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Jerry C. South, Jr.

B.S., Aeronautical Engineering, 1959
M.S., Aeronautical Engineering, 1959

Jerry South is one of the pioneers of the Apollo Space Program, and helped ensure President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing on the moon. He recalls watching the July 20, 1969 landing on television, looking intently for dust as the Lunar Excursion Module settled to the surface. He was one of about three of the space program’s engineers who worked on predicting the consequences of a rocket exhaust impinging on a dusty lunar surface. He worked in the Theoretical Mechanics Division, which also developed the technique of lunar orbital rendezvous to put men on the moon and bring them back safely.

As an undergraduate in Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, South selected a number of disciplines before settling on aeronautical engineering. He earned his bachelor’s and his master’s degrees in aerospace engineering within five years of entering Virginia Tech. By contrast, selecting NASA Langley to launch his career was an easy choice. “NASA was the holy grail for doing research in aerospace, and NASA Langley was the mother of all of the space centers,” Mr. South recalls.

After four months at Langley, he was called to active duty as a lieutenant in the Ordnance Corps at the Ballistics Research Laboratories at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. He worked as a special projects officer concentrating on theoretical gas dynamics of high -speed flows. He rejoined Langley in 1961 when his main focus became the very challenging theoretical research related to Project Apollo, including ablation of heat shields, trajectory analysis, and modeling of a rocket exhaust in a vacuum and its effect on a dusty lunar surface. During most of his career with NASA, Mr. South focused on the new field of computational fluid dynamics, the science of formulating methods suitable for solving the equations governing fluid flows and aerodynamics on a computer. The quest was forever-increasing accuracy of the simulations, to perform predictions for situations that could not be carried out experimentally, such as planetary entry, as well as to serve as a complementary method to enhance experimental work to increase reliability of aeronautics and space vehicles.

During his career at NASA, he authored or co-authored over 50 research papers. He served as the head of the Theoretical Aerodynamics Branch, the Analytical Methods Branch, and the Computational Aerodynamics Branch. From 1984 to 1987, he served as Chief Scientist of NASA Langley Research Center.

Select Awards and Recognition
NASA Medal for Leadership
NASA Medal for Exceptional Service
Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics