John New, 89

John New, 89; NASA engineer pioneered satellite tests

John New was founding director of a satellite-testing program at Goddard Space Flight Center.
John New was founding director of a satellite-testing program at Goddard Space Flight Center. (Nasa Photo)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 15, 2010

John New, 89, an engineer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center who developed a series of methods and facilities for testing satellites during the early days of space flight, died July 28 at the Renaissance Gardens assisted living facility in Silver Spring. He had pneumonia.

In 1959, Mr. New joined the recently formed Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt as the founding director of what became known as the Test and Evaluation Division. With meager resources, he set up a laboratory in a converted warehouse and soon expanded it to include dozens of buildings.

Much of the early equipment was borrowed or handmade, as Mr. New and his engineers developed facilities and tests to ensure that early satellites could withstand the intense sunlight, stress and gravity encountered in space.

Within two years, NASA had successfully launched three satellites, each of which had undergone rigorous testing by Mr. New's staff. The goal of the unmanned orbiting laboratories, in the words of NASA's first administrator, T. Keith Glennan, was "to expand human knowledge about space for the benefit and peaceful use of mankind."

Mr. New and NASA engineers designed and built a launch simulator, vacuum chambers and facilities to test electromagnetism, vibration, heat and other environmental conditions in space. He continued to oversee the steady expansion of Goddard's facilities, equipment and staff for more than 15 years.

"He was an early pioneer at NASA," said Ed Powers, an engineer and colleague who has worked at Goddard since 1962. "He was absolutely the initiator of this operation. Many, if not most of the major facilities he established in the early '60s and '70s are still in active use."

The expansive NASA laboratory that Mr. New designed became the model for others around the world and was featured in documentaries. He accompanied many dignitaries on visits, including "Star Trek" actor Leonard Nimoy and entertainer Ethel Merman.

After retiring from NASA in 1976, Mr. New was president of a farming corporation in Spotsylvania County and did much of the work in the fields himself, raising corn and soybeans. He was a founder and past president of the Virginia Corn Growers Association.

He also formed a company that built energy-efficient homes in Prince George's County.

John Calhoun New was born Aug. 9, 1920, in Warrensburg, Mo., and grew up on a nearby farm. He graduated from the University of Missouri in 1943, joined the Navy and spent the final two years of World War II as an engineer at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory at White Oak. He received a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland in 1950.

During his 15 years at the Naval Ordnance Laboratory, Mr. New designed the nine-hole White Oak Golf Course for employees. Today, it is a public course maintained by Montgomery County.

He received career awards from the Navy and NASA and was president of the Society for Experimental Stress Analysis. He was also a member of First Baptist Church in the District, where he and his wife were longtime leaders of youth groups.

Mr. New lived in Lanham for many years before retiring to Silver Spring.

His wife of 55 years, Mildred Estes New, died in 2000.

Survivors include two children, Deborah Lowry of Alexandria and Brian New of Sellersburg, Ind.; and a grandson.

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