Thomas O. Paine, 70; Pioneer at NASA


Thomas O. Paine, the former NASA administrator who was at the cutting edge of the Apollo moon landing programs and whose expertise was used to define American space goals into the next century, died of cancer Monday at his Los Angeles home. Paine, who also had been president and chief operating officer of Northrop Corp., was 70.

Paine was named deputy administrator and then administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

He served from 1968 to 1970--when the Apollo program first left man’s footprints on the moon, a time he said in a 1988 Times interview “that inspired everybody on the Apollo program to perform far beyond their normal capabilities.”

After leaving NASA he became a mild critic of the nation’s newer space priorities, saying that NASA’s space shuttle program “confused a piece of hardware with goals” and likened it to a “space truck with a mission no more glamorous than carting a load of toothpicks to Topeka.”


He urged future administrations to commit the nation to an ambitious program of space exploration.

Paine was a native of Berkeley whose father was a Navy commodore who specialized in destroyer and submarine construction. As a result, Paine spent his formative years living near shipyards on both coasts.

He earned an engineering degree from Brown University in 1942.

He joined the Navy, serving on submarines in the Pacific during World War II.

At war’s end he was sent to Sasebo, Japan, to help demilitarize the Imperial Navy’s submarines and sailed to Pearl Harbor as executive officer of the prize crew that took a large Japanese submarine into U.S. waters.

Paine returned to school, earning a doctorate from Stanford University in metallurgy, and spent the next 25 years working in various research positions for General Electric.

When James E. Webb retired as NASA director, President Johnson elevated Paine from deputy to chief administrator, charged with fulfilling John F. Kennedy’s pledge to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

That moment arrived on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 landed and Neil Armstrong took his “giant step for mankind.”

During Paine’s NASA years the groundwork for the joint Soviet-American space mission of 1975 was laid.

Paine returned to GE in 1970 as the executive charged with nuclear power and steam and gas turbine generation.

In 1976, he became president, chief operating officer and director of Northrop, retiring six years later.

President Ronald Reagan brought him from retirement in 1985 as head of a 15-member presidential commission charged with looking 50 years ahead and establishing space program goals for the next 20 years.

The commission held hearings across the country and issued its report, “Pioneering the Space Frontier.”

In 1990, Paine was appointed to the Advisory Committee on the Future of the U.S. Space Program and last year to the U.S. Space Policy Advisory Board.

At his death, Paine--who held honorary degrees and awards from institutions around the world--was chairman of his own consulting firm and a director of several companies.

His remarks over the past few years were specific about which period of his career he preferred. It was the Apollo portion.

“It was indeed a feeling of participating in an enormously historical time,” he said in 1988, “when life had taken the first step across the void of space to bring humans to another world.”

Survivors include his wife, Barbara, daughters Marguerite and Judith, sons George and Frank, and four grandchildren. Services are pending.