Spacelift Washington: Farewell to a Transformational Pioneer

By frank_sietzen
December 6, 2002
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Spacelift Washington

Spacelift Washington Archive

WASHINGTON, December 6 – If you believe that America should pioneer humanity’s way into space, or believe in a strong military space program, or if you are a woman in the U.S. military, then you should pause for a few seconds and remember a space pioneer who died last week. For this man, in his careers and life, advanced the cause of all three.

John McLucas was born in North Carolina. He died in Alexandria, Virginia on Sunday at the age of 82. In a career that spanned more than five decades, he was a U.S. Naval Officer, Deputy Director of Defense Research and Engineering, Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, President of COMSAT World Systems, NATO Assistant Secretary General for Scientific Affairs, Under Secretary, and Acting Secretary and Secretary of the Air Force.

He was also President of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, member of the National Academy of Engineering and Chair of the NASA Advisory Committee.

He was a member of the Defense Science Board, and the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. As head of the National Reconnaissance Office from 1969 to 1973, he had a hand in shaping critical national security space programs, most of which we will never know anything about. He was also the creator of and owner of 10 patents for scientific instruments.

All of this you most likely know.

What you might not know is that McLucas was among the most ardent advocates for opening the fleet of Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites for civil uses.

He fought, when it was not a popular topic, for giving female Air Force officers the right to fly. He helped open the USAF Academy to women. And thus made it possible for future female pilots to fly the space shuttles.

McLucas believed in America’s role in space business. He even wrote a book about it, called Space Commerce, published back in 1991 when the dreams of commercial space were at flood tide.

I met him at an Air Force History Symposium on Air Force Space programs in 1994 when I had just become editor of a newsletter called “Military Space”. He was kind enough to talk with me then about the Air Force in space, as was a fellow pioneer also present at that conference, a retired General Officer named Bernard Shriever.

The Defense Department honored McLucas with the Medal for Distinguished Public Service – in 1964. The Air Force awarded him its Exceptional Service Award in May, 1973, two years before President Gerald R. Ford swore him in as the eighth FAA Administrator.

McLucas created or was in senior management positions of a host of private businesses, including vice-president and technical director of Haller, Raymond and Brown Inc., president of HRB-Singer Inc., and president of MITRE Corp.

In a time when some wonder just where America is going in space, McLucas would tell you, it’s going forward. Because, in Neil Armstrong’s words, “There are places to go beyond belief…”
At each step and at each destination, we will reach those distances because we will have been hoisted aloft upon the shoulders of giants.

This man from North Carolina worked on a South Carolina farm, graduated from Tulane and Pennsylvania State University, dreamed great dreams of space, loved to figure out how things worked, and remained active in civic life in his later years. He was a man who believed in both this country’s strengths and its destiny – in space.

To his wife, four children, five stepchildren and nine grandchildren we offer our prayers.
And to him, we say, simply, thank-you.

Ad Astra-Per Aspera.

SPACELIFT WASHINGTON © 2002 by Frank Sietzen, Jr. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own, and are not associated with or affiliated with any other organization or group.