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Oran W. Nicks - Remembered by the Soaring Club of Houston

On September 23, 1998, soaring lost one of its greatest advocates and contributors when Oran Nicks crashed making an off field landing in his newly built PW-5. How this happened to such an experienced pilot is hard to comprehend. Oran was a devoted husband, father, grandfather, and friend. We have printed elsewhere in this newsletter Oran's outlook on life and his place in this world.

He was a very humble person and many of us didn't fully recognize his talents and desire to help his fellow man. Like so many things in life, we don't recognize what we have until we lose it. Here is a brief listing of his many accomplishments:

Oran spent 2 years in the Army Air Corps, 12 years as an engineer for North American Aviation and Chance Vought companies, 20 years as program-center director for NASA and 16 years as research engineer-center director at Texas A&M University. His publications include two books on space flight and over 100 papers and reports on aerodynamics, aircraft and spacecraft design and applications.

While at Chance Vought, he led the team that designed the Scout launch vehicle, which performed over 100 space missions for NASA and DOD.

At NASA Oran was Director of Lunar and Planetary Programs from 1961-67, where he was responsible for thirty Ranger, Surveyor, Lunar Orbiter and Mariner missions to the Moon, Mars, and Venus. During 1967-70, he served as Deputy Associate Administrator of Space Science and Applications and as Associate Administrator for Advanced Research and Technology. From 1970 to 1980 he was Deputy Director of the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia which was responsible for the Viking Mars Program and other aerospace activities.

He came to Texas A&M in 1980 as a Research Engineer directing a Wind Tunnel facility and Space Research activities. He organized and directed a Space Research Center involving over 100 faculty and students from 1985 tol991, developed and led inter-disciplinary teams doing research on regenerative life support systems, on space power, and on space transportation systems. He led the organization of a Space Giant Consortium of 21 universities, 18 industry partners and two state agencies, which resulted in Texas becoming the first state to receive such status. He served as Chairman of its Board of Directors from its inception in 1989 until 1993. He was appointed to the Texas Space Commission by Governor Clements in 1987 and served as Chairman of the commission in 1991 -92.

He began flying in 1941. An avid soaring enthusiast, he flew in regional and national competitions, holds FAI silver, gold and two diamond badges He served as Chairman of the Technical Board of the Soaring Society of America, was the U. S. delegate to the FAI-OSTIV Sailplane Development Panel, and was a member of the World Class Management Committee of the International Gliding Commission. He was the inventor of a total energy sensor used on sailplanes throughout the world. He obtained a license to build a World-Class glider which can be used for World Championships, and retired from Texas A&M University in August, 1996, to devote full time to its development. As a result of this incident I have heard several people comment that they are seriously re-evaluating their participation in soaring. If this is you, I hope you will read Oran's view on life and his purpose among us. I don't think he would want anyone to leave soaring because of this incident. Rather I believe he would want us to learn about ourselves, to re-evaluate our flying skills, our attitudes toward flying and perhaps set new limits on our flying activities so that we can enjoy the glory of soaring as he did. For he truly loved. I'm glad he touched my life. He will be missed.

Faith and Time
written by Oran W. Nicks
November, 1989
Revised April, 1997

Because of my Christian faith, I have absolutely no fear of dying. My greatest fear is living in a meaningless manner. Although eternal life is assured, time to live on Earth is a precious resource. Yet it is the least certain asset I possess, as I do not know from one minute to the next how much time I have left.

Life on Earth has been a joyous experience for me, and I have many reasons for wanting it to continue. It therefore behooves me to apply my time effectively in order to obtain the greatest returns from this gift. 

I believe I was given life for a noble purpose, although how much I may contribute to the quality of life is, within limits, up to me. Like all of God's creatures I am subject to his will, but He has given me capabilities and options of choice that allow me to influence my contribution. With these opportunities, He has also given me responsibilities to do the best I think I can, and perhaps more, because of His ever-present help along the way.
Although my remaining days on Earth are numbered, I must live each one without knowing how near to the end I am. This encourages me to strive for something meaningful in every day, for I would deplore the waste of my last few moments, and any one may be my last. 

Wise men have said that living a full life requires dividing our time three ways: a part for labors, a part for refreshment, and a part for rest. Experience has shown that for a balanced life, these require approximately equal amounts of time. 

Choices of vocation and avocation are mine, but I must be sure that what I do is performed in keeping with God's commandments. These proscribe every action I take, whether working to support myself, my family, or others. Work can be broadly defined, but for me it must be driven by service for others. There is no requirement that work be unpleasant or a chore; on the contrary, work should be as joyous as the other two parts of the day. 

Refreshment offers welcome respite for food, drink, hobbies, worship and the social graces that enrich life. An ultimate condition for a meaningful life is the sharing of life's blessings with others, interwoven throughout my waking moments.

Rest must be given appropriate priority, for use of time without bodily renewal will surely reduce my effectiveness and shorten my life. Harmony and balance are important ingredients in God's plan for life, although there are no guarantees that I will achieve them.

Growing older, weaker and less capable are obviously part of God's plan. I must therefore accept these conditions gracefully. He is not likely to tell me to sit down or quit before it is time, so I must always choose, with his guidance, what seems right for me.

There is no point to premature burnout, so keeping a steady pace requires balancing the use of time and other resources to maximize returns.

When my usefulness on Earth is over, I will eagerly enter the next era of eternal life. I am pleased to rest my fate in God's hands. I do not wish to burden humankind during my final hours, and certainly do not wish a meaningless existence as a result of man's intervention. Dying is not expected to be an abrupt change, but rather a continuum or extension of this wonderful life on Earth. I look forward to greater challenges and opportunities, for that is my idea of heaven. Surely it will be possible to continue sharing with all my loved ones and friends after death, although I do not know how this will occur.

Leaving family and friends will bring sorrow to them, yet those who share the Christian faith will be pleased for me. I hope that memories of my life among them will be cherished, and I would consider it a high honor if some examples of my life could be useful as patterns for them to follow. Memories are very important – they may be God's greatest gift to humankind, for learning depends on ûprogrammableû memory, which seems to set us apart from other creatures. Learning from the examples of others, while never as effective as personal experience, is very helpful to thoughtful persons. Christ offered us a perfect example, but my interpretation of the Bible is uncertain and the application of his example to my daily living is difficult.

While there is much more about faith and time to be considered, I hope these thoughts will help me remember that the uncertainties in time must remain counterbalanced by the strength of my faith.

We at the Soaring Club of Houston are grateful to Oran's family for giving us permission to reprint this for our members.

– Eduardo Iglesias

Posted: 11/1/1998


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