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PM pays tribute to William Pickering

17 March 2004

PM pays tribute to William Pickering

Prime Minister Helen Clark today paid tribute to the New Zealand-born and raised scientist, William Pickering, who died today.

Dr Pickering left New Zealand to become a central figure in the ‘space race’. In 1958, as director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, he led the successful effort to place the first United States satellite, Explorer 1, into Earth’s orbit. He was instrumental in leading a new era of robotic space exploration, including the first missions to the moon and the planets.

“William Pickering was an inspiring figure for many in the scientific community, both here and overseas. While he took out United States citizenship, he maintained close ties to New Zealand and returned here often,” Helen Clark said.

“He was born in 1910 and grew up in Havelock, Marlborough, attending Havelock Primary, the same primary school as another noted New Zealand expatriate scientist, Lord Rutherford. He then attended Wellington College and Canterbury College [later University[ before moving to the United States to study.

“He won many awards in a glittering scientific career, including NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, the United States’ National Medal of Science in 1975, and in 1976 he was given an honorary knighthood.

“In New Zealand, the Royal Society of New Zealand struck a medal to be awarded annually in his honour, the Pickering Medal for Engineering and Technology. Last year, he received New Zealand’s highest honour, the New Zealand Order of Merit.

“William Pickering was on of New Zealand’s most distinguished sons. His passing is a tremendous loss,” Helen Clark said.


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