Sir William Hayward Pickering

A seminal figure of the age of space, New Zealand-born William Hayward Pickering was internationally known for his significant contributions to the founding of the space age, and for the first robotic explorations of the Moon, Venus and Mars. William Pickering was a former director of the world-famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California from 1954 until he retired in 1976.

Known affectionately in the United States as “Mr JPL,”or the original “Rocket Man,” William Pickering was born in Wellington in 1910 and spent his early childhood and primary education in Havelock, a small country town in the South Island of New Zealand. His paternal roots are linked to the Pickering family of Marlborough and his maternal connections to the Hayward family of Otago. In the course of his secondary education at Wellington College, Wellington, he excelled in mathematics and science and discovered an intense interest in the (then new) techniques of amateur radio communication. In his later years, he often recalled that it was his experience at Wellington College that sparked his abiding interest in science and technology, an interest that would ultimately carry him to a career beyond his wildest dreams.