James C. Fletcher


James Chipman Fletcher (June 5, 1919 – December 22, 1991) served as the 4th and 7th Administrator of NASA, first from April 27, 1971, to May 1, 1977, under President Richard M. Nixon, and again from May 12, 1986, to April 8, 1989, under President Ronald Reagan. As such, he was responsible for Apollo Moon missions 15, 16, and 17, the early planning of the Space Shuttle program, and later for the shuttle program's recovery and return to flight after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. Prior to this, he was president of the University of Utah from 1964 to 1971.

James C. Fletcher
4th and 7th Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
In office
May 12, 1986 – April 8, 1989
PresidentRonald Reagan
George H.W Bush
Preceded byJames M. Beggs
Succeeded byRichard H. Truly
In office
April 27, 1971 – May 1, 1977
PresidentRichard M. Nixon
Gerald Ford
Jimmy Carter
Preceded byThomas O. Paine
Succeeded byRobert A. Frosch
8th President of the University of Utah
In office
Preceded byA. Ray Olpin
Succeeded byAlfred C. Emery
Personal details
BornJune 5, 1919
Millburn, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedDecember 22, 1991(1991-12-22) (aged 72)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting placeSalt Lake City Cemetery
40°46′37.92″N 111°51′28.8″W / 40.7772000°N 111.858000°W / 40.7772000; -111.858000
Alma materColumbia University
California Institute of Technology
Scientific career
ThesisCloud chamber studies of cosmic rays (1948)
Doctoral advisorCarl David Anderson


President Nixon (right) with NASA Administrator James C. Fletcher in January 1972
Dr. James Fletcher (left) with the cast of Star Trek in front of the Space Shuttle Enterprise at the Palmdale manufacturing facility

Fletcher was born in Millburn, New Jersey, to Harvey Fletcher and Lorena Chipman.[1] His father, Harvey, is known as the "Father of Stereophonic sound". Fletcher earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Columbia College of Columbia University and a PhD in physics (1948) from the California Institute of Technology.[2][3] After holding research and teaching positions at Harvard and Princeton Universities, he joined Hughes Aircraft in 1948 and later worked at the Guided Missile Division of the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation. In 1958, Fletcher co-founded the Space Electronics Corporation in Glendale, California, which, after a merger, became the Space General Corporation. He was later named systems vice president of the Aerojet General Corporation in Sacramento, California. In 1964, he became president of the University of Utah, a position he held until he was named NASA Administrator by President Richard M. Nixon in 1971.

During his first administration at NASA, Fletcher was responsible for beginning the Space Shuttle effort, as well as the Viking program that sent landers to Mars. He oversaw the Skylab missions and approved the Voyager space probes and the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project.

When he left NASA in 1977, Fletcher became an independent consultant in McLean, Virginia, and served on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh. For nine years, he was active as an advisor to key national leaders involved in planning space policy. Among other activities, he served on an advisory board involved in developing the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan selected Fletcher to administer NASA for a second time, to help the agency recover from the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. Shuttle flights went into a two-year hiatus while Fletcher ensured that NASA reinvested heavily in the program's safety and reliability, made organizational changes to improve efficiency, and restructured its management system. He oversaw a complete reworking of the components of the Shuttle to enhance its safety, including a redesign of the solid rocket boosters, and added an egress method for the astronauts. The Space Shuttle returned to flight on September 29, 1988. Fletcher also approved the Hubble Space Telescope program. He served as Administrator until April 8, 1989, into the term of Reagan's successor, President George H. W. Bush.

Fletcher lived in McLean, Virginia. He died from lung cancer on December 22, 1991, at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C., aged 72,[3] and was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery. He was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 1974, he received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.[4] He was posthumously inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1992.[5]


  1. ^ "In Memory of Harvey Fletcher". www.et.byu.edu. Brigham Young University. Retrieved 24 April 2019.
  2. ^ Fletcher, James C. (1948). Cloud chamber studies of cosmic rays (Ph.D.). California Institute of Technology. OCLC 654923475 – via ProQuest.
  3. ^ a b Fisher, Ian (December 24, 1991). "James Fletcher, 72, NASA Chief Who Urged Shuttle Program, Dies". The New York Times. Retrieved December 11, 2007.
  4. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  5. ^ "5 Inducted Into Space Hall of Fame". El Paso Times. El Paso, Texas. Associated Press. October 5, 1992. p. 8 – via Newspapers.com.


  • Portions of this article are based on public domain text from NASA
  •   Media related to James C. Fletcher at Wikimedia Commons
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Academic offices
Preceded by President of the University of Utah Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
1971 – 1977
Succeeded by
Preceded by Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration
1986 – 1989
Succeeded by