and artifacts articles

space history discussion forums

worldwide astronaut appearances

selected space history documents

  collectSPACE: Messages
  Space Explorers & Workers
  About the life and works of Dr. Robert Gilruth

Post New Topic  Post A Reply
profile | register | preferences | faq | search

next newest topic | next oldest topic
Author Topic:   About the life and works of Dr. Robert Gilruth

Posts: 760
From: Hudson, MA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 01-18-2012 11:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I want to know more about Dr. Robert Gilruth. He has been called "the architect of manned space flight" and yet I seem to be able to find little about him.

I would like to know if there were any taped interviews with him after he retired from NASA or if any books were written specifically about him? Did he write any significant things about his time in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo era?

Was he interviewed at the time of Challenger or later? I understand everyone's right to privacy but I am a bit perplexed on the lack of any substantial info about this individual who was so central to our very successful early space programs.


Posts: 642
From: Cinci, OH
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 01-18-2012 12:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Unfortunately for Dr. Gilruth (most of all) and for researchers, he was hampered by Alzheimers disease in his later years. His colleagues often spoke to us with great regret about this situation, and the tragic nature of it happening to someone with such a brilliant mind. That explains the lack of his being more in the public eye with memoirs and interviews.

Many of us believe he was the great unsung hero of the early manned space program. He was the true driving force behind the organization that built all of our manned spacecraft, even more so than Von Braun was to the rocket guys. His nature was always that of a more behind-the-scenes guy than Von Braun, so he never got the same credit. And that also explains why you see little from/about him even during his time with NASA.

I haven't seen anything more than an article here or there that deals with him specifically, though he is all over the pages of the early NASA histories, the MSC/JSC history (Suddenly Tomorrow Came), and so forth. The JSC archives at the University of Houston - Clear Lake may have a recorded interview of him from the set that was done in the 1960s in writing the original NASA histories, but I don't recall for sure.


Posts: 91
From: Chelmsford, MA
Registered: Oct 2000

posted 01-19-2012 07:46 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for edorr   Click Here to Email edorr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Chris Kraft wrote a biographical memoir of Gilruth that is available here (PDF).


Posts: 760
From: Hudson, MA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 01-19-2012 09:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Thanks to all for that info. The link to Christopher Kraft's memoir was very nice. I can see that Dr. Gilruth was very much a 'behind the scenes' type of manager and NASA was very fortunate to have had him.

Michael Davis

Posts: 549
From: Houston, Texas
Registered: Aug 2002

posted 01-22-2012 10:03 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Michael Davis   Click Here to Email Michael Davis     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I developed a bit of a fascination for Robert Gilruth a few years ago, The only sizable account of his life I found was in James Schefter's "The Race." A large portion of that book is devoted to Gilruth. It deals extensively not only with his remarkable work at NASA, but also with his personal life.

Gilruth had a passion for sailing and he built boats for a hobby. Thinking of him sailing in Galveston Bay during his time in Houston still forms a great image.

I find it a little sad that we may have more information readily available about Sergei Korolev than Robert Gilruth. That seems like an omission of history.

One of the first autographed photos I collected was of Gilruth greeting the crew of Apollo 15 as they touched down on the recovery carrier.

It remains as one of my favorite items.

Lou Chinal

Posts: 1371
From: Staten Island, NY
Registered: Jun 2007

posted 01-22-2012 03:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Lou Chinal   Click Here to Email Lou Chinal     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Mike and Paul, I too was fascinated by Dr. Robert Gilruth's life. I spent an afternoon with him in his home in Kilmarnock, Virginia in 1986. He said he had to come back to the Chesapeake Bay to sail.

Did you know he worked on the X-1?

I compiled several pages of notes from that day, but I don't think I'll ever have time to do anything with them. He is truly one of the lesser known hero's of the space program.


Posts: 760
From: Hudson, MA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 03-04-2022 05:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ten years later and I still think a lot about Dr. Gilruth and how he was instrumental to our early human space program.

