John W. Townsend Jr., an American rocket and satellite pioneer who ran NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center from 1987 to 1990, died from lung cancer Oct. 29 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. He was 87.

Townsend, a World War II veteran who went to work for the U.S Naval Research Laboratory starting in 1949 on the V-2, Aerobee, Viking and Vanguard missile programs, joined NASA in 1958 and helped establish Goddard as assistant director of the Greenbelt, Md.-based field center.

From 1968 to 1970, Townsend was deputy administrator of the Environmental Science Services Agency, the predecessor to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He served as president of Fairchild Industries space division and held other senior positions, including executive vice president from 1977 to 1987. He returned to NASA after the Space Shuttle Challenger accident at the request of then-NASA Administrator James Fletcher and retired in 1990 after nearly three years as Goddard’s director. He was preceded in that job by Noel Hinners and succeeded by John Klineberg.

Townsend is survived by his wife, JoAnn Clayton Townsend; three children; and three grandchildren.