Manager and Engineer, National Range Operations
Served 1950 – 1984
Austin Vick was born in 1929 in Cedarval, NM. He attended New Mexico State University where he received a civil engineering degree in 1950. He added a master’s degree in civil engineering from New Mexico State University (NMSU) in 1961.
Vick came to work at White Sands in August 1950 as an Ordnance Engineer with the Ballistic Research Laboratory. He plunged right into the future of White Sands by being responsible for applying optical systems, cinetheodolites, ballistic cameras and high-speed cameras, to collect test data from tests involving V-2s and the other systems arriving at the range.
Throughout his career, Vick kept his finger in the business of data collection. He is honored today for his innovative planning and management in developing and using various kinds of instruments that are used to collect data during missile and rocket tests.
For instance, when the Soviets launched their Sputnik satellite in 1957, Vick was given the opportunity to try and collect any information they could gather. He and a group of volunteers tracked and photographed the satellite every night for a week using range optical instruments. By studying the film they learned how Sputnik was spinning and that its orbit was decaying.
Vick’s management skills were called upon many times during his career. Early on, Vick was a leader in planning for “off-range” testing. This involved working with safety managers to develop the over-land flight corridor concept that resulted in the missile range’s ability to fire missiles from Fort Wingate, NM, Green River, Utah and Mountain Home, Idaho.
To ensure White Sands had a supply of young scientists and engineers to work at the range, Vick participated in founding the White Sands co-op program with NMSU. In this program students go to school for half a year and work in some technical office at White Sands as paid employees the other half of the year. Many of the range’s top managers over the past few decades were graduates of this program.
At the same time, Vick operated as the chief recruiter and program coordinator for hiring scientists and engineers. He was so talented at this he was often called on to assist other military installations in establishing their own recruiting programs.
Not only was Vick recruiting scientists and engineers, he was actively seeking women and minorities to fill jobs at White Sands. In 1981 he was recognized for his efforts with the Secretary of the Army Award for “Outstanding Achievement in Equal Employment Opportunity.”
Since Vick started at White Sands in 1950, he saw V-2 rockets launched and worked with the likes of New Mexico legend Clyde Tombaugh. It sparked an interest in recognizing and preserving the legacy of White Sands.
Vick was co-founder of the White Sands Pioneer Group and served as its first president for 11 years. Also, he helped Maj. Gen. Duard Ball create the White Sands Hall of Fame in 1980. Finally, he designed the White Sands logo in 1969. The logo, with its stars and orbiting rockets states “White Sands Missile Range, Birthplace of America’s Missile and Space Activity.”
Vick was elected a Senior Member of the American Astronautical Association in 1980. He was elected a member of the “Academy of Civil Engineering” at NMSU in 1986. In 1996 he was selected for a NMSU “Distinguished Alumnus” Award and in 1998 he received the International Society of Optical Engineering “Fellow” Award.