NASA has honored/remembered many of its most significant contributors/patrons by naming some of its major facilities after them including Joseph Sweetman Ames, Neil Armstrong, Christopher C. Kraft, Katherine Johnson, Lyndon B. Johnson, Robert F. Kennedy, George C. Marshall, and John C. Stennis. There are others. NASA recently dedicated a rocket park at JSC for George Abbey. All very deserving.

But I can't help but believe that there is a very deserving name missing and I cannot understand why.

Robert Pearlman

Posts: 48130
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 03-04-2022 09:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The conference center at Johnson Space Center (which also includes the employee fitness center and Starport exchange store), is named after Gilruth.

The Gilruth Center was where, pre-pandemic, returning space station crews were honored post-flight and where NASA briefings needing public access were held (the entrance to the center is located outside the security gates to Johnson Space Center). Anyone who lives or works in or around JSC is very familiar with the facility.

Jim Behling

Posts: 1708
From: Cape Canaveral, FL
Registered: Mar 2010

posted 03-05-2022 04:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
It was named back in the 1980's and it was the original visitor center I believe.


Posts: 760
From: Hudson, MA
Registered: Jul 2005

posted 03-05-2022 05:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Originally posted by Robert Pearlman: named after Gilruth.
Robert, I did not know and am very happy to hear that. Thank you!


Posts: 825
From: UK
Registered: Mar 2012

posted 04-07-2022 05:17 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Buel   Click Here to Email Buel     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Ten separate interviews with Gilruth can be found (but not downloaded) here. Contents of interviews are:
  • Mercury Project, transition from Eisenhower administration to Kennedy administration

  • Career with NACA, Flight Research Engineering, X-1, Wallops Island

  • Gemini program as training ground for

  • Space Task Group (STG), lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) and lunar module (LM)

  • Rendezvous experiments, Saturn launch vehicles, lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) mode, trip to Antarctica

  • MIT Instrumentation Lab, Joe Shea, Apollo astronaut crew selection, selection of North American Aviation as Apollo spacecraft prime contractor, Apollo 1 (AS-204) fire

  • Educational background of NASA engineers, decision to send Apollo 8 flight to the moon, George Mueller, value of Gemini program for Apollo, Brian O'Leary astronaut selection, Space Task Group move from Langley Research Center (LaRC) to Houston, meeting with Vice President Johnson and astronauts concerning offers of free items and business opportunities, fame of astronauts, Apollo 15 stamps controversy, LIFE contracts for astronaut stories, Apollo Soyuz Test Project (ASTP) negotiations, switch of Apollo 13 and Apollo 14 crews, George Mueller, Gilruth's response to Apollo 1 (AS-204) fire, NASA public affairs handling of Apollo 1 fire announcement, lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) decision, Joe Shea as a manager

  • Transition from NACA to NASA, Space Task Group (STG), move of STG to Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), early human space flight program

  • MR-2 Ham the chimp flight, NACA human space flight studies at Langley Research Center (LaRC), astronaut selection criteria, early Apollo spacecraft studies, Gemini program heritage in Apollo, lunar orbit rendezvous (LOR) decision, decision to use Saturn V instead of Nova, lunar module (LM) docking in earth orbit, use of hydrogen in Saturn launch vehicle upper stages, NASA spacecraft appearance vs science fiction, Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) site selection, development of mission control concept

  • Decision to go to the moon, Space Task Group (STG), Project Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs, Apollo 8 and 11
From experience, if you email NASA, they do email you the PDFs if they can, although the pandemic certainly reduced their speed of replies.

All times are CT (US)

next newest topic | next oldest topic

Administrative Options: Close Topic | Archive/Move | Delete Topic
Post New Topic  Post A Reply
Hop to:

Contact Us | The Source for Space History & Artifacts

Copyright 2022 All rights reserved.

Ultimate Bulletin Board 5.47a