wpickering.jpgWilliam Hayward Pickering, a pioneer of the U.S. space program, died on March 15 from pneumonia. He was 93.
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Pickering spent his teens building an early radio station with a classmate that allowed him to communicate with people all over the world by Morse code. He attended Canterbury College then traveled to America in 1929 to study at the California Institute of Technology. After earning a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a doctorate in physics, he became a U.S. citizen in 1941.
Pickering joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and organized electronics efforts to support guided missile research and development. In Oct. 1957, Sputnik 1 made the Soviet Union the first nation to send an artificial satellite into orbit around the Earth. Charged with matching this feat, Pickering rose to the challenge and oversaw the launch of the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, just 83 days later. That satellite, and Explorer III (also launched in 1958), discovered the Van Allen radiation belt, which encircles the Earth. Known as “Mr. JPL” and “Rocket Man,” Pickering headed the laboratory from 1954 to 1976. Under his guidance, the JPL team sent robotic probes to the Moon, Venus and Mars.
In retirement, Pickering worked at the University of Petroleum and Minerals in Saudi Arabia. He also founded the energy company, Lignetics Inc. For his contributions to science and technology, Pickering received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal and the National Medal of Science. He was given an honorary knighthood by Queen Elizabeth II, and twice appeared on the cover of Time magazine.