H. Guyford Stever, 93

H. Guyford Stever, 93; science adviser to presidents

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 17, 2010

H. Guyford Stever, 93, the top science adviser to two presidents who led the oversight committee that redesigned the space shuttle's booster rockets after the Challenger disaster, died April 9 at Asbury Methodist Village in Gaithersburg. The cause was adult failure to thrive.

As chief scientist at the U.S. Air Force, Dr. Stever helped establish NASA in the late 1950s and he was a key player in the nation's space program a generation later. After the space shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, killing all seven crew members, Dr. Stever was appointed by the National Research Council to lead the 10-member panel of experts who served as independent watchdogs over the rebuilding the shuttle's booster rockets. It was a technically complex and politically sensitive job.

His leadership in that successful endeavor, as well as others, helped earn him the National Medal of Science in 1991 and the National Science Board's prestigious Vannevar Bush Award in 1997. The latter award described him as "a voice of reason, wisdom and insight -- our sage of science." He has also been described as a conscientious shepherd of the American scientific community, who advanced basic research and helped preserve government funding for it.

Dr. Stever's work in science started long before the United States. entered space. Horton Guyford Stever was born Oct. 24, 1916, in Corning, N.Y., and was orphaned as a boy. He graduated on scholarship from Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and received a doctorate in physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1941.

He contributed to seminal research on radar during World War II and developed international cooperation among scientists in radar and guided missile work, working in Europe to evaluate how far the Germans had developed radar technology.

After the war, he became a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then took leave to be chief scientist at the Air Force in 1957. A month after the Soviet Union sent the Sputnik satellite into orbit, Dr. Stever was asked to lead the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics' special committee on space technology, which aimed to coordinate federal, educational and private entities to develop an American space program. The panel became known as the Stever Committee.

He became president of the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh in 1965 and two years later led its merger with the Mellon Institute of Research, becoming Carnegie Mellon University.

He led the school until 1972, when he became director of the National Science Foundation and also science adviser to President Richard M. Nixon. Nixon abolished the White House Office of Science and Technology three years later, but when Congress reestablished it in 1976, President Gerald R. Ford asked Dr. Stever to return to lead it.

In 1976, Dr. Stever told the trade publication Chemical Week that he predicted that the problem of toxic chemicals in the environment would continue to grow and that the public would increasingly ask hard questions of the scientific establishment.

"Science and technology have to prove their worth to public and government leaders," he said. "People are not anti-science, but they are asking lots more questions about it."

Later, while working as a consultant and corporate board member, he offered advice through the National Academy of Engineering to President George H.W. Bush on the nation's space bureaucracy. He advised that there be new leaders at headquarters, less bureaucracy in the field offices, more exciting goals and clearer priorities. He also advocated more funding for NASA and urged that the nation commit to sending astronauts to Mars.

Dr. Stever was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and wrote a 2002 autobiography, "In War and Peace: My Life in Science and Technology." He enjoyed fly-fishing and participating in community charades at his summer home in Randolph, N.H.

His wife of 60 years, Louise Risley Stever, died in 2004.

Survivors include four children, Roy Stever of Easton, N.H., H. Guyford Stever Jr. of Randolph, Sarah Stever of Birmingham, Mich., and Margarette Weed of Oakton; a sister; and seven grandchildren.

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