Robert John (R.J.) Schwinghamer, Jr., 86, Huntsville, Alabama

A.JRobert John (R.J.) Schwinghamer, Jr., 86, of Huntsville, Alabama, died Monday in Huntsville. He was born in Jasper March 12, 1928, to Robert J. Schwinghamer,Sr. and Eustella Uebelhor Schwinghamer.

R.J. received his BS in electrical engineering from Purdue University in 1950, attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1968 and received his Master’s in Business from Sloan School. He was a member of Our Lady, Help of Christians Roman Catholic Church in Huntsville and was Associate Director Technical at NASA George C. Marshall Space Flight Center.

He was stellar amongst the nation’s foremost experts in the field of aerospace materials and process engineering. He entered Federal service in 1957 with a U.S. Army agency as a member of the Dr. Wernher von Braun rocket research and development team. He transferred with that team to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center when it was formed in 1960. His career was characterized by brilliant achievements in both the managerial and technical fields of endeavor. He served as Associate Director Technical at NASA’s George C. Marshall Space Flight Center and participated with the director in managing major laboratories, unique research and test facilities, and the work of 2,000 scientists and engineers, dedicated to the national space program. Research fields in which he specialized include advanced metal forming and joining, compatibility of materials in liquid and gaseous oxygen, space environmental effects on materials, and research in special materials and processes for space vehicles. He was the author or co-author of over 50 technical papers and holds 12 U.S. and 7 foreign patents.

Early in his career, Mr. Schwinghamer made a number of far reaching and lasting technical contributions to the Saturn-Apollo Program. He pioneered the use of intense transient magnetic fields for forming aerospace materials and has several basic patents on these devices. He also invented the magnetomotive hammer, which continues to exceed expectations when applied to the difficult metal working problems of large tanks and is still considered to represent the leading edge of magnetomotive forming.
Mr. Schwinghamer developed a solar shield to provide temperature control and retain the habitable environment in the Skylab interior when the micrometeroid shield malfunctioned and caused overheating inside Skylab.
When the Space Shuttle was on the pad for its first launch in 1981, the external tank thermal protection material came loose and its quality for flight became highly questionable. Mr. Schwinghamer was charged with investigating the thermal protection material and finding an immediate solution for bonding the deficient materials at the launch pad.

In the immediate aftermath of the Challenger accident, Mr. Schwinghamer headed the MSFC investigation of the solid rocket motor failure. Working for six months with only one day off, his team continued testing of the o-ring materials, seeking, on an international basis, the best possible material for the redesigned solid rocket motor.

In 1996, he headed the MSFC team assigned to the overall NASA Tethered Satellite Failure Investigating Team. Within eight weeks, his team deduced the failure mode and reproduced the Tether material failure in extensive laboratory tests.

In the fall of 1996, the National Transportation Safety Board requested NASA assistance in the investigation of the TWA-800 disaster. In response, extensive analysis and testing of materials from TWA-800 was done by the Marshall Space Flight Center Team, headed by Mr. Schwinghamer. Subsequently, NTSB Chairman Jim Hall wrote to NASA Administrator Goldin, praising the MSFC Team and Mr. Schwinghamer for the professionalism, cooperation and their timely contribution to the investigation.

Mr. Schwinghamer retired from the position of Associate Director Technical of Marshall Space Flight Center of NASA in January, 1991 after 41 years of Federal Service. After retirement, he served as an Aerospace Consultant for NASA and consulted on 14 reviews and investigations.

He is survived by his wife of 63 years, Constance (Gramelspacher) Schwinghamer; two daughters, Elizabeth Tomlin and husband Henry B. III, Greenville, South Carolina, and Robyn Hilborn and husband Richard, Texarkana, Texas; and seven grandchildren, Henry B. IV, Peter, and Mary Elsa Tomlin, and James, Joseph, Thomas, and Ann Marie Hilborn.

In addition to his parents, he was preceded in death by two daughters, Denise and Toni Schwinghamer.

Services at 11 a.m. Thursday at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Jasper with burial following in Fairview Cemetery. Friends may call from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday at the Becher-Kluesner Downtown Chapel in Jasper. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to your favorite charity. Condolences may be made at

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