Milton Klein (engineer)


Milton Klein
Born (1924-01-13) January 13, 1924 (age 97)
Alma materWashington University in St. Louis (BS, 1944)
Harvard University (MBA, 1950)
OccupationNuclear engineer

Milton Klein (born January 13, 1924) is an American nuclear engineer and the former head of the United States nuclear rocket program. He helped establish and lead the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office, a liaison organization between NASA and the Atomic Energy Commission to coordinate efforts to create a nuclear thermal rocket.


Milton Klein was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on January 13, 1924.[1] He was educated at public schools in University City, Missouri, and entered Washington University in St. Louis, from which he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering in 1944.[2] During World War II he served in the U.S. Navy.[3]

Klein began working in the nuclear power field at the Argonne National Laboratory in 1946. He earned a Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School in 1950, and that year joined the Atomic Energy Commission as a chemical engineer at its Chicago Operations Office. He rose to become its Assistant manager for Technical Operations, overseeing the development of nuclear reactors for nuclear power plants.[3]

On August 29, 1960, NASA created the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office (SNPO) to oversee the joint NASA-AEC Project Rover, which aimed to develop a nuclear thermal rocket engine.[4] Klein was appointed its deputy manager.[5] Its staff were a combination of NASA and AEC employees whose responsibilities included "program and resource planning and evaluation, the justification and distribution of program resources, the definition and control of overall program requirements, monitoring and reporting of progress and problems to NASA and AEC management, and the preparation of testimony to Congress."[6]

In 1967, Klein became manager of the SNPO, and director of AEC's Division of Space Nuclear Systems. In 1970, SNPO was renamed the Space Nuclear Systems Office, and enlarged to cover all space nuclear-related activities,[3] which included NERVA and the development of nuclear-powered generators that were used by the Apollo, Pioneer, Viking and Voyager programs.[2] He was also a member of the review board that investigated the Apollo 13 accident.[3] The SNSO was abolished in June 1972.[7] For his services, he was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1972.[2]

After leaving NASA, Klein joined the Federal Railroad Administration as its associate administrator for research, development and administration.[8] He worked for the Mitre Corporation, as its associate technical director, responsible for directing its energy program, and was the director of Research, Development, and Technology Applications of the International Energy Agency in Paris. In 1980, he became vice president and head of the Office of Special Projects of the Electrical Power Research Institute (EPRI), the research and development arm of the United States electric utility industry.[2]

He was married, with three children.[3]


  1. ^ NASA Authorization for Fiscal Year 1970 Hearings, Ninety-first Congress, First Session, on S. 1941 · Parts 1-2. U.S. Government Printing Office. 1969. p. 730. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  2. ^ a b c d "1984". McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis. Retrieved November 13, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e United States Congress 1971, p. 66.
  4. ^ Rosholt 1969, p. 124.
  5. ^ Engler 1987, p. 16.
  6. ^ Robbins & Finger 1991, p. 3.
  7. ^ Dewar 2007, p. 130.
  8. ^ "Biographies of Aerospace Officials and Policymakers, K". N. Retrieved November 13, 2019.


  • Dewar, James (2007). To The End of the Solar System: The Story of the Nuclear Rocket (2nd ed.). Burlington: Apogee. ISBN 978-1-894959-68-1. OCLC 1061809723.
  • Engler, Richard (1987). Atomic Power in Space: a History. Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Energy. Retrieved July 10, 2019.
  • Rosholt, Robert L. (1969). An Administrative History of NASA, 1958–1963 (PDF). NASA Historical Series. Washington, D.C.: NASA. OCLC 643260325. SP-4101. Retrieved July 9, 2019.* Robbins, W. H.; Finger, H. B. (July 1991). An Historical Perspective of the NERVA Nuclear Rocket Engine Technology Program (PDF) (Report). NASA Lewis Research Center, NASA. NASA Contractor Report 187154/AIAA-91-3451. Retrieved July 6, 2019.
  • United States Congress (1971). Nuclear Rocket Engine Program: Joint Hearings before the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences and Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Ninety=Second Congress, First Session, February 23 and 24, 1971. Reports on Atomic Energy. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office. Retrieved November 13, 2019.