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Eugene S. ‘Gene’ Love

Eugene S. 'Gene' Love
Eugene S. ‘Gene’ Love
Credit: NASA

Eugene S. “Gene” Love (1920 – 2001) made significant contributions to access-to-space activities through the development of specialized facilities and leadership as an expert in the fields of hypersonic aerodynamics and reentry from space.

Gene Love was born in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, and attended elementary and secondary schools in Newnan, Georgia. He began his college education at North Georgia College where he pursued a course of pre-medical studies, graduating in 1940. A veteran of World War II, he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a flight test engineer and as a combat pilot in a variety of aircraft in the Mediterranean and European theaters. His military service accomplishments were remarkable. In addition to bomber missions, he flew special agents on drop missions behind enemy lines and was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. At the end of the war, he was assigned to search and identify teams for missing soldiers in Trento, Bolzano, Lansberg, Dachau, Thannhausen and Ohrdruf. For this service, in 1972 he was awarded the Clarenton Memorial Award by the Allied Special Forces Association.

Following the war, he continued his education at the Georgia Institute of Technology and received his bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering in 1947. He also took graduate studies with the University of Virginia Extension.

In 1947, Love joined the NACA Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory as a research scientist assigned to the 9-Inch Supersonic Tunnel, where he conducted research on basic and applied aerodynamics of supersonic aircraft. He became head of the tunnel section in 1951. He was named Head of the Hypersonic Branch of the Aero-Physics Division in August 1956, and was placed in charge of all hypersonic research within the division. He participated in the design of the Langley 20-Inch Hypersonic Tunnel, put into operation in 1958 to study heat transfer, pressures, and forces on inlets and configurations at hypersonic speeds. He was appointed to the position of Assistant Chief of the Aero-Physics Division in 1959. During planning for the Space Shuttle, he was given additional duties as Head of the Space Shuttle Technology Task Group and, in 1969, was appointed Associate Chief of the Aero-Physics Division.

In 1970, under new Center Director Edgar Cortright, Langley reorganized, separating space research from hypersonic aircraft research. In this reorganization, a new Space Systems Division was created, with Love as its Division Chief. The division was created to provide a focus for two major systems planned for the 1970s — the Space Station and the Space Shuttle. His organization became the centerpiece of a new Langley Space Directorate. In 1972, he became Langley’s Director for Space. In that position he was responsible for activities in space systems, space technology, and environmental research.

Love was a critic of the blunt, ballistic capsule design used for Project Mercury, believing that a “lifting-body” entry vehicle, having a controllable cross-range capability, would be a more effective concept for return-from-space missions. He personally designed the HL-10 lifting-body research vehicle, which contributed significant information on the performance, handling qualities, and mission requirements of such concepts, and helped form the basis for design of the Space Shuttle.

Former Langley Center Director Paul Holloway recalled that Love significantly influenced the evolution of the Space Shuttle Program during its development and planning stages, as Langley’s representative on the Executive Steering Committee. Several contractors asked Holloway how long Gene Love had been the Director of Langley — at the time, Love was only an Assistant Division Chief, considerably below the level of Center Director.

As Langley’s Director for Space, in addition to his responsibilities for hypersonics and reentry systems, he also managed Langley studies of radiation issues for space missions and began Langley’s atmospheric sciences program.

His personality and demeanor in the workplace commanded respect; but he was willing to accept disagreement in the face of valid arguments. Many at Langley thought that he could be as stubborn as a mule, and yet be a very likable guy. He could separate his business and private life very successfully — becoming aggressive and outspoken during technical meetings, while laughing and joking with the same individuals during off-duty hours.

He was the author or co-author of numerous archival publications in the aerospace sciences, and a contributor to many technical journals, encyclopedias and textbooks. He served on a number of national and international advisory bodies as member or chair, including two presidentially-appointed chairmanships. For several years he was national Director-Technical of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and member of the board, a senior member of the International Committee on Technical Terminology, and consultant-lecturer for the National Committee on Radiation Protection. He was a visiting lecturer or adjunct professor at several technical institutions and universities. He served as editor or associate editor of several technical journals, including the Journal of Radiation Physics, Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, and Journal of Optical Design.

In his personal life, Gene Love was a versatile man with many interests and capabilities. His grandfather had acquired one of the largest libraries in the South and, as a young man, Love absorbed an exceptional amount of information during summer visits. He read Latin fluently, as well as ancient Greek. Following other interests, he was an expert marksman in rifle, a graduate gemologist, and a master gem cutter. He was oft acclaimed for his three-volume treatise on cut-gemstone design and was well known along the East Coast for accurately appraising the value of gems and precious stones, and was frequently requested to testify on appraisals and mediate squabbles over inheritances.

Love received many honors in recognition of both profession and personal pursuits. In 1960, the National Civil Service League honored him with the League’s Career Service Award as one of the nation’s Top 10 Federal Government employees. He received NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal twice (1966 and 1970), and was a Fellow of the AIAA. In 1973, the AIAA selected him to give its 10th von Karman Lecture, entitled “Advanced Technology and the Space Shuttle.” He was presented with the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1981, “For outstanding leadership in definition of the shuttle design and systems characteristics during its formative stages and for major contributions to the technological base which made the successful flight of STS-1 possible.” In other interest areas he was the 1942 recipient of the Hearst Trophy and Pershing Trophy as U.S. National Rifle Champion, a member of the 1944 U.S. Olympic Rifle Team, and was selected Honorary Fellow of the Rhodes International Forum for his study of the Julian Letters.

Gene Love retired from Langley in 1975.

He married the former Beverly “Penny” Pennell and they lived in Virginia, for 36 years, retiring to Boone, North Carolina, in 1983. Mrs. Love preceded him in death in 1993.

Gene Love died on May 13, 2001 (Mother’s Day), in Boone, North Carolina, at the age of 80. He is survived by a daughter, Beverly “Betsy.”