AB, Columbia University, 1940. Doctor of Philosophy, California Institute of Technology, 1948. Doctor of Science (honorary), University Utah, 1971.
Doctor of Science (honorary), Brigham Young University, 1977. Doctor of Science (honorary), University Colorado, 1987. Doctor of Laws (honorary), Lehigh University, 1978.
He also served as the 4th and 7th Administrator of NASA, first from April 27, 1971 to May 1, 1977 under President Richard M. Nixon, and again from May 12, 1986 to April 8, 1989 under President Ronald Reagan. As such, he was responsible for the early planning of the Space Shuttle program, and later for its recovery and return to flight after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. Born in Millburn, New Jersey, to Harvey Fletcher and Lorena Chipman.
Fletcher earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Columbia College of Columbia University and a Ph.D in physics (1948) from the California Institute of Technology. After holding research and teaching positions at Harvard and Princeton Universities, he joined Hughes Aircraft in 1948 and later worked at the Guided Missile Division of the Ramo-Wooldridge Corporation. In 1958, Fletcher co-founded the Space Electronics Corporation in Glendale, California, which, after a merger, became the Space General Corporation.
He was later named systems vice president of the Aerojet General Corporation in Sacramento, California. In 1964, he became president of the University of Utah, a position he held until he was named NASA Administrator by President Richard M. Nixon in 1971. During his first administration at NASA, Fletcher was responsible for beginning the Space Shuttle effort, as well as the Viking program that sent landers to Mars.
He oversaw the Skylab missions and approved the Voyager space probes and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. When he left NASA in 1977, Fletcher became an independent consultant in McLean, Virginia, and served on the faculty of the University of Pittsburgh. For nine years, he was active as an advisor to key national leaders involved in planning space policy.
Among other activities, he served on an advisory board involved in developing the Strategic Defense Initiative. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan selected Fletcher to administer NASA for a second time, to help the agency recover from the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. Shuttle flights went into a two-year hiatus while Fletcher ensured that NASA reinvested heavily in the program's safety and reliability, made organizational changes to improve efficiency, and restructured its management system.
He oversaw a complete reworking of the components of the Shuttle to enhance its safety, including a redesign of the solid rocket boosters, and added an egress method for the astronauts. The Space Shuttle returned to flight on September 29, 1988. Fletcher also approved the Hubble Space Telescope program.
He served as Administrator until April 8, 1989, into the term of Reagan's successor, President George H. W. Bush. Fletcher died in December 1991 of lung cancer at his home in suburban Washington, DC. He was buried at Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Trustee Rockefeller Foundation, 1978-1985, Theodore von Karman Memorial Foundation. Member governing board University Corporation on Atmospheric Research, 1982-1986, Argonne National Laboratory, 1984-1986. Board regents National Library Medicine, 1971.
Board visitors Defense Intelligence School, 1970-1971. National advisory board Gas Research Institute, 1984-1986. Fellow Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (Centennial award), American Academy Arts and Science, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (honorary), American Astronomical Society.
Member National Academy of Engineering (governing council 1978-1984, Arthur M. Bueche award, 1989), American Physical Society, University Club (Pittsburgh), Alta Club (Salt Lake City), Cosmos Club, Sigma Xi. Clubs: Cosmos.
Married Fay Lee, November 2, 1946. Children: Virginia Lee, Mary Susan, James Stephen, Barbara Jo.