Jack Kerrebrock, professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics, dies at 91

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Jack L. Kerrebrock, professor emeritus of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, died at home on July 19. He was 91.

Born in Los Angeles in 1928, Kerrebrock received his BS in 1950 from Oregon State University, his MS in 1951 from Yale University, and his PhD in 1956 from Caltech. With a passion for aerospace, he held positions with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Caltech, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory before joining the faculty of MIT as an assistant professor in 1960.

Promoted to associate professor in 1962 and to full professor in 1965, Kerrebrock founded and directed the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ Space Propulsion Laboratory from 1962 until 1976, when it merged with the department’s Gas Turbine Laboratory, of which he had become director in 1968. In 1978, he accepted the role of head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro).

Kerrebrock enjoyed an international reputation as an expert in the development of propulsion systems for aircraft and spacecraft. Over the years, he served as chair or member of multiple advisory committees — both government and professional — and as NASA associate administrator of aeronautics and space technology.

As associate director of engineering, Kerrebrock was the faculty leader of the Daedalus Project in AeroAstro. Daedalus was a human-powered aircraft that, on 23 April 1988, flew a distance of 72.4 miles (115.11 kilometers) in three hours, 54 minutes, from Heraklion on the island of Crete to the island of Santorini. Daedalus still holds the world record for human-powered flight. This flight was the culmination of a decade of work by MIT students and alumni and made a major contribution to the understanding of the science and engineering of human-powered flight.

Elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1978, Kerrebrock was the recipient of numerous accolades, including election to the status of honorary fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, as well as the Explorers Club and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. A member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sigma Xi, Tau Beta Pi, and Phi Kappa Phi, he received NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal in 1983. He was also a contributor to the Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change, which along with Al Gore won the Nobel Prize in 2007.

Although a luminary in his field, Kerrebrock — an enthusiastic outdoorsman — was perhaps never happier than when climbing a mountain, hiking a wilderness trail, or leading a group of young people through ice and snow to teach them independence and survival skills. He ran his first Boston Marathon in his early 50s on a whim, with no training, following that with several more marathons, including the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington.

Kerrebrock and his wife Crickett traveled widely, to destinations including South Africa, Scotland, Tuscany, Paris, and a very special trip to Canaveral for one of the last Space Shuttle launches, where he was able to introduce his wife to his friend Neil Armstrong, who was one of her heroes.

Kerrebrock was married to Rosemary “Crickett” Redmond (Keough) Kerrebrock for the last 12 years of his life. He was previously married for 50 years to the late Bernice “Vickie” (Veverka) Kerrebrock, who died in 2003. In addition to his wife, Kerrebrock leaves behind two children, Nancy Kerrebrock (Clint Cummins) of Palo Alto, California, and Peter Kerrebrock (Anne) of Hingham, Masachusetts; and five grandchildren, Lewis Kerrebrock, Gale Kerrebrock, Renata Cummins, Skyler Cummins, and Lance Cummins. He was preceded in death by his son Christopher Kerrebrock, brother Glenn, and sister Ann. He also is remembered fondly by the Redmond children, Paul J. Redmond Jr. and his partner Joe Palombo, Kelly Redmond and her husband Philip Davis, Maura Redmond, Meaghan Winokur and James Winokur and their children, Laine and Alicia.

A public memorial service is being planned at MIT and will be announced soon. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be made to the Jack and Vickie Kerrebrock Fellowship Fund, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 600 Memorial Drive, Cambridge MA 02139.

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