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Center Snapshot: John Simpson
Center Snapshot: John Simpson. Image above: John Simpson learned the value of his role in the Korean War from a conversation with a Korean woman. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Sasha Congiu

The conversation went this way:

"Did you fight in Korea?"


"You were in battle?"


John Simpson paused to make his point.

"Then she asked me several more questions like that," he said. "And then she said, 'I want to thank you very much.' "

It wasn't so much the "thank you for your service" that veterans get as a matter of course. This was personal.

"I don't think (thank you) ever meant as much as that day I was in Korea and a Korean female found out that I was a veteran," said Simpson, an engineering technician at NASA Langley.

It helped make Simpson into who he is today.

He was born in West Virginia and has worked at NASA Langley since 1954. Before that, he was in the Navy during the Korean War.

"It's strange how life progresses," said Simpson. He didn't enjoy being in Korea and was happy to leave. Upon his return to the United States, his new job taught him another lesson

"I came here and my first boss was a Korean guy," said Simpson. "I just knew we weren't going to get along, but we did. Every time he's in the area he comes by and sees me. He's a nice guy.

"I guess that's a good lesson: Don't form your opinions ahead of time."

While in the Navy, he sent an application to the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) to be an engineering aide, but was skeptical that he would get the job.

"I figured I couldn't do it, but they [NACA] said I could do it,” said Simpson. That's when his career at NACA and, later, NASA began.

With a dream to be an electronics engineer, he applied to Langley's Apprentice School. He lost in that bid by a couple of points, but was offered a job in another field.

Simpson was influenced by a friend who was already in the Apprentice School and decided to become an instrument maker, a job now known as a machinist.

"Finally I said, 'Maybe I should try it,' " he recalled.

He did and, many years later, retired from Langley as a machinist. He came back as a contractor performing his dream job as an electronics engineer.

"It's quite challenging; I enjoy it," Simpson said.

One of his proudest achievements was inventing the Simpson probe, which detects cracks on aircraft. It displays the severity of the crack, along with its location. The Simpson probe is one of his many patents.

"Because we could also detect its [the crack’s] position, a lot of people were happy,” Simpson said.

Outside of work, Simpson enjoys traveling to the mountains. He is also a certified amateur radio operator.

In addition to his many accomplishments and hobbies, Simpson has taken courses at William & Mary, Old Dominion University and Christopher Newport University.

He said he has been greatly impacted by people around him and the experiences he has had, and he hopes he has given as much as he has gotten, especially to NASA.

"NASA did a lot for me," said Simpson, "and hopefully I did a lot for NASA."

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