Hall of Distinction Class of 1981-1982

Highly regarded for his role in the success of America’s space program, Walter C. Williams has served as chief engineer of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration since October, 1975. For his continuing contributions to NASA and the space-shuttle programs, in 1981 he was again awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, which he had previously won in 1962.

President Reagan honored Dr. Williams in 1981 with the Distinguished Senior Executive Service Awarded/Presidential Rank, which is presented annually to 10 members of the Senior Executive Service from a group of approximately 25,000 federal executives.

As chief engineer at NASA, Dr. Williams is responsible for the technical excellence and engineering soundness of all NASA programs. In his previous stint with NASA and its predecessor agency form 1940 to 1964, he played a key management role in developing the X-15 research aircraft, and the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo manned spacecraft programs. He has done extensive work with the Space Shuttle, Viking and Voyager programs.

A native of New Orleans, Dr. Williams obtained a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from LSU in 1939. Following a year in private business, he joined the NACA Langley Aeronautical Laboratory and participated during World Ward II in the development flight testing of Air Force and Navy fighters. IN 1947m, he moved to Edwards, California, to direct the experimental flight research programs for NACA>

From 1959 to 1963, Dr. Williams served as associate director of the manned Spacecraft Center and operations director of Project Mercury. He was responsible for all facets of Mercury operations and for future flight planning. The key management roles he played in the development and maintenance of the space program led to his first NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and to an honorary Ph.D. in Engineering granted by LSU in 1963.

From 1964 to 1975, Dr. Williams served as vice president of the Aerospace Corporation, System Engineering Operations. For his last five years with the company, he was also general manager of the Vehicle Systems Divisions. He participated in the development of the Titan III rocket, Gemini launch vehicles, Gemini-Agena rendezvous and target vehicles and medium launch vehicles.

Following his return to NASA as chief engineering, Dr. Williams led a management/technical review of the Spacelab program. Later, in response to the commitment form the administrator of NASA to the president for an independent assessment of the Space shuttle Flight scale review, using the senior technical resources of American industry, government and academia. Over 95 percent of the 300-plus recommendations from that review were implemented by NASA management.

Dr. Williams’s distinguished career has resulted in several other honors, including selections as Federal Engineer of the Year in 1981 by the National Society of Professional Engineers, the Astronautics Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and the Medal of Honor of the City of New York. He is also a Fellow and former national director of AIAA. Other recognitions and honors include membership in Tau Beta Pi and Omicron Delta Kappa, and a Listing in Who’s Who in America.

As a pioneer in the American space effort, Dr. Williams has had an immeasurable impact on the development of NASA’s programs and policies. His contributions to manned space programs have led to this country’s preeminence in space technology and exploration. Dr. Williams is the model public servant whose broad-mined application of technical skills has benefited the nation and brought highly-deserved honors to him.