Gerald W. Smith
Respected Aerospace Executive
Inducted in 2012
Throughout his distinguished career of more than 40 years, Gerald W. Smith demonstrated the highest ethical standards, outstanding technical management ability and a rare talent for motivating a team in the face of unprecedented challenge. The award winning engineer received NASA’s Distinguished Executive Presidential Rank, Distinguished Public Service Award, Exceptional Achievement Medal, Exceptional Service Medal, Meritorious Executive Presidential Rank, Outstanding Leadership Award and Silver Snoopy Award. He also received the U.S. Army Commendation Medal and Auburn University’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Smith earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from Auburn University in 1961 and 1971. He continued his education to receive a master’s degree in administrative science from The University of Alabama at Huntsville in 1977. He also completed Harvard Business School’s advanced management program in 1993.
Following his service at the U.S. Army Electronics Proving Ground, Smith accepted a position as aerospace engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in 1963. He performed conceptual design studies for advanced vehicle propulsion systems for the Saturn V moon rocket and Skylab.
Later, he joined General Electric as test and evaluation engineer in the company’s large jet engine department. Smith assembled, tested and evaluated the J-93 (B-70) and TF-39 (C5-A) jet engines in support of flight test programs.
In 1967, Smith returned to Marshall as aerospace engineer, designing and analyzing vehicle attitude propulsion systems. He moved on to the shuttle program with a promotion to project engineer, responsible for providing engineering support for the design and development of altitude control systems for Skylab and the High Energy Astronomy Observatories Spacecraft. Within a few short years, he was named the subsystem manager for the space shuttle solid rocket booster, managing design and development of the booster separation motor.
Smith continued to advance at Marshall, serving as assistant chief engineer, branch chief and deputy project manager. In 1984, Smith was named deputy associate director for engineering, sharing responsibility for planning and directing engineering support for all projects in the hardware development stage. He was then named chief of engine programs at NASA headquarters.
Following the Space Shuttle Challenger accident in 1986, Smith returned to Marshall as project manager for the space shuttle solid rocket booster, leading efforts to design, build, qualify and fly the redesigned solid rocket motor. As a result, the nation’s confidence in the space program was restored with the successful flight of Space Shuttle Discovery. Based on this stellar performance, Smith was appointed to deputy director of Stennis Space Flight Center, the federal government’s largest rocket-engine test facility, in 1989.
After retiring from Stennis in 1995, Smith directed enterprise strategy and research operations at the Georgia Tech Research Institute, served as president of Thiokol Propulsion, the world’s largest producer of solid rocket motors, and served for one year as executive director of the National Space Science and Technology center in Huntsville.
Smith and his wife, Joyce, reside in Huntsville. They have four children and 10 grandchildren.