Joe, Phil and Mary Lou, Phil's wife, in 2000.
Phil Meredith was Joe's closest friend at AeroJet. Joe held Phil in very high regard, and remained in touch with him right up to the time of Joe's death.
Phil will be contributing a multi-part remembrance of Joe, and for that reason, we've put his tribute on a separate page.
In this first entry, Phil gives us some background on the early days of the rocketry industry in America, and talks about how his and Joe's career paths eventually crossed.
I Remember Joe - Part One
The best friends set a standard to which you aspire, and you don't want to fail them. Best of all, they make you smile when it's the last thing you want to do. Joe Meier was like that.We met in 1955, albeit briefly, at Aerojet-in Azusa. California.. I had been hired to work on rocket propulsion. Not many engineers knew much about rocketry at that time, and I knew nothing at all. There was a national crisis. Our country was competing with the Russians to be the first with an ICBM capable of delivering an atomic bomb. It was the era of Eisenhower's missile gap (untrue, as it turned out), and it was accompanied by a sudden and acute shortage of aerospace engineers. Aerojet, primarily a maker of rocket engines, was recruiting nation-wide. I was hired in Cleveland, Ohio, and worked at Aerojet four years, and then left for greener pastures. My real interest was electronics, and Aerojet was slow to appreciate its role in their business.
Joe and I didn't cross paths again until eleven years later at Space General in El Monte, CA. By then, I had worked at four other companies, including another three-year stint at Aerojet, and had gained considerably more experience in electronics. Even so, I was just another warm body at Space General, hired to work on a large aerospace systems proposal. I shared an office with an engineer who happened to be working in the Attitude Controls Systems department (ACS) where Joe Meier worked. I soon got to know several more ACS engineers, including Joe.
Space General's ACS engineers were conspicuously weak in electronics, although they had considerable experience and skills in other areas. That boded well for me; for electronics was my strength. Not long after I was hired, the company lost the big proposal, and many engineers had to leave the company. I survived by getting a job with the ACS group to help with their electronics. As it turned out, I would work in that field until my retirement twenty four years later. That was also when I began to work with Joe.
Space General Corporation (SGC) was an interesting company, It was founded in Southern California as Space Electronics about 1960 by Fletcher and Lehan, both protégés of Ramo and Woolridge, two brilliant aerospace pioneers, who also founded TRW. Fletcher later became president of the University of Utah, and then twice headed NASA. Aerojet bought Space Electronics and changed their name to Space General Corporation and then made it a subsidiary, hoping to gain entree into the aerospace systems business where the big contracts lay.
SGC had an eclectic group of employees. They had some very bright engineers, Joe being a great example. There were also some dazzling women, thanks to a discerning hiring manager. There were some wonderful characters, some brilliant, some both brilliant and outrageous. Unfortunately, there were far too many high-level executives. They ran the gamut from average to grossly incompetent, and their failings would hasten the demise of the company.
Dr. Eimer was the vice president of engineering, complete with PhD. He was such a bad manager that he inspired Joe to create a new unit for confusion: the Eimer. It came into general usage around the company, but was changed to Micro Eimer. Elmer's capability for creating chaos was so enormous, that a smaller unit was needed. Saying one Eimer would be like measuring butter in tons instead of pounds. Joe's incisive commentary was becoming legendary.
Through the next seven years, I worked ever more with Joe and several other engineers. Together, we became the nucleus of the ACS group for years afterwards. We shared both victories and defeats in our work, and in the process we became not only compatible colleagues, but good friends. Then, in 1973, Space General was closed down and the ACS group moved to Sacramento. Aerojet's Systems Company experiment had failed.
To see different videos of Joe in his final years, please go here.
To see additional tributes to Joe, please go here.