Hugh Dryden is quite possibly the most important scientist of the 20th century that you have never heard of until now. He had as big an impact on the development of aeronautics and then space flight as any other scientist here or abroad. Dryden entered college at age 15 and earned his PhD at the ripe old age of 20, the youngest ever at Johns Hopkins University. His unparalleled vision and knowledge helped push the simple aircraft of the 1920’s to the age of supersonic jets 30 years later. Dryden’s aeronautic genius, coupled with his unique management skill and political savvy help drive NASA toward its ultimate goal of reaching the moon, four years after his death.
There is one more aspect of Hugh Dryden’s life that played a more important role than any of his scientific accomplishments, he was also a Methodist lay pastor. Dryden’s religious faith played a profound role in his life. As a teenager, he felt drawn toward the ministry. If one Methodist seminary had accepted an application from a 15-yearold, Johns Hopkins and the world of aeronautics might never have encountered Hugh Dryden. Despite his choice of the secular life, Dryden nonetheless pursued his spiritual calling as a lay Methodist minister and a persuasive preacher, witnessed by his many surviving sermons that expressed a fervent devotion (and submission) to God.
“You want sharpness and keenness to come into your brain; you want courage and strength to make decisions and carry them through. This is the secret. Yield yourself to God. The Kingdom of God is within you. You do not need to hunt it from the outside, just release it, it is within you. You have been defeated in some situation. You have been educated, you have ability, you work hard, but you are defeated by worry, anxiety, and frustration. Establish the contact through faith.”
The main reason that most, if not all, of the people reading this article have never heard of Hugh Dryden is his humility and self-discipline as a follower of Jesus. I am sure Dryden struggled with many things in his life, as we all do, but he didn’t publicly succumb to a pride that has been the downfall of many great men and women throughout history. As the race with the Russians to reach the moon grew increasingly tense, the managers and engineers of NASA were working 6 and 7 days a week, but Dryden preached at Calvary Chapel in DC every Sunday until his death in 1965.
I encourage you to read more about Hugh Dryden (there are links to an article and a podcast at the end of this post that are particularly interesting). What you will find is a biography of the one the great scientists of the 20th century, a list of accomplishments and breakthroughs unparalleled by only a few other people in the last 100 years. What you won’t find is a lifelong pursuit of Jesus as a bi-vocational Methodist pastor. As you read about the scientist, look between the lines for a life well-lived.
To learn more about Hugh Dryden: