Magazine Article

Pushing the Boundaries of Space

Meet Robert Ellington Shurney.

Stephen Chavez
Pushing the Boundaries of Space

Robert Ellington Shurney never traveled into outer space. But he spent more than 500 hours in a weightless environment; he invented devices used by nearly every American and international astronaut in their space flights; and he helped design the tires that were used on the Falcon, the Lunar Roving Vehicle used during the United States missions to the moon.

Robert Shurney was also a Seventh-day Adventist.

Shurney, who retired in 1990 after a 28-year career with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), died in 2007. But his legacy is notable for many reasons.

Shurney, an African American, was born in Dublin, Georgia. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, then worked as a civilian at several military bases. He graduated in 1962 from Tennessee State University in Nashville with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and electrical engineering.

As the United States worked to build its space program in the early 1960s, Shurney was chosen by the John F. Kennedy administration as one of the first Black engineers hired by NASA. He began his career at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and earned several more academic degrees.

Shurney was on the team that worked on early versions of the Saturn V rockets. He was a flight engineer on the KC-135 zero-G simulation aircraft (which used steep dives to simulate zero-gravity). He spent more than 500 hours in microgravity, testing the design and function of equipment used in space travel.

The space equipment he helped design included the wheels of the lunar rover, a method for preserving and consuming food in space, a device used to extract soil from the moon’s surface, solar shields and retractable solar panels, and a waste management system (a space-age toilet). His many citations include the Lunar Apollo Flight Award, Apollo Achievement Award, and Skylab Achievement Award.

Shurney was also an active member of the Oakwood College Adventist Church. He served as a deacon; and he and his wife, Susie, helped establish the Huntsville Adventist Community Services Center.

Robert Ellington Shurney never traveled to outer space. But his work for NASA helped pave the way for significant advances in space travel. His hard work and creativity honored the God who is not limited to time and space.

Stephen Chavez