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Robert Kraemer dies at 84; former NASA head of planetary exploration

The son of a citrus rancher, the Caltech alumnus was also an expert in rocket engines.

August 28, 2013|By Frederick N. Rasmussen
  • Robert S. Kraemer, NASA’s former director of planetary exploration who was also an expert in rocket engines, has died in Maryland. He was 84.
Robert S. Kraemer, NASA’s former director of planetary exploration… (Baltimore Sun )

Robert S. Kraemer, NASA's former director of planetary exploration who was also an expert in rocket engines, died Aug. 20 at an assisted living home in Catonsville, Md., of complications from a fall, his family said. He was 84.

Kraemer joined NASA in 1967 and, in one of his early assignments, managed the development of a Mars surface laboratory mission at NASA's headquarters in Washington.

After the project was canceled because of congressional concerns, he was appointed manager of advanced planetary programs and technology and in 1970 was named director of planetary programs.

"In this position he oversaw the successful completion of 12 missions to launch spacecraft into the solar system to study its planets, moons and more," Brian Compere, assistant managing editor of the Diamondback newspaper at the University of Maryland, wrote in a profile of his grandfather. "He faced political, financial and technical challenges in managing an unprecedented burst of planetary exploration" that produced groundbreaking results.

Kraemer was associated with the missions Mariner 9 and 10, Pioneer 10 and 11, Helios 1 and 2, Viking 1 and 2, Voyager 1 and 2 and Pioneer Venus 1 and 2.

The son of a citrus rancher and a homemaker, Robert Samuel Kraemer was born Oct. 21, 1928, in Fullerton and raised in Placentia. He received a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 1950.

After receiving a master's degree in aeronautics and rocket propulsion from Caltech in 1951, he worked for North American Aviation's Rocketdyne Division in Canoga Park on rocket propulsion for a secret intercontinental cruise missile called Navaho.

"By 1961, he was head of all advanced projects for the NAA rocket team, also called Rocketdyne. His work with high-performance launch engines during this time led him to determine they had all the rocket technology the U.S. would use for the next two decades," Compere wrote.

Kraemer then became chief engineer for space systems at Ford Aeronutronic in Newport Beach, where he worked until he joined NASA. A Maryland resident since 1967, he retired in 1990.

Kraemer wrote several books, including "Rocketdyne: Powering Humans Into Space" and "Beyond the Moon: A Golden Age of Planetary Exploration 1971-1981." He received the Distinguished Service Medal, NASA's highest honor.

He is survived by his wife of 59 years, Anne Park Kraemer; sons David, Timothy and Stephen; daughters Anita Kraemer, Kathryn McCoy and Joan Compere; brothers Larry of Yorba Linda and Don of Riverside; sister Karen of Santa Fe, N.M.; and 11 grandchildren.

A funeral Mass is scheduled for noon Sept. 7 at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 717 N. Bradford Ave., Placentia, followed by burial at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in Orange.

Rasmussen writes for the Baltimore Sun.

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