Though Herman Rediess had an accomplished career in aviation security and space exploration, his greatest achievement wasn’t a research innovation or an advancement in engineering.
“It was my ability to provide leadership,” he says. “I’ve been blessed to have excellent people to work with. It was never me; it was the teams I worked on, and we were able to accomplish great things.”
From 2006 until his 2009 retirement, Rediess served as program executive for the Department of Homeland Security, working on a system designed to protect commercial airliners from heat-seeking missiles. “We were very successful in its development and testing,” Rediess says of the $300 million, laser-based warning system, “but it’s a situation where we never want to see it used.”
Rediess began his NASA work as a co-op student at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1955. He continued at NASA as an engineer working in flight dynamics and controls research while attending evening graduate-school classes at the University of Southern California. From 1975 to 1978, he was research director at Dryden Flight Research Center, and he then served as research and technology manager at NASA’s Human Factors Office until 1982.
His early NASA work coincided with the development of the North American X-15, a spacecraft that still holds the world record for speed by a manned, rocket-powered aircraft. “That era was such an exciting time period,” he says. “I was so fortunate to be there during that era and contribute to the technology that was developed.”
A lifelong artist, Rediess was commissioned by NASA to commemorate the X-15’s 30th anniversary. His sculpture X-15 Legacy was unveiled in 1990 and is on permanent display at the Ames-Dryden Flight Research Facility. Between leaving NASA and joining the Department of Homeland Security, Rediess held leadership positions at HR Textron, Sparta, the FAA Technical Center, and FAA headquarters.
His MIT experience was important in several ways, he says: “MIT was the most enjoyable time period of my life. I developed leadership qualities to carry me through life. It provided me with the opportunities to pursue research and management positions that wouldn’t have been available elsewise.”
A San Francisco Bay Area native now living in Virginia, Rediess has been happily married to his wife, Sharon, for 53 years and has two grown children and three grandchildren.