Mr. John Lester “Jack” Parks Jr., 82, of Melfa, formerly of Parksley, passed away Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, at Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital.
Born Jan. 14, 1941, in Nassawadox, he was the son of the late J. Lester Parks and Ethelyne Broughton Parks, formerly of Exmore. A native of the Eastern Shore, he graduated from Northampton High School and received his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Virginia Military Institute. Jack was a gifted mathematician and engineer who worked for NASA.
Following retirement from Wallops in 1996 after 34 years of service, he moved to Florida for a few years, contracting with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Eastern Range but later returned and supported Wallops once again as a contractor range safety specialist. Prior to his government retirement, he served many years as the head of the Ground and Flight Safety Section, and as range safety officer. Whether it was Scout, Pegasus, sounding rocket campaigns, balloons, or U.S. Navy missiles, Jack was the driving force behind defining a safe way, which allowed missions to be approved and conducted.
Jack always had a passion for Wallops and its work. He was always cool under pressure and a calming influence in the Range Control Center, always finding a way to pull a rabbit out of a hat that allowed him to give a “Go For Launch.” He was also a leader in pushing Wallops to embrace new technology. He was a major influence in the development of Control Center computer systems and in the development of the first mobile range control center that enabled command-destruct launches worldwide, although he did often frustrate system developers for insisting on capabilities that went beyond core requirements. When asked if this was a requirement, he would say that it was more of a “desirement.” NASA thinks he invented that word.
It is no overstatement to say that Jack’s “can-do” attitude was key to many customers selecting Wallops. They found his positive and practical safety approach appealing compared to other launch sites. He was an international leader in range safety policies, often called upon by other federal organizations and space agencies for guidance. Jack was also a mentor to many young engineers, some of whom are now leaders at Wallops. So many of the capabilities and programs at Wallops today are the result of Jack’s work and influence.
In 2016 he received the Director’s Achievement Award. Chosen directly by the director of NASA, Jack received this award for the many ways he influenced and improved range safety, not only for NASA but for the international space launch community. The director lauded his unique ability to always find a way to pull off a launch when anyone else would have stopped it; for pursuing and creating technology that changed range safety globally; and for being the foremost international authority on range safety, often being pursued by foreign countries to lend his expertise and advice to their launch programs. It was Jack’s honor to devote his life to the passion he loved.