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Cormier, Len (1926-2008) | Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections

Name: Cormier, Len (1926-2008)
Fuller Form: Leonard N. Cormier

Historical Note:

Leonard N. Cormier was born in Boston in 1926. He joined the Navy in 1943 and served as a Naval Aviation Cadet, a fighter pilot, and executive officer of an anti-submarine warfare patron squadron. He joined the Navy Reserves in 1947 and achieved the rank of lieutenant commander in 1958. He retired from the reserves in 1966.

Cormier received a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1952. He was involved in space programs most of his career. He worked at NASA at the beginning of his career as well as the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. As a staffer at the Academy in 1957, he attended the International Geophysical Year proceedings when the Soviets surprised the world with the launch of Sputnik. It is known that this event left a great impression on him, and it was then that he decided to pursue better access to space through affordable, reusable space vehicles.

In the early and mid-1960s he was project engineer for space transportation systems at the Los Angeles Division of the former North American Aviation Incorporated. He also spent two years as a project engineer and program manager for fighter systems at the former North American Rockwell. Cormier was also a private entrepreneur, and in 1967 he formed a company called TranSpace (later known as Third Millenium Inc.).  This marked the beginning of his work on a commercial approach to spaceflight

In 1978 Cormier left Rockwell International, where he had worked on the Space Shuttle. He believed the Space Shuttle was overdesigned, and that a launch vehicle could be designed at a fraction of the cost.  Over the years he worked to bring his idea to fruition through his company, PanAero Incorporated. He created a conceptual design for the Space Van 2011, which was a two-stage horizontal takeoff and landing craft he believed could service the International Space Station and do other orbital missions much cheaper than the cost of a space shuttle or Soyuz. Cormier struggled to obtain sufficient investers for his Space Van, which underwent numerous revisions over the years. One of his last attempts was in 2003 by trying to win the X Prize, a $10 million award offered to the first private team to fly a manned rocket into space. He competed against 20 teams for the prize with his SabreRocket model but lost.

He was a charter member of the Department of Transportation’s Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee.

Cormier passed away on June 16, 2008.


Lamb, Yvonne Shinhoster. “Len Cormier; Designed Lower-Cost Space Van.” The Washington Post, 16 July, 2008, p. unknown. (obituary)   

Len Cormier. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Len_Cormier/. Accessed 25 August 2016.

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