JoAnn Clayton Townsend (1935-2020)

JoAnn Clayton Townsend (1935-2020)

JoAnn Clayton Townsend, former director of the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) at the National Academies and an AIAA Fellow, passed away last night from congestive heart failure.  She had just turned 85.

JoAnn Clayton Townsend at her home in Maine.

After growing up in Tulsa, OK, JoAnn traveled the world with her husband, John Clayton, a journalist with the U.S. Information Service, until his untimely death when their two children were still quite young.

JoAnn then worked as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill for several years before joining the staff of the National Research Council (NRC) at the National Academy of Sciences in 1979.

One of her first assignments was as a staff officer for a committee writing a report for NASA on President Reagan’s decision to cancel the U.S. portion of the NASA-ESA International Solar Polar Mission (ISPM). Thus began her fascination with the space program and within a few years she rose to become ASEB Director.

At ASEB she met Jack Townsend, a former Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, executive at Fairchild, and member of the National Academy of Engineering. They were married from 1996 until his death in 2011.

JoAnn Clayton Townsend with one of her paintings-in-work.

JoAnn retired from ASEB in 1997 to pursue her dream of becoming an artist, another field in which she excelled.  She was accepted into the prestigious Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria, VA where she painted until she and her daughter, Diana, moved to Maine to be with her son, David, and his family in 2013.

JoAnn’s contributions to the U.S. space program were recognized by her peers when she was elected as a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) in 2003.  Women in Aerospace presented her with its Outstanding Achievement Award in 1991 and Outstanding Member Award in 1997. She was a member of the International Institute of Space Law and editor of its annual proceedings for many years. She also was a member of the International Academy of Astronautics.

JoAnn was an alumna of the University of Tulsa and received a master’s degree in space policy from George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute.

Editor’s Note:  JoAnn was a close friend of mine for almost 40 years.  Her passion for space was matched only by her passion for art and while her paintings were abstract, I could sense the cosmos in many of them.


Note: updated version corrects the year Jack and JoAnn were married (1996 not 1998) and that she grew up in Tulsa, but was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

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