Beyond the Atmosphere: Early Years of Space Science

[499] Homer Edward Newell was born in Holyoke, Massachussetts, 11 March 1915. During the years of his primary and secondary education in Holyoke's public school system, the city was undergoing a substantial transition. Formerly known as "Paper City," Holyoke was losing its foremost position in paper manufacture to the Midwest, while its considerable textile industry was similarly losing out to mills in the South. Newell's early interest in science was fostered by his paternal grandfather's extensive technical library, by competent and interested teachers in Holyoke High School, and by a home chemistry laboratory, the nucleaus of which had been contributed by a local sulfite wood pulp mill.
At Harvard Newell studied science courses including mineralogy, physics,a nd astronomy and pursued a major in mathematics to an A.B. and an A.M.T. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1940. He then taught mathematics at the University of Maryland until 1944, when he joined the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. From 1946, as a mathematician-turned physicist, he was one of a group of scientists and engineers who used their World War II experience with missiles and radio communications to instrument rockets for high-altitude research and then to launch them at White Sands, New Mexico. In the Fall of the 1947 he became head of the Rocket Sonde Research Section (later Branch). In September 1955, when the Naval Research Laboratory was assigned the task of developing the Vanguard launch vehicle for the International Geophysical Year satellite program, he became Vanguard Science Program Coordinator. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration opened for business in October 1958; Newell joined its headquarters the same month and remained for 15 years. He guided the space science program through much of the 1960s and was NASA's Associate Administrator from 1967 until his retirement at the end of 1973.
In 1953 his book High Altitude Rocket Research was published. Six more books followed, as well as hundreds of articles on such subjects as space science, vector analysis, sounding rockets, missiles, and astronomy. Several of the books were directed specifically to young people. Since leaving NASA, Newell has retained this interest and is preparing a book for the young reader on mineralogy and rock-hounding.