James J. Donegan, 62, a pioneer in space technology for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since NASA's creation in 1958, died Sunday at Montgomery General Hospital after a heart attack.
An aeronautical engineer, Mr. Donegan specialized in spacecraft tracking, data acquisition and computing techniques at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt. He was an original member of the Tracking and Ground Instrumentation Unit (TAGU) attached to NASA's first Space Task Group. These two groups, which formed the nucleus of two major NASA space operations centers, were formed in 1958 to meet the challenge of the 1957 Soviet Sputnik launch.
Mr. Donegan was one of the designers of the original Manned Space Flight Network, a worldwide complex of ground stations, ships and launch sites that provide tracking and data support services for manned space flight missions.
He was director of Goddard's manned space flights until 1973, when he was named chief of the newly organized Operations Support Computing Division, which included the Manned Space Flight Tracking Network and the Space Tracking Data Network.As such, he was responsible for providing computing services and support for both manned and unmanned scientific spacecraft.
Mr. Donegan served as operations director for NASA's Project Mercury and coordinated instantaneous computer services for the historic manned missions, the Gemini and Apollo flights. He was awarded NASA's Exceptional Service Metal in 1969 for his work on the Apollo Program. He lived in Rockville.
He was born in Paterson, N.J., and graduated from the Montclair (N.J.) State College. After serving with the Army Air Forces during World War II, he earned a master's degree in aeronautical engineering from Harvard University. He also did postgraduate work at the University of Virginia.
Surivivors include his wife, Dorothy, a son, Gerald, and a daughter, Diedra all of Rockville; another daughter Kathleen Spicer of Towson, Md; another son, Terrance, of Phoenix, Ariz.; and a brother, Joseph, of New Jersey.