DR. EDGAR CORTRIGHT, of Palm City, Florida, passed away
peacefully on May 4, 2014 at the age of 90 following a stroke. Dr. Cortright was an engineer, scientist and administrator, best known for his work as Director of NASA's Langley Research Center during which time he directed Project Viking which successfully landed the first spacecraft on Mars in 1976. Edgar Maurice Cortright was born in Hastings, PA on July 29, 1923 to Edgar Maurice Cortright, Sr. and Janet Pearsall Cortright. He attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), receiving a B.S. and M.S. degree in aeronautical engineering. Later in his life, he was awarded Honorary PhDs from both RPI and George Washington University. Dr. Cortright served as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Navy and was on the carrier USS Saratoga when it was bombed in the Pacific. In 1945 Dr. Cortright married Beverly Jane Hotaling, to whom he remained married for 67 years until her death in 2012. After graduation from college, Dr. Cortright joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor of NASA, as an aeronautical research scientist to conduct research on supersonic aerodynamics. Sputnik changed everything. In 1958 Dr. Cortright was recruited to join a small taskforce that created NASA. He held a number of positions in the 1960s. Dr. Cortright led the initial formulation of NASA's meteorological satellite program. This was the first time satellites were used to study the earth. He brought the weather photos commonly displayed on television today to the public. He directed NASA's programs for unmanned scientific exploration and utilization of space, including the lunar and planetary probes; the geophysical and astronomical satellites and probes; biosciences; applications and satellites; and the development and use of light and medium launch vehicles. During the following ten years Dr. Cortright played a key role in planning and directing many manned and unmanned space programs. In 1968 Dr. Cortright was named Deputy Associate Administrator, Office of Manned Space Flight. Later, in 1968 Dr. Cortright became Director of NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. He spent the next years dedicated to landing a space vehicle on Mars. Under his direction, the Project Viking made the first Mars landing in 1976. Viking brought back high- resolution images of the Martian surface and took surface samples, analyzed them for composition and signs of life, as well as studied atmospheric composition and meteorology, and deployed seismometers. Viking's findings revolutionized our understanding of Martian geology and possibility for sustaining life, demonstrating large areas of terrain seemingly influenced by rivers, lakes and volcanoes not dissimilar to those on Earth. Its findings provided the foundation of our understanding of Mars into the 21st century. In 1970 Dr. Cortright was honored to chair the Apollo 13 Review Board. This Review Board was charged with reviewing the circumstances surrounding the Apollo 13 accident, establishing the probable cause, and making recommendations for corrections. After 30 years of government service Dr. Cortright retired from NASA. He became Vice President and Technical Director of Owens-Illinois Corporation and subsequently President of the Lockheed-California Co., where he was involved in the oversight of key U.S. defense projects including the development of the F-117A Stealth Fighter. After retirement from Lockheed, Dr. Cortright became involved in small business. Dr. Cortright is the author of numerous technical reports and articles. He was proud of his books, "Exploring Space With a Camera" and "Apollo Expeditions to the Moon." These books were among NASA's best- selling publications to date and were two of the first publications revealing space-based photography to the public. Dr. Cortright's awards and citations include the Arthur Flemming Award (1963); NASA outstanding Leadership (1966); NASA Distinguished Service (1967); AAS Space Flight Award (1970). Dr. Cortright's leisure activities included golfing, boating, and listening to music. He was interested in architecture and visual arts. Dr. Cortright designed three of his homes including the one he most cherished on Wormley Creek in Yorktown, VA. Dr. Cortright's education changed his life; he believed strongly in the value of education and he was proud to have educated his children, donated to colleges, and created scholarships for minority students attending college. Dr. Cortright was a kind, modest, respectful, honest, and generous man who loved golden retrievers, people, and most of all, his wife, Beverly. Until his dying day, Ed always greeted each person he saw with his warm and memorable smile. Edgar is survived by his brother, David P. Cortright of Jenkintown, PA; his daughter, Susan Weiss of Auburn, ME; his son, David E. Cortright of St. Louis, MO; his son-in-law, Robert Weiss; his daughter-in-law, Cathy Cortright; and his three grandsons, as well as six nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his sister, Janet Smith.
Published in TC Palm on May 6, 2014.