Harry Finger

Harry Finger

The ‘Rocket Man’ For Housing

Ep. 24 - Harry Finger started his career as an American aeronautical nuclear engineer. He is the former head of the United States Nuclear Rocket Program So how did he get to HUD and what did he do there? This over-90-year-old did it all!

Top Takeaways:

  • How they developed technology and social makeup in areas of housing development
  • The role of the housing allowance experimental program and whom it served
  • The social failures HUD experienced

Hear about the programs he helped put in place to ensure affordable housing. He also admits some of the failures that happened under his management.

 “We were destroying public housing…because it was a total social failure with criminal acts.”

He helped establish and lead the Space Nuclear Propulsion Office. This office is a liaison organization between NASA and the Atomic Energy Commission. Their purpose is to coordinate efforts to create a nuclear thermal rocket. Finger left NASA in 1969 when he was appointed the first Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. He created programs that combined housing assistance, housing technology, housing management and community development with urban planning. Harry shares his life story and career journey from NASA to working for the federal department of HUD.

He left government at the end of 1972 to join the General Electric Company as its new General Manager for Energy Systems in Washington, D.C., and then as the manager of its Electric Utility Engineering operation in Schenectady, New York. In 1980, he became its head of Power Systems Strategic Planning and Development in Fairfield, Connecticut. He left GEC to become President and CEO of the U.S. Council for Energy Awareness a non-profit energy analysis and public information organization involved mainly with electric utility matters, including nuclear energy systems.

The staff of the JSC Oral History Project allowed us to take an excerpt of the wonderful interview they did with Harry Finger in 2002. Established in 1996, the goal of the NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project (JSC OHP) is to capture history from the individuals who first provided the country and the world with an avenue to space and the moon. Participants include managers, engineers, technicians, doctors, astronauts, and other employees of NASA and aerospace contractors who served in key roles during the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, and Shuttle programs. These oral histories ensure that the words of these pioneers live on to tell future generations about the excitement and lessons of space exploration.

Listen to his revelations in working for HUD by clicking on the LISTEN button; then listen to the entire history of Harry Finger, including his space and rocket work, by clicking on the link at the end of this document.

Key Moments:

He shares his career working in NASA, the opportunity to work at HUD, and his experience there [3:06]

He explains how he always looked for capabilities with his style of management at HUD [10:13]

The program he started was to determine whether it was better to give people money to build their houses or build houses for them [13:16]

He admits that they destroyed some public housing projects for being a social failure [15:16]

https://historycollection.jsc.nasa.gov/JSCHistoryPortal/history/oral_histories/oral_histories.htm

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