Honoring the Life of a Sigma Chi Brother, Former USAF Captain, and NASA Employee

A caricature drawn during Lynn's time as a Sigma Chi

On November 24, 2016, Brother H. Robert Lynn '54 passed away after a lifetime of contributions, both personally and professionally. Not only did Sigma Chi lose a brother—NASA lost a gifted and devoted employee and H. Robert Lynn’s children lost a loving father.

Lynn’s skill and drive for success was evident even as a child. More active than your average kid, he participated in Washington D.C. Boy Patrol and D.C. Boys Club Boxing. He held the Washington D.C. shot put record for many years. He was also a star football player in high school, being named Football Player of the Week by numerous newspapers and to the 1949 Washington DC All High School Football Team. Lynn was so good, he was offered scholarships from 11 different schools, including the University of Maryland, of course.

At UMD, he played for College Football Hall of Fame Coach Jim Tatum and was a member of the university’s only National Football Championship Team in 1953. He graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering, and for at least 50 years, was the only University of Maryland football player to graduate with a degree in Engineering.

Best of all, though, it was during these years that he married the love of his life, Sarah Jane King, also a UMD graduate. They were married for over 60 years.

Memorabilia displayed at the service

After graduating, Lynn served as a captain in the United States Air Force and was a pilot of both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. He graduated from Hawthorne School of Aeronautics in 1956, and received advanced training in helicopters in 1957. His devotion again evident, Lynn scored a perfect score on his final written flight school exam. Throughout his military career, he flew many different types of missions, including search and rescue, and became an expert in radar, earning a commendation for his participation in the Christmas Island nuclear testing in 1962. Rear Admiral Mustin said “his professional skill and devotion to duty made a major contribution to the success of the Christmas Island nuclear tests.”

Following his years in the USAF, Lynn joined NASA, where he made countless contributions. Here are just a few:

  • Awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal for his work as the design engineer for the world’s first orbiting astronomical observatory, or OAO.
  • Recognized for his support of Apollo 11 by John Clark Director of NASA
  • Received the Apollo Achievement Award from J. Paine, the Administrator of NASA.
  • Received the Special Achievement Award in 1976
  • Named Charter Member Senior Executive Service Issued by President Jimmy Carter 1979
  • Recognized by NASA for 25 years of service in 1982
  • Was an honoree for numerous group achievement awards as well, including:
    • 1972 for the Earth Resources Technology Satellite Project Team. This project, known more popularly as LandSat, used multiple types of cameras to map our world, identify agricultural resources, mineral resources, and water resources.
    • 1974 for the ATS-6 Project. This project was the first satellite in geosynchronous orbit and was a precursor to modern telecommunications satellites like today’s used for international communications and satellite television.
    • 1989 for the STS-26 project. This project deployed a satellite from the space shuttle (instead of being launched into space on a rocket) and was known as NASA’s Return to Space as it was the first Space Shuttle mission after the Challenger disaster.
    • NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal in 1984 for the recovery of TDRS satellite. The National Society of Professional Engineers heralded this accomplishment as one of the top 10 engineering feats of 1983.
    • Led the consulting group in New Mexico that ran the final installation of TDRS project. His leadership led to increase tracking of orbiting spacecraft to greater than 99% of their orbiting time and the successful deployment of two more satellites (TDRS II and TDRS III).
    • TDRS III was deployed from the space shuttle, a first for a satellite of its size.

Robert Lynn was indeed a notable Sigma Chi alum, and we are so proud of his lifetime of accomplishments. He is greatly missed. Rest easy, brother!

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