Neill Myers ’67 was two years into his career when his employer did something pretty interesting: it landed men on the moon. The recent Stevens grad contributed to the famous lunar mission as a propulsion engineer at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.
He had traveled from his lab in Huntsville to Cape Canaveral to see Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins lift off in Apollo 11, and he was watching with his colleagues on NASA screens when the craft touched the moon four days later on July 20, 1969.
“Everyone was really enthusiastic and excited,” Myers remembers. “It seemed like most of the problems with the Saturn V rocket had been worked out, and everyone was pretty confident the mission would succeed.”
Myers ended up at NASA after meeting a recruiter at Stevens, and nearly 50 years later he’s still there, having worked on a variety of projects, space-related and otherwise. In fact, he holds the most patents, 27, of anyone who’s worked at the Marshall Center.
His first patent involved duct coupling for zero gravity operations on Skylab, the first American space station, which orbited from 1973 to 1979. “We had to shut the airlock door quickly and needed coupling in the duct that the astronauts could undo quickly in zero gravity situations.”
His most challenging project was to help design the 60,000 pound thrust Fastrac Engine, a success that landed seven patents. “We were trying to simplify a rocket engine design in-house by making the combustion chamber, nozzle and everything from one piece. That was pretty challenging. In the time frame of about three years we were able to totally design it, build it and fire it for full duration.”
Though Myers works for NASA, he has a mandate for thinking bigger than just outer space. The agency has always had an interest in applying its technology on Earth, and it has encouraged engineers like Myers to find creative solutions for everyday challenges. “We have a technology transfer office, and we’re always asking, what else could something be used for, what other applications does it have?”
NASA refers to those transfers as spinoffs. In one notable spinoff, Myers and a team of his colleagues saw how the concepts behind propulsion technology could fit a special knee brace that locks the knee in place and helps surgery patients walk easier and recover faster. The brace was patented, marketed by an orthopedics company, and later featured at the White House during celebrations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Myers comes from a family of engineers, including his father and grandfather. His father, William, graduated from Stevens in 1936 and passed interest in Castle Point to his son. “I always wanted to go to Stevens because my dad had gone there. I visited Lafayette and Lehigh, but really I just wanted to go to Stevens.”
During his time on campus, Myers played recreational sports and absorbed as much technical knowledge as he could. “I enjoyed the various labs and being able to work in the machine shop. We learned how to weld, how to operate a lathe and many other skills.”
Today, the Myers name is still on campus. Neill’s sister, Sarah Myers McGinty, an author and former Stevens professor, started the William K. Myers ’36 and W. Neill Myers ’67 Endowed Scholarship to honor her brother and father and their shared scientific interest.
Myers is still at NASA and still innovating. The agency has recognized him with numerous awards, including its Distinguished Service Medal, NASA’s highest honor. Recently he has been working on fluid damping technology that could have the everyday benefit of keeping buildings from shaking during high winds or even earthquakes. “That’s new technology that we think can have some pretty interesting applications,” he says.