UPDATE: Jack Townsend, In Memorium

UPDATE: Jack Townsend, In Memorium

UPDATE: The Washington Post ran this obituary on November 16, 2011.

John W. (Jack) Townsend, former Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and former President of Fairchild’s space division died of lung cancer on October 29. He was 87.

His family provided the following biography.

Townsend was a rocket and satellite pioneer. Starting in 1949, he served with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in the V-2, Aerobee, Viking and Vanguard upper air research programs. In 1958, as Assistant Director, he helped form the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Dr. Townsend was one of a three-man Presidential commission charged with negotiating the first peaceful uses of outer space programs with the Soviet Union. He was influential in creating the first meteorological, communications and earth viewing satellite systems. From 1968-1970, he was Deputy Administrator of the Environmental Science Services Agency, the predecessor agency to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). From 1970-1977 he was Associate Administrator of NOAA. Both were Presidential appointments. In 1975 he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for his work in developing meteorological polar and geostationary satellite systems. He was President of Fairchild Industries space division, and held senior executive positions at Fairchild, including Executive Vice President from 1977-1987. After the Challenger accident, he returned to NASA at the request of then Administrator James Fletcher and served essentially as general manager until the space shuttle safely returned to service. He retired in 1990 after almost three years as Director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

Dr. Townsend chaired the National Research Council’s Space Application Board and led many influential studies for the National Academies and other organizations, including the seminal, Low-Altitude Wind Shear and Its Hazard to Aviation. He was a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the American Meteorological Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received the Arthur S. Fleming award, NASA’s distinguished service award twice and also its outstanding leadership medal, the Edward A. Flinn award of the American Geophysical Union, the Navy Department Meritorious Civilian Service award, and other honors.

He was a WWII veteran and flew radar countermeasures in B-29s in the Pacific. He was a live steam railroader, an orchid hobbyist, sailor, and, for more than 65 years, a ham radio operator.

He is survived by his wife, JoAnn Clayton Townsend; his children, Bruce, Nancy and Megan Townsend; and three grandchildren.

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