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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Momentum Member Spotlight - October 2011

    Momentum Member Spotlight – October 2011

    AIAA Congratulates AIAA Congratulates Peter Kurzhals

    By: Duane Hyland, AIAA Communcations

    Kurzhals-PeterAIAA has selected Dr. Peter R. Kurzhals, CM, for its Member Spotlight for October, 2011. Dr. Kurzhals is an AIAA Fellow, and recently retired as Director of Systems and Software, Space Exploration at Boeing Defense, Space & Security.

    Kurzhals has been a member of AIAA for 52 years and has served on the Institute’s Technical Activities Committee (TAC) from 1989 to 2002 in various roles, including TAC Program Coordinator for Space Station and Director of Space and Information Systems. Kurzhals received a sustained service award from AIAA on September 28, at an awards luncheon held in conjunction with the AIAA SPACE 2011 Conference & Exposition. Kurzhals was recognized for his “half a century of dedicated service to the AIAA, including active participation at the student, section and national level with major aerospace contributions.”

    Kurzhals was inspired to enter the aerospace profession while working as a coop student at the Langley Aeronautical Laboratory, later NASA’s Langley Research Center, in Hampton Roads, Va., in the late 1950’s, while finishing his degree in aeronautical engineering at The Virginia State University and Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech). While at Langley, Kurzhals had the chance to interact with Dr. Robert “Bob” Gilruth, later head of NASA’s Space Task Group; Dr. Maxime “Max” Faget, the designer of NASA’s Mercury Capsule; and Charles “Charlie” Donland, who became Associate Director, Research & Development, for NASA’s Mercury Program, on their initial planning for human spaceflight. After graduation, Kurzhals returned to NASA Langley to work on manned space stations, including Skylab, with Dr. George Mueller, then NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, and the legendary Dr. Werner von Braun, of whom Kurzhals notes “his guidance and advice have always been my inspiration.” After NASA Langley, he joined NASA Headquarters, where he led Electronics Directorate efforts in the areas of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), robotics, and the earliest tests of fly-by-wire and control-configured vehicles. He also worked at Goddard Spaceflight Center, MD, where he oversaw the upgrade of the Mission Control Center and introduced office automation initiatives for NASA. Kurzhals retired from his Senior Executive Service position at NASA after 25 years of service to join McDonnell Douglas (later Boeing), where he directed efforts on utilization, operations, international integration and logistics for the International Space Station and on systems software for Space Shuttle programs over the next 26 years.

    When asked about the value of organizations like AIAA or professionals, he noted that his 52 year membership in AIAA has played a key role in his development as a professional. From his early days as a student author of a paper on a manned mission to Mars, to his involvement in Institute activities as a Section Officer, TC Chair, Technical Director, Board Member and session and conference chairman, Kurzhals stated that “the many friendships and activities made possible by AIAA have been invaluable” to him.”

    Kurzhals advises young people interested in entering the aerospace profession to “Live your dream and enjoy your work” and that they will “encounter adventures that they never would have thought possible.”

    In addition to all of his unforgettable memories working on the space shuttle program, and all of the other groundbreaking programs, Kurzhals said that his fondest career memory was his early days as project engineer in the Langley Pilotless Aircraft and Research Division, where he used to launch payloads from Wallops Island after being flown there by Mercury astronauts in a Grumman seaplane. After deplaning with the payload, he would take the jeep parked at the boat ramp to the Officer's Club where they would spend the night before mounting the payload on top of a Sergeant rocket and disconnecting the power cord...hoping that the rocket would not launch and take off his arm, as had once happened to the launch operator. Once safely ensconced in the launch blockhouse, Kurzhals would push the firing key and then drive the Jeep to the part of the island where the payload data package could be seen coming down on its parachute after taking its measurements. The astronauts would then fly him back to Langley, where he would hand the analog data tapes over to a row of ladies with Frieden calculators, whose job it was to reduce the analog measurements to tabular data for review and analysis several days later. Looking back at those days, Kurzhals stated that “there's nothing like being a one-man rocket scientist.”

    AIAA congratulates Dr. Kurzhals for his many contributions to AIAA and for his accomplishments during his long career in aerospace, as well as for his selection as the AIAA member spotlight for October 2011.

    (Pictured: Dr. Peter R. Kurzhals {right} receives award at the AIAA SPACE 2011 Conference & Exposition)