John C. Houbolt


To John C. Houbolt for his outstanding contributions to aeroelasticity, structural dynamics, space flight, and the United States Apollo Project, and for his extraordinary service to his profession and to his country.

Consultant, Langley Research Center, National Aeornautics and Space Administration, Hampton, Virginia

  • BS, Civil Engineering, 1940, University of Illinois
  • MS, Civil Engineering, 1942, University of Illinois
  • Doctor of Technical Sciences, 1957, Swiss Polytechnic Institute (ETH), Zurich, Switzerland

John Houbolt's distinguished professional career spans 51 years, during which he has served in government, in industry, and as a private consultant. From 1949-63 he worked in Langley Research Center-NASA, serving on the staff of the Structural Research Division, as associate chief of the Dynamic Loads Division, and as head of the Theoretical Mechanics Division. From 1945-63, he also conducted courses in theory of elasticity, elastic stability, vibration, aircraft clutter, calculus of variations, and higher mathematics in the Graduate Extension Divisions of the University of Virginia and Virginia Polytechnic Institute. From 1963-75, he served as senior vice president of Aeronautical Research Associates of Princeton, Inc. In 1976 he returned to LaRC-NASA as chief aeronautical scientist. He retired from that position in 1985 and became a private consultant.

Houbolt is internationally known for his ability to provide simple solutions to complex problems using his expertise in structural dynamics, aeroelasticity, and orbital mechanics. His greatest contribution was the development of the concept of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous (LOR) for landing humans on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth. The concept had an enormous impact on the U.S. Apollo Program. It was the presence of the lunar module that made possible the return of the astronauts aboard Apollo 13, the command module that had suffered loss of fuel while in route to the Moon.

Houbolt was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1990, received an honorary doctorate from ETH, Zurich, Switzerland, in 1975 and from Clarkson University, Potsdam, New York, in 1990, and received the UIUC Alumni Association Achievement Award in 1970 and the Civil Engineering Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1969. An honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, he received its Dresden Research Award in 1972 and Structural Dynamics and Materials Award in 1983 for the development of the LOR. Houbolt served on the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization for 20 years and has been a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the U.S. Air Force for 25 years. He has been a consultant for many years to the U.S. Navy, Federal Aviation Administration, national Transportation Safety Board, and to various commercial firms.

Current as of 1997.