Rocketman documentary recommended

Dr John Campbell, initiator and organiser of the ‘Ask-A-Scientist’ programme  and author of ‘Rutherford Scientist Supreme’, ‘Rutherford’s Ancestors’ and recommends a documentary on William H Pickering.

For anyone travelling internationally on Air New Zealand in the next five months, Gillian Ashurst’s superb 45 minute documentary ‘Rocketman – The Story of William H Pickering’ is on the AirNZ inflight entertainment. It was added to compliment the film ‘Hidden Figures’, about three Afro-American women mathematicians and programmers who did trajectory calculations for NASA’s early manned flights.

170703- Pickering docoBill, ex Havelock School and Wellington College, did engineering intermediate at Canterbury College before going to Cal Tech for his electrical engineering degree and PhD in physics. As Director of Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Bill organised the launching of the USA’s first satellite, insisting it had a scientific experiment on board and choosing James Van Allen’s one. This used a device first invented by Ernest Rutherford to discover the van Allen radiation belts. Bill was responsible for the USA’s Deep Space Exploration programme, which included the unmanned mission to the Moon, Venus and Mars.

For a short biography of Bill see under Other Places – Havelock.  Like Rutherford, he is a great example for children at small village schools that such children can become world famous.

Bill was awarded an honorary D.Eng by the University of Canterbury in 2003, when I had him come out to open the Pickering/ Rutherford/Havelock Memorial. That degree ceremony was unique, the only ceremony for an individual in the Christchurch Town Hall, following which Bill addressed a packed Town Hall on his life in space exploration.

I am trying to have Gillian produce a PAL DVD of the documentary. Those interested in having one should register their interest via Some NTSC DVDs are available from me.

For anyone not travelling internationally in the next five months, Dr John Campbell will show, and talk to, Bill’s documentary (covering his early life) at the Physics and Astronomy Department seminar, 11am Friday 28 July  2017 in Rutherford 531.