NASA Rocket Garden

After serving eleven years as missionaries in Brazil, Reverend Stout and Helen returned to the U.S. By this time John had four Bachelor’s degrees, two Master’s, a PhD in Linguistics, and a degree in theology from Austin Theological Seminary. In l957 he became an ordained Presbyterian Minister. He now had his feet planted firmly in two opposite worlds, one in science and one in religion. It was a position he grew to relish. “I had no trouble with God looking into a microscope alongside my students,” he said.

Given his reputation with Sputnik and his genius in scientific endeavors, it came as no surprise when in 1964 was offered a job as an information scientist at Cape Canaveral working for a NASA subcontractor, Pan American Airways, documenting and tracking the hundreds of thousands of parts that made up the Gemini spacecraft. NASA’s project Apollo was not far behind.

In 1965, he was offered a transfer to the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston as an employee of NASA subcontractor ITT to act as a Senior Information Scientist tracking over two million components in the Apollo spacecraft, which were provided by 20,000 suppliers scattered around the world.   Although he wasn’t especially interested in the position, he accepted an invitation to fly to Houston for an interview. Upon his arrival, they gave him the red-carpet treatment.

As a condition of his employment, he asked permission to serve as a chaplain in order to fulfill his field ministry obligation under the Presbyterian Church. Thus, following the example of the apostle Paul, he received no compensation from the church for his ministerial services. NASA accepted this condition and, given the stress and risk of the new space program, welcomed his role as a chaplain.

His responsibilities included missile flight data processing, tracking instrumentation, and communication links between launch sites and downrange tracking stations for the Gemini space program. While there, he formed Aerospace Ministries, a cadre of pastor from various religious beliefs formed to offer ministerial support for NASA employees in its new pioneering space endeavor.

Two years later, a tragedy at Launch Complex 34 in Cape Canaveral would change his life forever.



Rev. Stout's work in NASA