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Finley, John Space engineering pioneer dies

John Finley, 1925-2001

Avi Blizovsky

John Finley, who helped design the first spacecraft that carried the first American astronauts into space and later managed the shuttle program, died this week at the age of 76. The man was a retired McDonnell-Deckles company and he died on Tuesday of complications from cancer. "He was a true pioneer In the space program, no one was as devoted to the software as he was," said former astronaut John Glenn, who flew in the vehicle designed by Yardley in 1961, and was the second in space.
"I was in charge, and I never felt such fear in my life as Alan Shepherd's first flight," Yardley said at a conference held in 1974 in St. Louis.
He later designed the two-seater Gemini spacecraft, which allowed astronauts to stay longer in orbit and eventually led to the moon landing. He was also vice president of the Scaleb program and president and CEO of a shuttle program started within the McDonnell-Douglas company.

"John Yardley was responsible for all the people who got the shuttle program off the ground," said NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin. "Two decades later, Yardley's legacy lives on in every successful Space Shuttle mission." Yardley was born in St. Louis. After serving in the Navy in World War II, he studied for a degree in Aerodynamic Engineering and Industrial Engineering in 1946 and moved to the McDonnell Company. After the Russians launched the first satellite, Sputnik, in 1957, he was pulled along with other aeronautical engineers from designing airplanes to designing space vehicles.
"He was the most talented and brilliant engineer we ever had at the company," said Sanford McDonnell, retired chairman of McDonnell-Douglas. After the Mercury program, Yardley was director of acquisitions at Cape Canaveral, Florida until 1964 when he became technical director of Gemini, built by McDonnell. In 1974, Yardley became the assistant director of NASA and was responsible for manned space flights. He returned to McDonnell-Douglas in 1981 and retired as senior vice president in 1989. Boeing took over McDonnell-Douglas in 1997.

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