Walt McCandless

Samuel Walter McCandless, Jr.
10 June 1936 – 15 March 2019

Samuel Walter McCandless, Jr., age 82, passed away on 15 March 2019 following a
short stay at the TMS Peppi’s House Hospice in Tucson AZ. Born in Greeley CO he
was the son of the late Margaret and Samuel McCandless. Along with his parents,
Walt was predeceased by son Christopher Johnson McCandless in 1992. Walt is
survived by his wife Wilhelmina Marie McCandless (“Billie”) and daughter Carine
McCandless both of Virginia Beach VA, and former wife Marcia Gauley and children
Samuel Walter McCandless III, Stacy McHargue, Shawna Downing, Shelly
McCandless, Shannon McCandless, and Quinn McCandless, all of Denver CO.
Walt earned Electrical Engineering degrees at Colorado State University (B.S.) and
University of Arizona (M.S., Hughes Aircraft Masters Fellowship 1961). While at
Hughes Aircraft Company (1958–1970), Walt developed the Radar Altimeter and
Doppler Velocity Sensor used to land all surveyors on the moon. He was then Test
Director and section head responsible for Surveyor 1 spacecraft test and operations
from initial installation of units on the spacecraft through launch in May 1966.
Surveyor 1 was the first successful unmanned lunar soft landing system.
At Jet Propulsion Laboratory (1970–1974), Walt was the Group Supervisor of
Programmatic Studies, performing evaluations of various projects’ science, mission
and system technology options relative to cost, schedule, manpower and risk.
Moving to the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (1974–1978), Walt
managed the SEASAT program from the earliest concept, through the feasibility
analysis, system definition, development and implementation phases of the
program. Successfully launched on 26 June 1978, SEASAT was the first of its kind to
fly active and passive microwave remote sensing technologies, including space-
based SAR.
Walt and Billie founded User Systems, Inc. in 1978 to provide specialized remote
sensor applications and processing software, end-to-end satellite system design, and
associated payload integration and test tasks. A highlight of this era was residence
at MacDonald Dettwiler for the first year of the RADARSAT-2 program, where he led
the systems engineering team. He also served as a member of the Project Technical
Review Board for the TOPEX-POSEIDON Mission, and was the first Navy Space
Command Chair as Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the United States Naval
Academy (1985-86).
In 2006, Walt and Billie founded the Christopher Johnson McCandless Memorial
Foundation (chrisspurpose.org; a 501(c)3 corporation), to facilitate charitable
contributions in memory of their son, concentrating on at-risk women and children.
Walt also served as the Chairman of the Voyager Chapel (Tucson AZ) and
participated in the Virginia Beach Community Chapel.

As a lifelong sailor, Walt enjoyed trips up and down the Intercostal Waterway, often
with friends and colleagues joining for portions of the journey. One of the most
important aspects of his life, Walt played piano since his youth. As a jazz pianist in
various bands, he supplemented his living during college, and later playing as an
avocation. During the last seventeen years, Walt enjoyed playing keyboards for the
Reminiscence Band at The Voyager Resort in Tucson AZ.

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