Aurora Flight Sciences announces with deep regret the passing of Philip M. Smith, a member of our Board of Directors for more than 20 years.
Born in Springfield Ohio in May 1932, Phil was interested in cave exploring and mountain climbing from an early age. A Boy Scout expedition to Philmont Scout Ranch in 1947 sparked his lifelong interest in the American West and especially its rivers. Phil earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in geology and science education from Ohio State University. His ROTC commission as a Lieutenant in the US Army led him to Greenland, where he developed a pioneering technique for detecting ice crevasses. When the US Navy was tasked with building a line of Antarctic stations as part of the International Geophysical Year in 1957, Phil was summoned to Antarctica where he led construction of an ice road to the first south polar station. Following his Army service, he joined the National Academy of Sciences and then the National Science Foundation where he worked for a decade on Antarctic Programs. One of his highlights during this time was leading teams of Apollo astronauts and NASA officials, including Wernher von Braun, on expeditions to Antarctica.
In 1971, he joined the US Office of Management and Budget as head of its Science Branch. When Dr. Guyford Stever became the Presidential Science Advisor in the Ford Administration, he took Phil with him as Associate Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Phil’s service at OSTP continued under Dr. Frank Press during the Carter Administration. In 1981, Phil moved to the National Academy of Sciences where he served as Executive Director.
Phil was an active river explorer, leading many expeditions down the Snake and Colorado Rivers among many others. In 1960 he made the first run upstream through the Grand Canyon using specially designed jet boats.
After his retirement Phil resettled from Washington DC to Santa Fe, New Mexico. Throughout his life he was an avid art collector and patron of the arts. He loved identifying talented young people and mentored them throughout their careers.
Phil joined Aurora’s Board of Directors in 1994 and served until his death. He was a major driver behind the company’s decision to establish Aurora’s Research and Development Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2005.
Phil loved flying and by his own estimate, logged over 2.5 million miles in the air. He loved flying for the beauty and perspective it brought, for the combination of nature and technology it represented and, most of all, for what it enabled him to do. Shortly before his death, he recalled: “One morning when I was an Associate Director of the White House Science Office I spent two hours over a thorny breakfast meeting at the White House Mess with a member of the National Science Board to save funding for field research in geology and biology. I then left my office in the Old Executive Office Building about 9:30 AM, went home, gathered my river gear which was already packed, flew to Vernal, Utah, and was driven to a designated rendezvous point on the Green River half way between Flaming Gorge Dam and Lodore Canyon to meet friends. I was having dinner and camping on the banks of the Green River at the foreboding head of Lodore Canyon the same day I had started at the White House Mess! Above the shadowy canyon walls in the narrow slot of sky we could see there was a full moon, its reflections dancing on the waves of the rapids we would attack the following morning. A fulfilling action-packed life gets no better than this.”
About Aurora Flight Sciences
Aurora Flight Sciences designs and builds robotic aircraft and other advanced aerospace vehicles for scientific and military applications. Aurora is headquartered in Manassas, VA and operates production plants in Bridgeport, WV and Columbus, MS and a Research and Development Center in Cambridge, MA. To view recent press releases and more about Aurora please visit our web site at www.aurora.aero.