William H. Pickering


William Hayward Pickering ONZ KBE (24 December 1910 — 15 March 2004) was a New Zealand born rocket scientist who headed Pasadena, California's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) for 22 years, retiring in 1976. He was a senior NASA luminary and pioneered the exploration of space.

After spending one year at Canterbury University College he completed his bachelor's degree at the California Institute of Technology and completed a PhD in physics in 1936. His specialty was in electrical engineering and he concentrated on what is now telemetry.

As the Director of JPL, from 1954, Pickering was closely involved with management of the Private and Corporal missiles under the aegis of the U.S. Army.  His group launched Explorer I on a Jupiter-C rocket from Cape Canaveral on 31 January 1958 less than four months after the Russians had launched Sputnik.

In 1958 the lab's projects were transferred to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Pickering's team concentrated on NASA's unmanned space-flight program. JPL, under Pickering's direction flew further Explorer 3 and Pioneer missions as well as the Ranger and Surveyor missions to the moon and the several Mariner flybys of Venus and Mars.

Explorer III discovered the radiation field round the earth that is now known as the Van Allen radiation belt. Explorer 1 orbited for 10 years and was the forerunner of a number of successful JPL earth and deep-space satellites. At the time of his retirement as director, in 1976, the Voyager missions were about to launch on tours of the outer planets and Viking 1 was on its way to land on Mars.

Between 1977 and his death in 2004, Pickering also served as Patron of the New Zealand Spaceflight Association; a non-profit organisation which exists to promote an informed approach to astronautics and related sciences.

In addition to the Procter Prize, Pickering's honors include the IEEE Edison Medal in 1972, the National Medal of Science in 1975, Knight Commander in the Order of the British Empire in 1975, Japan Prize in 1994, The Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) Honorary Fellowship.  Pickering is one of the few non-politicians to have appeared on the cover of Time twice.