William Stoney, 1925–2022

William StoneyWilliam Edmund Stoney Jr., an aeronautical engineer who was one of the developers of rockets during the early days of the space program and a lead engineer during the Apollo program, died May 28, 2022. He was 96 years old.

Stoney was born in 1925 in Terre Haute, Indiana, and developed an interest in flight at an early age. After serving in the Air Force during World War II, Stoney enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he received a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1949. He later completed a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Virginia in 1951 and a second master’s degree in industrial management from MIT in 1962.

Stoney joined the staff at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the agency that was the predecessor to NASA, in 1949. Working at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, he had the opportunity to work with a group of engineers who were known for their work on rocket technology, so he was in an ideal position when the space race began in the 1950s. After the Soviet Union’s successful launch of Sputnik 1 in 1957, Stoney realized that the work they were doing would benefit from the public and governmental support they would have as the U.S. fought to catch up to their rival superpower.

Stoney was named to the position of program manager overseeing the development of Scout, a solid-propellant rocket booster that NASA describes as one of the most successful rocket boosters in the history of the space agency. Stoney was then appointed chief of advanced space vehicle concepts at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC and led the advanced spacecraft technology division in Houston. During the Apollo program, he served in numerous top engineering roles and received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1969, the year that Apollo 11 landed on the Moon.

Stoney went on to become the director of NASA’s Earth observations program in 1973 and played a key role in leading the development of satellites that monitored pollution in the atmosphere and other Earth resources as well as other meteorological uses. After retiring from NASA in 1978, Stoney worked in the private sector for companies such as RCA Corp. and Noblis.

— Portions of text courtesy of NASA and the Washington Post