Hall of Distinction Class of 2005-2006

Joseph G. Thibodaux, Jr. is an internationally recognized expert in all forms of propulsion used in both manned and unmanned spacecraft. In particular, he has distinguished himself as an authority on design, development, and application of solid and liquid propellant rockets to launching and boosting of sounding rockets, research vehicles and spacecrafts. His engineering leadership and technical genius contributed significantly to the highly successful Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle Programs that substantially expanded space science and engineering technology.

After graduating from Louisiana State University, Thibodaux began his federal career in August 1946 with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Employed by the Langley Aeronautical Memorial Laboratory, Langley Field, Virginia, Thibodaux was assigned as a propulsion engineer in the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division. Three years later, he was promoted to
Head of the Model Propulsion Section, with complete responsibility for procurement, design, development, test and application of all solid and liquid propellant rockets used at the Langley Research Center and its launch station in Wallops Island, Virginia. He achieved national recognition as the NACA expert in rocket development and applications, and served as a consultant to all other NACA installations that used rockets in free-flying aerodynamic research programs.

Thibodaux's early work consisted of modifying, redesigning and adapting military rockets to meet performance requirements of the various aerodynamic research programs using free-flying rocket propelled models. Later, he designed and modified families of novel
rockets and unique components to enhance the quality and quantity of data obtained during the critical phase of transonic and supersonic aerodynamic research models.

In 1954, Thibodaux designed and operated a small solid propellant manufacturing facility at the Langley Research Center to conduct research on new spherical rocket designs, manufacturing techniques, and operating problems. He successfully developed and patented high performance spherical rockets and isotensoid filament wound rocket designs. Their later
derivatives were used in various, NACA and NASA programs.

Then, in 1957, he conceived of and collaborated with colleagues on studies of an all solid propellant rocket vehicle to launch satellites, which was authorized for development as the Scout launch vehicle.

In 1958, he was selected as a member of a small elite group of about twelve to work out the transition from NACA to NASA. Working 14 hour days from March through October 1958 with
outstanding colleagues from other NACA Centers, he planned NASA's first programs dealing with rocket propulsion, sold those programs to upper management and Congress, and obtained authorization and funding to conduct them.

The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in September 1958. That same year, the Space Task Group was established to develop the program for this nation's first venture into manned space flight.
At that time, the Director of the Langley Research Center assigned an additional duty to Thibodaux — consultant to the Director of the Space Task Group, the predecessor of the Manned Spacecraft Center for propulsion matters. He immediately became involved in the research and development of advanced solid rockets and in studies of applications of solid rockets to propulsion of spacecraft and sounding rockets.

While serving as consultant to the director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, Thibodaux was instrumental in modifying the design of the Mercury Launch Escape Motor to overcome a critical instability problem detected during development. In addition, he made major
contributions in the design of the rocket propulsion systems for both the Apollo and Gemini spacecraft.

In 1964, Thibodaux was appointed chief of the Propulsion and Power Division for the Manned Spacecraft Center, now the Johnson Space Center. The systems developed under his direction performed flawlessly on Apollo space flight missions and during flights to the
Skylab space station.

During his career, Thibodaux had interfaces with every NASA Center (Langley, Kennedy, Marshall, Dryden, Wallops Station, National Space Technology Laboratory), aerospace contractor (Rockwell, Lockheed, Martin, McDonnel-Douglas, Grumman, Beech, Air Research) rocket manufacturer as well as foreign scientists and engineers representing the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Japan, Russia, India and NATO.

Thibodaux is married to the former Mary Jo Goliwas of Dixon, Illinois. They have four children and seven grandchildren.