Mr. Alex Paczynski was born in Niagara Falls, New York in 1931. He attended high school there and later earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Cincinnati. Subsequently he earned a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering from New Mexico State University.
Mr. Paczynski was introduced to White Sands in 1956 when he worked for the Douglas Aircraft Company as the test director on the Nike Hercules missile program. During a four year period at White Sands, Paczynski oversaw more than 100 missile firings for Douglas.
In 1964 Mr. Paczynski came back to New Mexico when he joined the NASA White Sands Test Facility on the west boundary of the missile range.
In the 1970s when NASA started looking for a site to train space shuttle pilots, Mr. Paczynski took it upon himself to propose the missile range's Northrup Strip as a training site, He convinced the NASA training program that the strip would be ideal for their needs. They liked it and he then went about convincing other NASA managers, and the two main non-NASA players, White Sands Missile Range and Holloman Air Force Base.
Mr. Paczynski was persuasive. According to Christopher Kraft, former director of the NASA Johnson Space Center, "The landing strip has been used extensively by the Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA), a modified Gulfstream transport. In fact, every Shuttle commander and pilot has practiced their landing approach at the range provided by this facility."
Mr. Paczynski earned himself the job as program manager for Northrup Strip.
Next Mr. Paczynski convinced NASA and military officials that the strip could, with just a few upgrades, handle real shuttle landings. According to Major General Niles Fulwyler, former commander of White Sands Missile Range, "It was Al who first envisioned the possibility of making Northrup Strip an alternate landing site for the space shuttle. He was confronted with many obstacles, both political and physical, but by his total dedication and perseverance, ultimately his vision came true."
By the time the First shuttle mission flew, Northrup Strip was ready, Then, on March 30, 1982, after its third flight, the shuttle Columbia landed at Northrup Strip.
The U.S. Congress changed the name of Northrup Strip to the White Sands Space Harbor after the landing.
Mr. Paczynski continued to manage the Space Harbor until he retired from government service in 1995. According to MG Fulwyler, it was because of Mr. Paczynski's vision that NASA and White Sands Missile Range have such a first class training and landing facility for the shuttle program.
Mr. Paczynski, his wife Audrey and son Doug live in Las Cruces, New Mexico.