Noel Hinners was a leading official at Nasa, Director of the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and briefly Head of the National Air and Space Museum. From his youth as an aspiring chicken farmer in New Jersey, Hinners went on to play a leading role in America’s exploration of space, having a guiding hand in programmes that explored Mars, launched the Hubble Space Telescope and landed men on the moon.
After the first manned lunar landing, Hinners specified the spots where later missions would touch down. He chaired the committee that decided which sites could provide the most information. Heading that panel, and reconciling competing views, exemplified the leadership abilities that distinguished Hinners’ career in space science, exploration and education, in government and out of it.
His Princeton PhD was in geochemistry, but it was probably his knack for getting the best out of other scientists, and of winning federal support, that distinguished his career. “Even though I couldn’t do the job, I could get others to do it,” was he said in a Nasa oral history.
An instinct for diplomacy was one of his skills. When Hinners headed Goddard from 1982-1987, President Reagan visited. A discussion turned to global warming. Hinners recalled that the president turned out to believe that any warming was likely the result not of man-made carbon dioxide, but rather of organic molecules from trees. “I did not choose to argue with him,”Hinners said.
Noel William Hinners, scientist: born Brooklyn 25 December 1935; married Diana Platt (two sons); died Littleton, Colorado 5 September 2014.
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