William E. Stoney Jr., NASA engineer in space race, dies at 96

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William E. Stoney Jr., an aeronautical engineer who made significant contributions to NASA’s mission during the space race as the developer of early rockets and the lead engineer of the Apollo program, died May 28 in a rehabilitation center in Ashburn, Virginia. He was 96.

The cause was complications from a fall, her son Robert Stoney said.

Mr. Stoney was in his early twenties, fresh out of MIT after serving as an aircraft mechanic during World War II, when he joined NASA’s predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, in 1949.

Working at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, he joined a group of engineers renowned for their imaginative work on unmanned aircraft and rocket technology.

Mr Stoney was therefore in a key position when the space race began in the 1950s, pitting the two Cold War superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union, in a contest to achieve what was considered the last frontier.

A critical moment – and an embarrassing setback for the United States – came in 1957 with the Soviets’ successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite.

“We were disappointed that we weren’t the first,” Mr. Stoney said years later, “but in another sense it reassured us that we were really on the right track – that, boy, we really could to be supported from now on, because it was important for the United States to keep trying to catch up, and we were part of that game.”

Mr. Stoney became the program director overseeing the development of the solid propellant rocket known as the Scout. NASA today describes the rocket as “one of the most successful boosters” in the space agency’s history, with payloads producing “critical advances in atmospheric and space science”.

In the 1960s, as ambitions turned to manned spaceflight, Stoney was appointed chief of advanced space vehicle concepts at NASA headquarters in Washington and headed the Advanced Spacecraft Technology Division in Houston. . He held senior engineering positions during the Apollo program, the highlight of which was the landing of astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969. That year, Mr. Stoney received the Distinguished Service Medal from NASA for his work on the Apollo mission.

After ‘wiping the moon dust’ from his eyes, as he put it, Mr Stoney became director of NASA’s Earth observation programs in 1973, leading the development of satellites for meteorological purposes as well as air and land pollution monitoring. Resources.

William Edmund Stoney Jr. was born September 13, 1925 in Terre Haute, Ind., and grew up in Charleston, SC, and Brooklyn. Her father was a civil engineer who worked on the Panama Canal and her mother was a housewife. Observing her young son’s interest in flying, she once accompanied Mr. Stoney to an airfield where he flew in a plane piloted by pioneer aviator Clarence D. Chamberlin.

After serving in the Air Force in the Pacific during World War II, Mr. Stoney received a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1949. He earned two master’s degrees, one in aeronautical engineering from the University of Virginia in 1951 and another in Industrial Management from MIT in 1962.

Mr. Stoney retired from NASA in 1978 and later worked in the private sector, including with RCA Corp. on advanced robotics and with Noblis, a non-profit technology company.

Mr. Stoney’s first marriage, to Roberta Beckner, ended in divorce. His second wife, Joy Scafard Stoney, died in 2016 after 51 years of marriage.

Survivors include three stepchildren from his second marriage whom he adopted, Catherine Stoney of Vienna, Va., Jeanne Stoney-Disston of Weston, Conn., and Robert Stoney of Herndon, Va.; a son from his second marriage, John Stoney of Austin; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Mr. Stoney had been a member of the American Society for Psychical Research since age 20 and had amassed a collection of more than 1,000 books and other materials on the paranormal and the possibility of an afterlife.

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