Thomas O. Paine

Thomas O. Paine

Thomas Otten Paine (November 9, 1921May 4, 1992), American scientist, was the third Administrator of NASA, serving from March 21, 1969 to September 15, 1970.

Early life, education, and family

Born in Berkeley, California, Paine attended public schools in various cities and graduated from Brown University in 1942 with an A.B. degree in engineering. In World War II, he served as a submarine officer in the Pacific and in the Japanese occupation. He qualified as a Navy deep-sea diver and was awarded the Commendation Medal and Submarine Combat Insignia with stars. From 1946-49, Paine attended Stanford University, receiving an M.S. degree in 1947 and Ph.D. in physical metallurgy. During his career, Paine received honorary doctor of science degrees from Brown University, Clarkson College of Technology, Nebraska Wesleyan University, the University of New Brunswick, Oklahoma City University, and an honorary doctor of engineering degree from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Paine was married to Barbara Helen Taunton Pearse of Perth, Western Australia. They had four children: Marguerite Ada, George Thomas, Judith Janet, and Frank Taunton.

cientific career

Paine began his career as a research associate at Stanford University from 1947 to 1949, where he made basic studies of high-temperature alloys and liquid metals in support of naval nuclear reactor programs. He joined the General Electric Research Laboratory in Schenectady, New York, in 1949 as research associate, where he initiated research programs on magnetic and composite materials. In 1951, he transferred to the Meter and Instrument Department in Lynn, Massachusetts as manager of materials development, and later as laboratory manager. Under Paine's management the laboratory received the 1956 Award for Outstanding Contribution to Industrial Science from the American Association for Advancement of Science for its work in fine-particle magnet development. From 1958 to 1962, Paine was research associate and manager of Engineering Applications at GE's Research and Development Center in Schenectady. From 1963 to 1968 he was manager of TEMPO, GE's Center for Advanced Studies in Santa Barbara, California.

NASA Administrator

During his administration at NASA, the first seven Apollo manned missions were flown, in which 20 astronauts orbited Earth, 14 traveled to the Moon, and four walked upon its surface. Many automated scientific and applications spacecraft were also flown in U.S. and cooperative international programs.

Paine was also deeply involved in preparing plans for the post-Apollo era at NASA. Along with George Mueller and others, Paine developed an ambitious plan that called for the establishment of a lunar base and a massive space station in Earth orbit before the end of the 1970s, culminating in a manned mission to Mars as early as 1981. President Richard Nixon rejected these plans, however.

Apollo 11 Goodwill Messages

Paine was instrumental in acquiring the Apollo 11 Goodwill Messages which rests on the lunar surface today. He personally corresponded with world leaders and coordinated the efforts to enshrine the messages on a tiny silicon disc manufactured by the Sprague Electric Company of North Adams, Massachusetts. Paine's name is also etched onto the disc.Paine discussed the idea of the messages with the State Department's U. Alexis Johnson. A high level committee determined that a plaque declaring that "We Came in Peace for all Mankind" and the planting of a U.S. flag on the Moon were to be part of the ceremonial activities for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the lunar surface.

Post-NASA career

Paine resigned from NASA September 15, 1970, to return to the General Electric Co. in New York City as Vice President and Group Executive, Power Generation Group, (worldwide ship propulsion, nuclear power and steam and gas turbine generators), and later became Senior Vice President for Science and Technology (oversight of GE's research and development).

Paine left GE in 1976 to become the President and Chief Operating Officer of Northrop Corporation, where he also served as a Director. Paine retired as President of Northrop in 1982.

In 1982, Paine established Thomas Paine Associates - High Technology Enterprises (TPA) in Westwood, CA, and relocated it in Santa Monica, CA, in 1986. TPA also housed Paine’s 3400-volume Submarine Warfare Library, which was later donated to the Nimitz Library, U.S. Naval Academy.

Paine served as a Director for many corporations, including RCA Corporation, NBC, Eastern Air Lines, Nike, Arthur D. Little, Inc., Orbital Sciences Corporation, and Quotron Systems (Division of Citicorp). Paine also served as a Director of the Planetary Society, the National Space Institute, the International Academy of Astronautics, and the Pacific Forum.

Paine also has served as a Trustee of Occidental College and Brown University and was a member of the National Academy of Engineering. The Planetary Society honored his commitment to Mars by establishing The Thomas O. Paine Award for the Advancement of Human Exploration of Mars.

Paine Commission

In 1985, the Reagan administration chose Paine as chair of a National Commission on Space to prepare a report on the future of space exploration. Since leaving NASA fifteen years earlier, Paine had been a vocal spokesman for an expansive view of what should be done in space. The Paine Commission took most of a year to prepare its report, largely because it solicited public input in hearings throughout the United States. The Commission report, "Pioneering the Space Frontier", was published in May 1986. It espoused "a pioneering mission for 21st-century lead the exploration and development of the space frontier, advancing science, technology, and enterprise, and building institutions and systems that make accessible vast new resources and support human settlements beyond Earth orbit, from the highlands of the Moon to the plains of Mars." The report also contained a "Declaration for Space" that included a rationale for exploring and settling the solar system and outlined a long-range space program for the United States.


Paine died of cancer at his home in Los Angeles, California in May 1992. In 1972, Paine donated his papers to the Library of Congress where they are currently open and available in the Manuscript Division. Although there is one container of classified material, the other 183 containers are open and available to all researchers.

In media

In the 1996 TV movie "Apollo 11" Paine was played by Carmen Argenziano. In the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, Paine was played by Sam Anderson.


*"Portions of this article are based on public domain text from [ NASA] ."
*cite book|first= Tahir |last=Rahman|title=We Came in Peace for all Mankind- the Untold Story of the Apollo 11 Silicon Disc|publisher=Leathers Publishing|year=2007|id= ISBN 978-1585974412

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