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Caldwell Johnson

AKA Caldwell Christian Johnson

Born: 16-Oct-1919
Birthplace: Wythe, VA
Died: 26-May-2013
Location of death: Newport News, VA
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Occupation: Engineer

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Designer, early NASA space program

Caldwell Johnson grew up within walking distance of Langley Field, then a landing strip for exotic and experimental aircraft, operated by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. He often loitered at the facility, and after showing some staff members his elaborately constructed model aircraft, he was hired straight out of high school by NACA's Robert R. Gilruth. After NACA evolved into NASA, Johnson worked for decades with NASA engineer Max Faget, helping to design the earliest experimental spacecraft, addressing issues such as bodily restraint and mobility, personal hygiene, spacecraft weight limits, and supplying and consuming food and water, based at least in the early years only on guesses about the characteristics of space.

For example, Johnson worked on the design of the landing module for the moon, at a time when scientists were uncertain whether the lunar surface might be swamp-like, rock-hard, or granular like salt or beach sand. He designed a magnetic "dining table", so that even without gravity, metal plates and utensils would stay on the table instead of floating away. Johnson worked on the Mercury, Apollo, and Apollo-Soyuz projects, and was only peripherally involved in the Gemini missions because even as Gemini was being planned, he was already working on what would become the Apollo project. When Faget left NASA to establish Space Industries, Inc., his own space exploration company, Johnson was hired as chief designer. Now retired, Johnson has said of his career, "I just happened to catch one of those waves, baby." His first name is pronounced "Cadwell", with the l silent.

Father: Caldwell Christian Johnson (florist)
Wife: Kathryn Lancaster (d., one daughter, one son)
Daughter: Jacquelyn A. Johnson
Son: J. Craig Johnson (d.)

    High School: Hampton High School, Hampton, VA

    NASA Engineer (1958-81)
    National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics Engineer (1937-58)


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