John C. Houbolt was a NASA engineer who contributed to the United States’ successful moon landing in 1969. He passed away this week at the age of 95.
Facing a challenge from President Kennedy to reach the moon before the end of the decade and intense pressure due to the U.S.-Soviet space race, Houbolt encouraged his NASA colleagues to focus on using a module carrying a crew from lunar orbit, rather than a rocket from earth, to land on the moon.
According to NASA, Houbolt took a “bold step of skipping proper channels” in order to push the issue in a private letter to a new administrator in 1961. “Do we want to go to the moon or not?” he asked.
“Why is a much less grandiose scheme involving rendezvous ostracized or put on the defensive? I fully realize that contacting you in this manner is somewhat unorthodox, but the issues at stake are crucial enough to us all that an unusual course is warranted.”
Read more about Houbolt in his LA Times obituary.