Unless you’re from Joliet, IL or are a big fan of the space program, you may never have heard of John C. Houbolt. He was a man with a Big Idea, and without it – and him – Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin might never have stepped on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.
Engineers are perhaps the least glamorous of all the techies and ‘geeks.’ The public sees them as the most narrowly focused, least creative of the STEM professionals, but that need not be the case. Houbolt was certainly imaginative enough. When President John F. Kennedy told the world that we were engaged in the feat of putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s and returning him safely to earth, JFK took his space program people by surprise. Nobody in NASA knew by which mechanism that was to be accomplished. There was no plan; no process had been discussed. They had no idea what kind of spacecraft was needed or even where to start.