Dr. Edgar Maurice Cortright, of Palm City, Florida, passed away peacefully on May 4, 2014 at the age of 90 following a stroke. Dr. Cortright was an engineer, scientist and administrator, best known for his work as Director of NASA's Langley Research Center during which time he directed Project Viking which successfully landed Viking on Mars, in 1976. Viking was the first spacecraft to ever land on Mars.
Edgar Maurice Cortright was born in Hastings, PA on July 29, 1923 to Edgar Maurice Cortright, Sr. and Janet Pearsall Cortright. He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) where he received both a B.S. and M.S. degree in aeronautical engineering. Later in life he was awarded Honorary PhDs from both RPI and George Washington University. Dr. Cortright bravely served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and was on the carrier USS Saratoga when it was bombed in the Pacific. In 1945 Dr. Cortright married Beverly Jane Hotaling, to whom he remained married for 67 years until her death in 2012.
After graduation from college, Dr. Cortright joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor of NASA, as an aeronautical research scientist at Lewis Flight Propulsion laboratory in Cleveland. While at Lewis, from 1954-1958, he was Chief of the Supersonic Wind tunnel Branch and conducted research on supersonic aerodynamics. In 1958 he was appointed Chief of the Plasma Physics Branch.
Sputnik changed everything! In 1958 Dr. Cortright was then recruited to join a small force that created NASA. He became Chief of Advanced Technology Programs and directed initial formulation of NASA's meteorological satellite program, including TIROS and Nimbus. Later he was appointed Assistant Director for Lunar and Planetary Programs. In 1961 he was appointed Deputy Director of NASA's Office of Space Sciences. In 1963 he was appointed Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Sciences and applications, planning and directing NASA's programs for unmanned scientific exploration and utilization of space, including the lunar and planetary probes, the geophysical and astronomical satellites and probes, biosciences, applications and satellites, and the development and use of light and medium launch vehicles. During the following ten years he played a key role in planning and directing many manned and unmanned space programs. In 1968 Dr. Cortright was named Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Manned Space Flight.
Later, in 1968 Dr. Cortright became Director of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. He spent the next years dedicated to landing a space vehicle on Mars. Under his direction, the Project Viking made the first Mars landing in 1976. Viking brought back high- resolution images of the Martian surface and took surface samples, analyzed them for composition and signs of life, as well as studied atmospheric composition and meteorology, and deployed seismometers.
Dr. Cortright was also honored to chair the Apollo XIII failure review board, in 1970. The Apollo XIII Review Board was charged with reviewing the circumstances surrounding the Apollo XIII accident, establishing the probable cause, and making recommendations for corrections.
After 30 years of government service Dr. Cortright retired from NASA. He became Vice President and Technical Director of Owen's Illinois Corporation and subsequently President of the Lockheed- California Co. As President of Lockheed-California Co., Dr. Cortright and his wife Beverly saw much of the world and met many world leaders.
After retirement from Lockheed, Dr. Cortright became involved in small business. Dr. Cortright is the author of numerous technical reports and articles. He was proud of his books, "Exploring Space With a Camera" and "Apollo Expeditions to the Moon."
Dr. Cortright's awards and citations include the Arthur Flemming Award (1963); NASA outstanding Leadership (1966); NASA Distinguished Service (1967); AAS Space Flight Award (1970)
Dr. Cortright's leisure activities included golfing, boating, and listening to music. He was interested in architecture and visual arts. Dr. Cortright designed a cottage on Atwood Lake in Ohio and the home he most cherished on Wormley Creek in Yorktown, Virginia.
Dr. Cortright was a kind, modest, respectful, and generous man who loved golden retrievers, people, and most of all, his wife, Beverly. Until his dying day, he always greeted each person he saw with his warm and memorable smile. He was deeply loved and will be missed by many.
Edgar is survived by his brother, David P. Cortright of Jenkintown, PA.; his daughter, Susan Weiss of Auburn, ME.; his son, David E. Cortright of St. Louis, MO; his son in law, Robert Weiss; his daughter in law, Cathy Cortright; and his grandsons, David Weiss; Matthew Weiss; and Jeffrey Cortright as well as his nephews and nieces, Joan Cortright, Beth DiValentino, Stephen Cortright, David Cortright, Janet Hon, and Catherine Smith. He was predeceased by his sister, Janet Smith.
For Dr. Cortright's care, his family gives thanks to all staff at Holbrook; to Dr. Christine Freme; and to his dedicated and loving caregivers, Penny Altman; Susan Owen; Bonnie McQuenney; Stephanie Galackas; Linda Sheehan; Kristen Beith; and Comfort Keepers.