Friday, October 2, 2009

October 2: Charles Stark Draper

Charles Stark Draper
October 2, 1901 – July 25, 1987

Charles Draper was an American scientist and engineer, often referred to as "the father of inertial navigation." He was the founder and director of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, later renamed the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, which under his direction designed and built the Apollo Guidance Computer for NASA, which made the Apollo moon landings possible.

Born in Windsor, Missouri, he attended the University of Missouri in 1917, then transferred to Stanford University, California in 1919, from which he earned a B.A. in psychology in 1922. After Stanford, he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), from which he earned an S.B. in electrochemical engineering in 1926, and an S.M. and Sc.D. in physics in 1928 and 1938 respectively.

He started teaching while at MIT, first as an assistant, then quickly became a full professor in aeronautical engineering in 1939. It was here that he founded the Instrumentation Laboratory in the 1930s, later spun off as The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc. In 1961, Draper and the Instrumentation Lab were awarded the first contract given out for the Apollo program to send humans to the moon, which had just been announced by President John F. Kennedy. This led to the creation of the Apollo Guidance Computer, a one-cubic-foot computer that controlled the navigation and guidance of the Lunar Excursion Module to the surface of the moon during six successful landings.

Draper invented and developed inertial navigation, a technology used in aircraft, space vehicles, and submarines which allows such vehicles to navigate by sensing changes in direction, using gyroscopes, and speed, using accelerometers. A pioneering figure in the aircraft engineering field, he also contributed to the Apollo space program with his knowledge of guidance systems. For his inventions and contributions, Draper was inducted to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1981.

The Charles Stark Draper Prize is a prominent prize in engineering devoted to the memory of Charles Stark Draper.

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