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    Dianna Wilson commented  · 

    Inventor of Apollo 13’s Heat Shield Passes Away

    Gordon Dodge Pfeifer, Sr., a resident of Glastonbury, CT since 1962, died comfortably in his bed at home on May 10, 2020 of natural causes. He was 85 years old. Gordon was predeceased by his wife, Harriett, in 2006 in their 50th year of marriage. Gordon is survived by two adult children: Heather "Veronica" Southby of Glastonbury and her two teenage sons Mac and Augie Southby; and Gordon Dodge Pfeifer, Jr. of San Diego, CA.
    He was born in St. Louis, MO in 1934. Gordon spent his entire K-12 childhood there, being schooled in the Catholic parochial schools -- he remained a life-long devout Catholic. While at St. Louis U. High School, Gordon lettered in track and tennis and was the school ping-pong champion.
    In 1956, he was graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a B.S. degree in Mechanical Engineering. He was inducted into the Mechanical Engineering National Honors Fraternity Pi Tau Signa, and was also inducted into the Engineering National Honors Fraternity Tau Beta Pi. As an extra-curriculum aside, Gordon lettered on the university tennis team. His graduate degree was in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Notre Dame.
    After college, Gordon spent his entire career in the aerospace industry where he held three major US Patents. One while at Bendix Guided Missile Division in the late 1950’s, Gordon was awarded a US Patent for his design of a thermal control system on a future NASA rocket re-entry nose cone. At Hughes Aircraft 1961 - 1962, he designed a heat shield for NASA's Apollo Spacecrafts, later used in project Apollo 13. The family watches the movie Apollo 13 with a great thrill when the say “If the heat shield holds…”! The third major US Patent was for the landing gear for NASA's unmanned Surveyor Spacecraft lunar landing test vehicle. The actual landing was televised live, and Gordon got to enjoy watching his handiwork perform its duty.
    Joining Pratt & Whitney in 1962, he remained for 35 years, working on various design and development projects until his retirement in 1997. While there, he was awarded another U.S. Patent; this one for a cooling scheme on a small interior part that was overheating. He was also selected to be the principle author of a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official document regarding the causes and techniques for prevention of icing in jet engine inlets. As an aside activity, Gordon was a licensed Professional Engineer (PE). In 1990, he taught Thermodynamics of the PE Test Review Course at Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute, Hartford Branch. In his “home life”, Gordon enjoyed his children and later his grandchildren. He was the tennis champion at the Glastonbury Hills Country Club, 1969-1978. He also spent many relaxing hours playing his harmonica. After his retirement, Gordon was a daily communicant at the Parish of Saints Isadore and Maria.
    The Catholic Burial Rite will be performed outdoors Saturday, May 30th, at Holy Cross Cemetery, Glastonbury, CT. The time is tentatively at 3:00 pm, but still being decided. For the final time, and to extend condolences, please visit
    For more information, contact Gordon’s daughter, Veronica Southby at or (619) 757-7274.

    Dianna Wilson supported this idea  · 

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