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Robert R. Gilruth, Mercury and Apollo scientist, dies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Robert R. Gilruth, a key engineer and scientist in the American manned space program and the Apollo moon missions, died Thursday. He was 86 and had Alzheimer's disease.

Gilruth died at a long-term care facility in Charlottesville, Va., the National Aeronautics and Space Administration said.

An engineer with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, Gilruth led research into rocket-powered aircraft in the 1940s and 1950s and helped to develop a rocket launch range at Wallops Island, Va.

When NASA was established in 1958, Gilruth led a team that created the basic design for Project Mercury, the program that put the first American in space.