Jack Norval James, rocket scientist who moved from developing guidance systems to managing Mariner missions to serving as an assistant director during his 36-year career at Jet Propulsion Laboratory, has died. He was 80.
James died Aug. 7 in Pasadena.
Working in the space program almost from its inception, he helped develop some of the earliest rockets at White Sands, N.M. He joined JPL in Pasadena in 1950, and by his retirement in 1986 had become assistant laboratory director for technical divisions.
As project director for Mariner, James oversaw the first unmanned flight to any planet, with the Mariner II mission to Venus. He also directed the first mission to Mars in 1964.
In 1963, James chatted from Pasadena with astronaut John Glenn in Houston about the Mariner Venus flight in an early experiment with communication satellites. With their voices carried by land lines to Andover, Maine, and beamed to the Relay communication satellite 4,300 miles in space, James told Glenn that measurements made by the Mariner II "indicated that some of the hazards of manned flight were comparatively small." He particularly minimized any feared danger from radiation and cosmic dust.
The conversation occurred in the infancy of the space program, shortly before astronaut Gordon Cooper made a daylong, multi-orbit flight around Earth.
James' Mariner efforts earned him a public service award from NASA. He received awards from Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, and in 1969 was elected a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
Born in Dallas, James earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Southern Methodist University and a master's in electrical engineering from Union College in Schenectady, N.Y. He served in the Navy during World War II.
James is survived by his wife, Ruth; three sons, Jeff, Jerry and Jack; a daughter, Susan; and two grandsons.
A memorial service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Saturday at La Canada Presbyterian Church, 626 Foothill Blvd., La Canada Flintridge. A reception is planned afterward for noon to 3 p.m. in the Athenaeum at Caltech in Pasadena.
Instead of flowers, the family has asked that, at James' request, any memorial donations be made to the Arnett A. Elliott Fund at the University of Tennessee, Development Office, 226 Ayres Hall, Knoxville, TN 37996-1320.