John Houbolt (1919-2014): As an engineer at both NASA and its predecessor, NACA, Houbolt made critical contributions to the Apollo Program. He developed the initial plan to use a ‘Lunar Orbiter Rendezvous’ method of putting the first men on the Moon. He identified economical methods that saved NASA billions of dollars in developing the lunar landing missions.
John Cornelius Houbolt was born on April 10, 1919, in Altoona, Iowa. He spent part of his childhood in Joliet, Illinois, where he attended Joliet Central High School and Joliet Junior College. He earned earning Bachelors and Masters Degrees in civil engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 1940 and 1942, respectively. He also has a Ph.D. in Technical Sciences from ETH Zurich.
Houbolt worked at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) from 1942 on, and then at NASA, once it replaced NACA. He retired from NASA in 1985. Houbolt was awarded the NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal in 1963 for his work on the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, or LOR. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. Although the basics of the LOR concept had been independently identified by Yuri Kondratyuk in 1916, and seven years later, by Hermann Oberth, it was John Houbolt and NASA that were the first to implement it. Houbolt successfully argued for the concept in the planning stages of the Apollo lunar landing program.
While some aspects of Houbolt’s initial estimates were off (such as a 10,000 pound Apollo Lunar Module which was ultimately 30,000 pounds), his LOR package proved to be feasible with a single Saturn V rocket, unlike other proposals NASA had considered for the Moon missions.