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William H. Pickering

William H. Pickering was the head of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1954 to 1976.

Under Pickering's command, the JPL and the US Army successfully launched Explorer 1 in January of 1958. JPL's other missions under his command included Mariner 2 which was the first spacecraft to visit another planet, Mariner 4 which took the first close-up pictures of Mars, and the Ranger and Surveyor missions to the moon.

Pickering was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1910. He was educated at Canterbury College (now the University of Canterbury) then moved to the United States in 1929 to study at the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech). He received his PhD in physics in 1936. He became an American citizen in 1941.

Pickering was Professor of Electrical Engineering at Cal Tech and conducted research on the absorption properties of cosmic rays with Dr. Robert A. Millikan before being named chief of JPL's Remote Control Section in 1949. He became Director of JPL in 1954.

In 2003, Pickering was made an Honorary Member of the Order of New Zealand. In the same year, the Royal Society of New Zealand established the Pickering Medal in Pickering's honor to recognise excellence and innovation in the practical applications of technology.

William H. Pickering died in March of 2004.


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