Alumni Achievement Award Winner
Space Program Pioneer
An early interest in mathematics led Lynn S. Wright to a career helping the
United States achieve leadership in space exploration. Thanks to
encouragement from Wright’s algebra teacher, Emile John, and Willard Ross, Knox College professor of mathematics, Wright made it to Knox on a mathematics scholarship, graduating in 1963.
He then began a 30-year career with IBM, including 17 years with IBM’s Federal Systems Division at Houston’s Manned Spacecraft Center. Working as a programmer, flight controller, and manager, Wright supported all 17 Apollo missions, as well as the first seven Space Shuttle missions. Wright and his team received seven awards from NASA and IBM for their accomplishments.
In 1982, Wright shifted gears to manage the development of the Air Forces’ Global Positioning System (GPS), including the development of a GPS Mission Control Center in Colorado. In 1994, Wright was named vice president of engineering and technology for Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems Company, a position from which he retired in 2001.
Still promoting the space program and careers in technology, Wright presents programs to students in Ohio and Maryland about the nation’s space program and is working with his hometown of Shelby, Ohio, to develop a technology incubator.
In February 2012, Wright was recognized by the College with an Alumni Achievement Award for his achievements in space program technology.
Describe your Knox experience.
I had always thought of myself as a mathematician, but soon after I arrived at Knox, I realized that the opportunities at this outstanding liberal arts college were many. So I decided to take advantage of them. I took classes in music appreciation, creative writing, modern literature, public speaking, religion, economics, and Russian. They have all had a major impact on my life -- enriching my personal life and directly supporting my career development. The caring attitude of my Knox professors impressed me, and I’ve tried to replicate it when managing others in my career. And the friendships that I experienced at Knox continue to support and sustain me today.
How has that experience affected your life?
My Knox experience gave me the breadth of knowledge and the personal values I needed to effectively make key decisions in my life. I learned to be open to new ideas, new pathways. Life is exciting and rewarding when we are continually growing and enhancing the lives of those around us. I don’t know that I was fully aware of this when I graduated, but the foundation was certainly poured in my Knox years.
What do you believe is your most notable achievement?
I'd like to answer this from two perspectives: family and career. The joys in my life most often come directly from my family -- my wife of 48 years, Cynthia, our two sons, Jason and Jeremy, and their families. Anything I can do to nurture them ranks at the top of my to-do list.
Project Apollo always comes to mind first when I think about career achievements. I was frankly at the right place at the right time with the right education. I moved to Houston in 1965 and was given two key software assignments. For Apollo 5, the first orbiting Apollo mission, I developed the Earth Orbit Trajectory Supervisor, which controlled spacecraft events and activities. For Apollo 8, the first Apollo mission to circle the moon, I developed the Cislunar (earth-to-moon) Trajectory Determination Processor, which determined the spacecraft's trajectory and calculated appropriate maneuvers. These maneuvers, performed by the main engine propulsion system and altitude control system jets, assured the craft would enter lunar orbit and not fly into deep space or crash into the moon. NASA asked me to join its flight controller team for Apollo missions 8-13. To outside observers, it may have seemed that everything went well. But it didn't! It was an amazing technological achievement, an adventure with many obstacles -- exactly what you would expect when you are doing something for the first time, in a foreign environment, launching vehicles that weighed 7.5 million pounds, constructed of metal alloys never used before, using computers that were so new that we were checking out the operating systems right up to flight time -- you get the idea!
What words of advice would you offer to current Knox students?
Take advantage of the liberal arts curriculum at Knox. Broaden yourself. Challenge yourself. Commit to continuous life-long learning. Approach the key decisions in your life thoughtfully. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from people you trust. Finally, seek balance. A rich life is a balanced one with time for family, friends, and your career. And don’t forget to have fun along the way!