Ralph R. Ragan

RallphRalph R. Ragan, of Bedford,  passed away peacefully on Tuesday, July 15. He had resided in Lincoln, MA for many years before moving to Bedford in 2000. Ralph was born on November 27, 1923 in Ridgeway, Missouri. He was the beloved son of the late James “Pally” and Olga Ragan. Ralph was the beloved husband of Ruth M. Ragan for 63 years. He was a devoted father of Julie Malkin of Cincinnati, OH, Jennifer Hubbell and her husband Richard of Yarmouth ME, James Ragan and his wife Sandra of Topsfield, MA.  Cherished grandfather to Emily and Elizabeth Malkin, Nate and Laura Hubbell, and Kathleen and Timothy Ragan.

Ralph was a rather quiet man whose education and career path led him to close involvement in some of the most fundamental and spectacular achievements of the post-World War II era.  He was born in Ridgeway, Missouri, and attended a small public high school.  Moving on to the University of Missouri in 1941, he became a member of the Naval Reserve.  After two years he was transferred to Iowa State University, joining the V-12 program there and receiving his B.S. degree in Electrical Engineering.  Later, as one of the “90-Day Wonders” of that time, he was trained and commissioned at the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis.  His M.S. in Aeronautics was earned at M.I.T.

In the 1950s and 60s Ralph’s work was at the M.I.T. Instrumentation Laboratory in Cambridge, where he was, first, Director of Development of the Polaris Fleet Ballistic Missile Inertial Guidance Program (under the direction of the Navy) and, later, Deputy Director of the Laboratory in charge of operations for Apollo Guidance, Navigation and Control (directed by NASA).  The goal of the Navy program, as Ralph describes it, was to make it possible to launch a ballistic missile from a submarine.

On July 20, 1969, Ralph was in the control room of the Johnson Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, when the Apollo program culminated in man’s first lunar landing.  Although industry representatives were in the foreground by then, he could savor the key role the Laboratory had played in this climax.  His NASA Public Service Award attests to the successful completion of this long-term program.

In addition to his work at M.I.T., Ralph had also been editor-in-chief of the Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets and vice president of publications for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

Ralph enjoyed spending his leisure time on Chebeague Island, ME, where he loved to sail with his family on Casco Bay.  He was very involved with the Chebeague Island Yacht Club, where he was a member and past Commodore.  Always adventurous, he took on racing, teaching his children along the way. Acting as their mentor, Ralph used many of the Chebeague Island sailing school students as crew members.

During the winter months, Ralph loved to ski with his family. Particularly fun were the trips twice a year to Stowe, VT.  Ralph retired from Draper Labs in 1987, whereupon he and Ruth enjoyed traveling the States in their motor home, ultimately spending the winter months in the Florida Keys. 

Relatives and friends are cordially invited to attend a memorial service for Ralph on Tuesday, July 22nd at 2:00 at Carleton Willard, 100 Old Billerica Road, Bedford, MA  01730.  A celebration of Ralph’s life will be held on Chebeague Island, date and time to be announced. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in his memory to Chebeague Island Community Sailing School, c/o Bob Ernest, 12 Rose Point Road, Chebeague Island, ME 04017.