Homer Stewart; Worked on First Successful U.S. Satellite

Associated Press
Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Homer J. Stewart, 91, an early pioneer of rocket research who helped develop the first successful U.S. satellite, Explorer I, died May 26 at his home in Altadena, Calif. No cause of death was reported.

Dr. Stewart was an emeritus professor of aeronautics at the California Institute of Technology. He came to Caltech in 1936 but in the late 1950s took a leave of absence to advise on the preparation of Explorer I.

After the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik I in October 1957, there was a frenzied effort by the United States to launch a satellite of its own.

Explorer I was sent into orbit in January 1958, upping the ante in the space race, being played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, in which the Americans and Soviets engaged in a decades-long quest to achieve supremacy in space.

In that year, Dr. Stewart became director of planning and evaluation for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

He later joined Wernher von Braun, the German rocket pioneer, on Capitol Hill to testify before a Senate panel about the lagging performance of the United States in aerospace and missile development.

The panel was told that the Russian missile guidance system had become accurate enough to hit a U.S. city from 5,000 miles away and that Russian space and missile technologies were a full 12 to 20 months ahead of their U.S. counterparts.

The senators urged stepping up the pace of the "national approach" to defense and aerospace technology.

Dr. Stewart also helped in preparations for another satellite, Pioneer IV, and made recommendations for planning what would become the Apollo missions to the moon.

He was a native of Dubuque, Iowa, and received a bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota in 1936 and a doctorate in aeronautics at Caltech in 1940. He was an early researcher at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the federally financed aerospace research facility managed by Caltech. He retired from the university in 1980.

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