Aerospace and aeronautics are integrally connected. Astronauts pass through the atmosphere prior to space travel. Atmospheric reentry is one of the most challenging aspects of rocketry and aeronautical vehicular research. This is the reason why a discussion about the most important people in aerospace must begin with the Wright Brothers.
In many eyes, the Wrights are the most important figures in aviation history. However, some would argue that Neil Armstrong is the most important aerospace pioneer. In truth, Armstrong grew up with a fascination for the Wright’s accomplishments, meaning the Wright Brothers inspired many of Armstrong’s great accomplishments, as well as the accomplishments of other great minds.
Donald Douglas was also inspired by the Wrights, which is reportedly why he transferred to MIT. The new courses aided his advancements in aircraft construction. Charles Taylor is also connected to the Wrights through his development of a light engine for their Flyer.
Alberto Santos-Dumont officially flew in 1906, and he has some claim to first heavier-than-air flight. His unique aeronautical design certainly makes him deserving of one of the top ten people that gave birth to air travel.
Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 transatlantic New York to Paris flight fueled the passion for aviation that the world needed to make air travel a reality. Paul Poberezny made the aviation dream a practical reality for many citizens by publishing his homebuilt aircraft in Popular Mechanics.
Charles “Chuck” Yeager
The next individual may have had more influence on getting people thinking about space than anyone. Chuck Yeager’s constant pushing of the envelope in speed and overall aircraft performance places him squarely on the edge of the atmosphere. Because of Yeager’s unparalleled accomplishments, the U.S. government turned to him in 1961 to head its Aerospace Research Pilot School. Yeager would train almost half of the Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo astronauts.
The accomplishments of aviation and space pioneer William E. Boeing, as well as astronauts Gagarin, Shepard, Glenn and Armstrong, followed directly from the work completed by Dr. Robert Goddard, Hermann Oberth and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, the man who pioneered the 1903 “rocket equation”.
These incredible minds will forever hold a spot in aerospace history, but I believe we’re all holding on to hope that more names will emerge onto this list as technology continues to advance into the future.