Caldwell Johnson

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[top] Background

Caldwell Johnson grew up within walking distance of Langley Field, operated by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. He often loitered at the facility, and after showing some staff members his elaborately constructed model aircraft. His model airplanes were so exquisite and flawless that he was still a teenager when hired straight out of high school by NACA's Robert R. Gilruth in 1937. Caldwell tried college briefly, found it not to his liking, and returned to Langley, becoming the artist and model builder for the design group.

After NACA evolved into NASA, Johnson worked for decades with NASA engineer Max Faget, helping to design the earliest experimental spacecraft, addressing issues such as bodily restraint and mobility, personal hygiene, spacecraft weight limits, and supplying and consuming food and water, based at least in the early years only on guesses about the characteristics of space. When the time came to design the Mercury and Apollo spacecraft, Caldwell was an indispensable part of the team that established the designs that were dictated to the subcontractors and flew in space. It was Caldwell who established the basic layout of America's spacecraft, and Caldwell who came up with the rounded mold line of the Apollo capsule so that it would easily fair into whatever diameter cylindrical service module was ever settled on.

Caldwell Johnson, co-holder with Maxime Faget of the Mercury capsule patent, was chief of the Spacecraft Design Division at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston when he proposed that astronauts test prototype Space Shuttle manipulators during Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) missions in Earth orbit. In a February 1971 memorandum to Faget, MSC’s director of Engineering and Development, Johnson described the manipulator test mission as a worthwhile alternative to the Earth survey, space rescue, and joint US/Soviet CSM missions then under study.


[top] Interviews

June, 1967


[top] Photos


[top] Further Reading

Tracking the Entire World

Encyclopedia Astronautica

The Slick Stick

The Partnership: A History of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

Oral History Project:Edwin Kilgore

Oral Histories from the Pioneers of America's Space Program

Wired Science

Caldwell C. Johnson Papers, National Air and Space Museum Archives


[top] Patent Drawings

Aerial Capsule Emergency Separation Device 1961

Space Capsule #3093346 1963

Space Capsule #3270908 1966


[top] Obituary

NASA Pioneer Dies - Caldwell (C.C) Johnson, a native of Hampton, VA and a graduate of Hampton High School died Sunday in Newport News (26 May 2013). Johnson and his family moved to the Houston, TX region in 1962 with the relocation of NASA from Langley to Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center) in Texas and became one of the pair of engineer-designers who conceptualized and designed the Mercury and Apollo spacecraft.

Prior to his work at NASA, C.C. Johnson spent a brief period in the engineering program at the University of VA. During a summer job at Langley, he was recognized for his exquisite and flawless airplane models and was hired by NACA (NASA's predecessor) in 1937. From there he rose through the ranks to become the chief of the Spacecraft Design Division at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center, where his engineering drawings were said to look like works of art by NASA colleagues.

Caldwell Johnson was the recipient of the AIAA Spacecraft Design Award, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, two NASA Certificates of Commendation, and many other awards for his innovative designs. Following his retirement from 38 years at NASA, along with his longtime collaborator at NASA and a former NASA astronaut, C.C. Johnson became Chief Engineer for Space Industries, Inc., a private spacecraft design firm near the Johnson Space Center outside Houston.

In 2008 Mr. and Mrs. Johnson returned form Galveston, TX to reside in Newport News, VA. C.C. Johnson died Sunday, May 26 after a brief illness. He was married to the former Kathryn Lancaster (deceased) from Raleigh, NC and Hampton, VA and was the father of Jacquelyn A. Johnson and J. Craig Johnson (deceased). He is survived by his daughter, Jacquelyn A. Johnson; his granddaughter, Yarrow A. Upton; great-grandson, Odin R. Upton; sister, Elizabeth Kruse.

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