Michael Stoiko, aeronautical engineer, dies

He was a member of the Martin Marietta team that designed the Viking, Vanguard and Titan rocket boosters

  • Michael Stoiko
Michael Stoiko
December 24, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Michael Stoiko, an engineer and writer who was an expert on Soviet rocketry and played a major role in the early days of the American space program, died in his sleep Dec. 17 at Bridges at Cornell Heights, an Ithaca, N.Y., retirement community.

The former Ruxton resident was 91.

Mr. Stoiko, the son of Ukrainian immigrants, was born and raised in New York City.

Interested in aviation since he was a youngster, Mr. Stoiko studied aviation mechanics at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn, N.Y., during the last two years of high school.

In 1940, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, and after completing flight training was assigned as a pilot and flight mechanic to Marine Aircraft Group 13 in the Pacific during World War II.

He was discharged in 1945 with the rank of master technical sergeant and earned a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1949 from Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, and a second degree in the subject, also from Brooklyn Polytechnic.

Mr. Stoiko's career, which began seven years before President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the legislation that created NASA, began at General Electric Co. where he was a missile systems designer assigned to Project Hermes.

"On March 10, 1944, the General Electric Co. was awarded a ten-year, $100 million contract by the Army Ordnance Corps to exploit captured German rocket technology and personnel brought to the United States under 'Operation Paperclip,'" Mr. Stoiko wrote in autobiographical notes detailing his career in the aerospace industry.

Proficient in German, he was able to study the captured V-2 documents. He wrote that between 1946 and 1951, engineers assigned to the Hermes Project launched 67 German V-2 rockets that they used for research and study — with "40 launches considered highly successful."

Mr. Stoiko wrote that the project "provided the technical expertise that launched the United States' rocket and space effort by training a new generation of rocket scientists."

He added: "I was one of the lucky ones who got his basic training on this program."

In 1954, Mr. Stoiko came to Baltimore and went to work for the Glenn L. Martin Co., later Martin Marietta, in Middle River, as a member of the team that designed the Viking, Vanguard, Titan 1, Titan 2 and Titan 3 missiles, describing his role as a "very active contributor" of the first "generation of missiles."

In his notes, Mr. Stoiko referred to this group of engineers as "The Instantaneous Design Group."

Mr. Stoiko wrote that the inspiration for the Viking Missile came from the V-2, which was "considered the most advanced usable rocket design" at the time.

He later headed the advanced space vehicle design team at Martin and was "responsible for the preliminary design, performance and presentations of the Vanguard, the world's first earth satellite launch vehicle," he wrote.

He also participated in the Gemini manned space flight program.

"Without question," Mr. Stoiko wrote, "Martin's missiles helped to firmly place the United States in the forefront of space and rocketry worldwide."

Mr. Stoiko was an advocate for international cooperation in space, and one element of space travel that concerned him was what The New York Times in a 1967 article identified as a "manned space catastrophe" and the need for a "space ambulance" that could rescue stranded crews.

In a paper he delivered at the International Astronautical Congress in 1965 that drew worldwide media attention, he estimated that there would be "280 manned missions involving 800 astronauts in the 1965-1985 time period and that they will require seven rescues involving 200 men."

After leaving Martin Marietta in 1970, Mr. Stoiko spent the last 19 years of his career as research and development program manager for the Navy's Naval Sea System Command and retired in 1989.

Mr. Stoiko wrote a dozen highly acclaimed books on the history and development of rocketry. His book "Soviet Rocketry" was described by a reviewer as a "thorough analysis of the Russian space program; that is, as much as the rest of the world is allowed to know about it."

In the book, Mr. Stoiko chronicled Russia's unannounced failures in rockets and spacecraft that dated to the time of the Sputnik launch in 1957.

In "Soviet Rocketry," Mr. Stoiko wrote that "nothing can keep man from exploring space; the trend in history is unmistakenly toward interplanetary travel."

Mr. Stoiko had lived in Ithaca since the death in 2008 of his wife of 56 years, the former Margaret Jane Hoehn, an artist.

He had been a member and elder of Second Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.

A memorial service will be held at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday at St. Andrew's Christian Community Church, 5802 Roland Ave.

Surviving are a son, Dr. Michael Stoiko of Grand Rapids, Mich.; two daughters, Jane S. Kennedy of Baltimore and Patricia Stoiko of Trumansburg, N.Y.; and seven grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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