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PAUL YOSHIO TANI, 83

IBM Engineer Helped With Spaceflights

Paul Tani was among the first to write programs for commercially available digital computers.
Paul Tani was among the first to write programs for commercially available digital computers. (Family Photo)
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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Paul Yoshio Tani, 83, IBM's manager of mission programming in support of the early spaceflights, died after a heart attack Feb. 19 on the Mall en route to an event at the National Museum of the American Indian. He lived in Ashburn.

Mr. Tani was among the first to write programs for the nation's first commercially available electronic digital computers. When he started his career, he worked for Honeywell, North American Aviation and Union Carbide, all of which used IBM equipment.

He joined IBM in the early 1960s and worked in technical and management positions. During the period from 1963 to 1966, he was the company's mission programming manager in support of the early Gemini and Apollo spaceflights. A nephew, Daniel M. Tani, later became a NASA astronaut.

Mr. Tani was born in San Francisco. As a teenager, in 1942 he was forced to move with his family to the Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah, where about 8,000 Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. Mr. Tani was drafted into the Army two years later and served in the United States.

After the war, Mr. Tani graduated from Stanford University, receiving a master's degree in mathematics in 1951. He retired from IBM in 1991 and moved to Brevard, N.C., then to Ashburn in 1999.

He was a member of the Japanese American Veterans Association of the Japanese American Citizens League. He was a volunteer docent at the National Japanese American Memorial to Patriotism in Washington and worked on transcribing interviews with fellow second-generation Japanese Americans who served in the military.

His wife of 44 years, Sumiko Watanabe, died in 1999.

Survivors include his fiancee, Florence Dobashi of San Francisco; two sons, Thomas Tani of Morris Plains, N.J., and James Tani of Vienna; and three grandchildren.

-- Patricia Sullivan


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