Thomas O. Paine

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Thomas Otten Paine

Birthplace: Berkeley, Alameda County, California, United States
Death: Died in Brentwood, Contra Costa County, California, United States
Place of Burial: Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of George Thomas Paine and Ada Louise Paine
Husband of Barbara Helen Taunton Paine

Occupation: administrator at NASA
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Thomas O. Paine

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

During his administration at NASA, the first seven Apollo manned missions were flown, including the first ever manned lunar landing by Apollo 11. Paine was also deeply involved in preparing plans for the post-Apollo era at NASA.

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 subsequent 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, 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.

Scientific 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 a research associate, where he started research programs on magnetic and composite materials. In 1951, Paine transferred to the Meter and Instrument Department of G.E. in Lynn, Massachusetts, as the manager of materials development, and later as a laboratory manager. Under Dr. Paine's management, this lab received the Award for Outstanding Contribution to Industrial Science in 1956 from the American Association for the Advancement of Science for its work in fine-particle magnet development. From 1958 through 1962, Dr. Paine was a research associate and manager of Engineering Applications at the Research and Development Center of the General Electric Company in Schenectady, N.Y., From 1963 to 1968, Paine was manager of TEMPO, the Center for Advanced Studies of General Electric located in Santa Barbara, California.

NASA Administrator

Dr. Paine was appointed Deputy Administrator of NASA on January 31, 1968. Upon the retirement of James E. Webb on October 8, 1968, he was named Acting Administrator of NASA. He was nominated as NASA's third Administrator on March 5, 1969, and confirmed by the Senate on March 20, 1969.

Dr. Paine was recruited to succeed Mr. Webb by President Lyndon Johnson. He was tasked with the responsibility of getting the Apollo program back on track in the wake of the Apollo 1 disaster, and fulfilling President Kennedy's goal of, "before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

During his administration at NASA, the first seven Apollo manned missions were flown, highlighted by the first ever manned lunar landing by Apollo 11. In all, 20 astronauts orbited Earth, 14 traveled to the Moon, and twelve 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 calling 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 rest 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.

Dr. Paine served as a director for many corporations, including the RCA, NBC, Eastern Air Lines, Nike, Arthur D. Little, Inc., Orbital Sciences, and Quotron Systems (a division of the Citicorp company). 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.

National Commission on Space

In 1986, in the wake of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, Congress commissioned a panel of experts to investigate and evaluate the future of the national space program. President Ronald Reagan appointed Dr. Paine to be the chairman this investigation. Rather than naming the commission after himself, as is customary, he chose instead to name it The National Commission on Space. Members of the 15-man commission included Dr. Luis Alvarez (a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics), Neil Armstrong (NASA astronaut and the first man on the Moon), Richard Feynman (winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics), Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill (American physicist and space activist), Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan (Space Shuttle astronaut and first American woman to walk in space), and Brigadier General Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager (rocket plane pilot and first man to break the sound barrier).

Since leaving NASA fifteen years earlier, Dr. Paine had been a vocal spokesman for an expansive future of Space exploration. The National Commission on Space took most of a year to prepare its report, conducting public 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 America... to 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 are open and available to all researchers.

In media

In the 1966 BBC TV PANORAMA documentary "California 2000", Paine is interviewed and makes some prophecies on how technology will impact society. This can be seen on

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


NASA Deputy Administrator January 31-October 8, 1968, NASA Acting Administrator Oct. 8, 1968-March 21, 1969, NASA Administrator March 21,1969-September 15, 1970. He was NASA Deputy Administrator during Apollo 13 and 6 other Apollo missions. He had 2 intercoms on his desk at home for picking up every transmission from space. Dr. Paine was hired by Lyndon Johnson after the Apollo 1 disaster. He had been a long time employee at GE and manager of TEMPO, a GE think tank which was located in Santa Barbara from the 1950s to the 1970s. Dr. Paine was instrumental in Apollo 11, the first moon walk. After Apollo 13, he became the fall guy and soon resigned his position. He went back to work for GE in NYC where he was a VP and Group Executive and then Northrop Corporation where he was president and chief operating officer of Northrup. In 1982 he started his own company in Santa Monica. After the Challenger disaster in 1986, he was selected by Ronald Reagan to chair the National Commission on Space.

In 1942 he graduated from Brown University with an AB in engineering.During WWll Dr. Paine was an executive submarine officer. He piloted a Japanese submarine all the way back to the US.He was awarded the Commendation Medal and Submarine insignia with stars. He was a qualified Navy deep sea diver. In 1946-1949 he attended Stanford University and received an MS in 1947 and a PhD in physical metallurgy. He received honorary PhDs in science from Brown University, Clarkson College of Technology, NE Wesleyan University, University of New Brunswick, Oklahoma City University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

He and his wife, Barbara, were married at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard. They had 4 children. He was the son of Commodore and Mrs. George T. Paine USN(Ret.)

His 3400 volume of submarine warfare was donated to the Nimtiz Library at the US Naval Academy. He was a trustee of Occidental College and Brown University. He was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the Planetary Society honored his commitment to Mars exploration with the Thomas O. Paine award.

His tombstone was designed by Santa Barbara artist and sculptor, James 'Bud' Bottoms, who had made many space renderings for NASA.

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Thomas O. Paine's Timeline

November 9, 1921
Berkeley, Alameda County, California, United States
October 1, 1946
Age 24
Long Beach, Los Angeles County, California, United States
May 4, 1992
Age 70
Brentwood, Contra Costa County, California, United States
Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara County, California, United States