Donald Jacobs passed away the morning of November 24. He is remembered by his wife of 62 years, Mary, his six children, Daniel, Cynthia, Laura, Peter, Tina, and Michael, his brother Del, eleven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. In Don’s professional and personal life, as an aerospace engineer and avid mountain climber, many knew him and were helped and encouraged by him.
Don was born and went to school through college in Seattle. Growing up in the Montlake neighborhood, he was inseparable with his brother Del, and they remained close all their lives. Don attended Montlake Elementary, Garfield High School, and the University of Washington, graduating with honors with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1951. Don was always fascinated with the idea of space flight, first reading about it from Jules Verne, and became determined to make the story a reality. In January 1952, he started at Stanford University on an academic scholarship, and dug into his studies there, earning a masters degree in Mechanical Engineering by the fall of that year. By that time, the military was drafting many in his age group to fight in the Korean War, and he signed up for officer training after hearing that there were jet propulsion and rocketry problems in the Air Force that needed solving, a fortuitous pairing of events.
Don counted himself lucky to be transferred to the heart of rocket science work at that time, in Los Angeles, at the same time as Mary Larson, who had befriended the Jacobs family on one of their hiking adventures; the two were introduced in Seattle in 1954. Mary had taken a position teaching school at Inglewood Elementary in West Los Angeles in 1955, when California allowed women to teach school, while Washington did not. The two shared many interests and on June 30, 1956, they were married at the Keystone Congregational Church in Seattle.
The couple lived in Cape Canaveral while Don was a missile test engineer in the Air Force, where early rocketry was being defined. Among that group was esteemed aerospace engineer Wernher Von Braun and other luminaries of the early days of aerospace. Don finally left the Air Force to help found the aerospace, automotive, and credit reporting corporation TRW, which was then known as Ramo-Woolridge, in late 1956. He brought both his experience and perspective as a systems engineering to improve the reliability and performance of the Mercury-Atlas spaceflight program.
Don and Mary’s first child, Dan, was born in San Diego. Shortly thereafter, Don took his first job with Boeing, and moved the family back to Seattle to live in the Lake Hills neighborhood where daughter Cindy was born. In addition to the Jacobs family, Boeing was growing.
By 1961, the Space Race was on, thanks to President Kennedy, and NASA was formed. Don was working with Boeing to put people in space. At this most exciting time in U.S history, Don worked on liquid propulsion as one of the emerging leaders in the field. As Chief of Flight Technology at Boeing, he next moved the family to Huntsville, Alabama to build the Saturn V rocket engine. Children Laura and Pete were born there while Don developed both the engines and the flight control software that would get people to the moon and back. Boeing and Don both assumed more responsibility for the spaceflight program after the Apollo 1 launch pad disaster in 1967, and the family next moved to Washington D.C. where they lived in the now-infamous Watergate Hotel.
The family moved back to Cape Canaveral again in 1968 when Don became the Apollo Mission director, and was the voice of Apollo 8 as the spacecraft left earth, orbited the moon, and returned, flawlessly.
The family was living on beautiful Vashon Island in time for the Moon Landing in 1969, where he lived with many of his family until his death.
In August 1969, children Tina and Michael joined the family as adopted twins while Don was leading engineering projects for Boeing in several areas, including military and intelligence. He continued his work for the next 20 years. Don’s expertise designing engineering and guidance systems software helped create the first fully automated and remotely piloted aircraft — technology which assists both commercial aircraft and drones today.
Don retired from Boeing in 1989, and set out on ever more adventures (not that there was a lack of them in any given year) including climbing to the highest points of many U.S states and traveling to other places, piloting two family cruise boats around western Washington and British Columbia, and teaching aspiring aerospace engineers back at Stanford. Don was a lifelong lover of education, and all six of his children have graduate degrees. The family accomplishments were the most important thing to him, and he loved seeing his children grow into professionals, parents, and grandparents.
A memorial and celebration of Don’s life with his family and friends will be held on January 26th, at Island Funeral Service. Please look for more information at https://www.islandfuneral.com/ or call 206-463-9300.