During Black History Month (and all year long) let’s celebrate the historical accomplishments of Rocket Scientist Hildreth (Hal) Walker, Jr., who was the first man that was African-American to successfully fire the KORAD-1500 Ruby Laser to the moon in 1969 during the Apollo 11 Moon Landing.
On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin became the first humans ever to land on the moon. Part of that mission was for Walker to precisely deploy the Laser Ranging Retroflector to transmit signals to Earth the moon’s surface. After astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin set up an 18-inch-wide reflector mirror on the moon’s surface, Walker directed a laser beam from Lick Observatory in Mt. Hamilton, California, and made contact with the mirror. This major achievement, now known as the Lunar Ranging Experiment (LURE), was the only interactive planetary experiment that took place for the first Moon Landing. It is also one of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Milestones: #198. These milestones celebrate major accomplishments in the field of electrical engineering and reflect Walker’s importance to the field.
Walker’s key role for KORAD which was contracted by NASA was not made known in history books or ledgers until it was discovered 25 years later by a curator from the Smithsonian Museum. Walker’s Apollo 11 Lunar Laser Ranging Interplanetary Experiment was replicated in 1994, in an interactive exhibit located in the Hands-on Science section of Science in American Life at the National Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Walker was also honored in the exhibit’s permanent section, “The New Moon.”
Walker explains, “When America needed its best, they sought people like me out which is why I ended up working on the first-ever science project in outer space. But ultimately it’s your inner space that defines everything.”
Walker was selected by Dr. Jerome Lemelson, the third leading inventor in American History, to make the Inaugural presentation at the National Smithsonian Museum’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation in Washington, D.C.
Today, Professor Hal Walker spends his time working for the non-profit organization African American Male Achievers Network (A-MAN), Inc. STEM International Science Center, that he co-founded along with his wife Dr. Bettye Walker in 1991. A-MAN is dedicated to building the leaders and participants in science and technology for tomorrow. They share their legacy with the students and provide experiences that prepare them to attend higher academic institutions and begin fulfilling the nation’s leadership and technological needs.
“In the 21st Century, we must use technology as a solution and promote technologists,” says Walker.
In 1997, President Nelson Mandela invited Hildreth and Bettye to establish and implement science and technology programs in townships and schools across South Africa.
Prof. Walker and Dr. Bettye made history again, on February 27, 2019, when South Africa welcomed the opening of the first chapter of the National Space Society (NSS) on the African Continent: The Cape Town Space Society (CTSS). Prof. Hal and Dr. Bettye Walker founded this first-ever Chapter.
Professor Walker is an amazing man, that has important stories to tell, as he moves forward in the world of science and technology generously sharing his knowledge with the world.
About Hildreth (Hal) Walker
Aerospace engineer and rocket scientist Hildreth “Hal” Walker, an early pioneer in the field of laser telemetry, amongst other accomplishments, was the only person to successfully fire the Laser to the Moon during the Apollo 11 Moon Landing in 1969.
Walker’s space technology involvement began in 1959 as a technical member of the RCA Corporation’s BMEWS (Ballistic Missile Early Warning System) situated in the Alaskan frontiers to detect Soviet Missile nuclear attacks. This experience prepared him to expand his career into the laser technology industry in early 1964 at KORAD Laser Systems, a Division of the Union Carbide Corporation. As a laser systems specialist, Hal traveled throughout the United States and the world introducing advanced new laser technologies to the fields of scientific research and industrial applications. In 1974, Walker joined the Hughes Aircraft Company where he participated in developing and placing the first Tactical Laser Target Designator System into the U.S. Army inventory. Mr. Walker retired in 1989 from the management team of the Hughes Aircraft Company. He then served until 2010 as president and CEO of TECH PLUS, an international laser technology consultant group. The group participated in national projects such as the Laser-induced Plasma Fusion at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Walker was appointed to be a JPL/NASA Solar System Ambassador in 2000. In this role, he participates as a speaker and specialist in space-related technology issues. His responsibilities are promoting public education and developing local community awareness and benefits regarding space technology and deep space future exploration. He is a Member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA ) Educator Associate, a board member of the OASIS chapter of the National Space Society, and a member of the Downtown Los Angeles Rotary Club.
Hal is a graduate of Pacific Christian College (Cum Laude) with a BS Degree, in Business Technology Management.