banner
Home > NASA Pioneers > Here’s to John New, a NASA Goddard pioneer, and his massive (literally!) legacy to space science and engineering

Here’s to John New, a NASA Goddard pioneer, and his massive (literally!) legacy to space science and engineering

August 17th, 2010

The late John New, NASA pioneer.

The late John New, founding director of the NASA Goddard Test and Evaluation Division (NASA photo)

A NASA pioneer passed away recently. His name was John New, and his legacy to us fills large volumes of space in the Building 7-10-15-29 complex at Goddard Space Flight Center. These vast spaces are host to the famous giant clean room, centrifuge, space vacuum chamber, and assorted other large and impressive looking gadgetry.

Goddard’s test facilities are vital to the success of NASA’s science missions. Testing ensures that spacecraft costing hundreds of millions to develop and build work as designed when exposed to the harsh temperatures, pressures, and radiation of space — not to mention the mechanical and gravitational abuse of rocket launches.

John New orchestrated the construction and outfitting of these testing facilities. An obituary in the Sunday Washington Post will fill you in on all the details of New’s life and work.

I learned a bit about Mr. New from Ed Powers, a retired NASA civil servant engineer who was quoted in the Post article. I got hold of his cell phone number earlier today and, on a whim, called him.

I reached him on his recumbent bike as he was pedaling along the Capital Crescent Trail. No, seriously. I interviewed him as he rode a bike — a first in my career! He said it was also his first on-bicycle interview.

Powers, 75, was not a close colleague of New’s but he did he use his testing facilities plenty of times. Powers started at NASA in 1962 as a thermal engineer — the people who deal with shielding and shedding heat from spacecraft, among other things.

Powers says all of the major, large test facilities in Goddard’s buildings 7, 10, and 15 dated to New’s watch as founding director of what was then called the Test and Evaluation Division. The testing facilities are now all centralized under Goddard’s Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate. The big clean room came after New retired to pursue farming.

As Powers decribes New, the former “T&E” division chief had the qualities of a get-it-done manager. “He ran a tight ship,” Powers says, huffing only mildly as he cycled along the Potomac River. “He knew what he wanted.”

Powers retired in 2001, although he still works as a consultant with NASA doing technical reviews of projects, including the Global Precipitation Measurement and Magnetospheric MultiScale missions. Both are based at Goddard.

Like the handful of other Goddard “old timers” I’ve had the pleasure to talk to, Powers cites the “tremendous freedom” and spirit of can-do innovation that the NASA employees of New’s time enjoyed.

Let’s hope that spirit outlives them all.

[Take a closer look at Goddard's modern spacecraft testing facilities in this spooky video.....]




_____________________________________________________________________________________________________ OH AND DID I MENTION? All opinions and opinionlike objects in this blog are mine alone and NOT those of NASA or Goddard Space Flight Center. And while we’re at it, links to websites posted on this blog do not imply endorsement of those websites by NASA.


  1. August 18th, 2010 at 12:05 | #1

    Excellent article! I love the details from Powers as well. Keep up the great work.

    • dpendick
      August 18th, 2010 at 12:44 | #2

      Thanks Jon! It’s a lot of fun to talk to the pioneers.

  2. June 1st, 2011 at 07:51 | #3

    AS ED SAYS, JOHN NEW WAS A GET IT DONE TYPE GUY. IN 1962, WHEN I TOLD HIM I NEEDED 15 CREDITS FOR MY EE DEGREE AND COULD FINISH IN ONE SEMESTER IF I COULD GO FULL TIME (I WAS STRUGGLING TO SUPPORT A FAMILY AND GOING TO NIGHT SCHOOL) HE SIMPLY SAID “WELL GO GET IT” WHICH I DID! HE KNEW I WOULD GET MY FORTY HOURS IN. I WAS FOREVER GRATEFUL FOR HE AND ED KIRCHMAN GOING “OUT ON A LIMB” FOR ME. BUT THAT WAS JUST THE GODDARD SPIRIT: GO DO IT, GET ER DONE, THAT I HOPE STILL SURVIVES!!

Comments are closed.