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Weekly Scientist Obit: "Rocket Boy" Turned Surfer Dude

The Secret Life of Scientists and EngineersThe Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers

For some people, launching a rocket just doesn’t beat the thrill of catching a good wave.

Herman Bank started his career as a “rocket boy” at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory–an aerospace research center that would later become part of NASA. Working as a project engineer, Bank helped develop early rockets, and oversaw design of the nation’s first satellite successfully launched into orbit.

Herman Bank: dressed for the lab, prepared for the beach.

But Bank’s passion project was a little bit closer to Earth…or rather, water. In 1966 Bank invented “the collapsible surfboard.” He saw his invention as a solution to the problem of transporting boards, which, at the time, ran about 10 feet in length. Bank enjoyed a short stint of fame for his invention, but this wave of success did not last long. Unfortunately, once shorter boards became available, the business, well, collapsed. A man of many talents, Bank soon returned to NASA, where he would go on to develop life-saving medical technology.

And if you’re wondering, “Why didn’t he try to invent rocket-powered surfboards?” So are we.

Read more in Bank’s LA Times obituary .

Original funding for "The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers" was provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.