Retired NASA Apollo engineer receives WSU alumni award

Cline-FrasierVANCOUVER, Wash. – Cline W. Frasier, a retired NASA engineer and manager of two family farms in Washington, was honored May 4 with the Washington State University Alumni Association’s Alumni Achievement Award in recognition of his contributions to transportation safety, including in U.S. manned spacecraft, and his support of WSU scholarships.

At NASA’s manned spacecraft center in 1962-73, Frasier led the large engineering team that developed the guidance and control systems for the Apollo lunar lander. It was a digital, fly-by-wire system now used in all modern air and space craft. This system and his expertise played a part in the successful rescue and return to earth of the Apollo 13 spacecraft. Today’s high performance aircraft could not be flown manually by the most accomplished pilots; onboard computers make thousands of adjustments per second to keep aircraft aerodynamically stable.

Cline Frasier speaks after receiving his award Wednesday. (Photos by Dean Hare, WSU Photo Services)

While working at the U.S. Department of Transportation 1973-81, Frasier invented and patented the first digital airbrake control system design for railroad trains – the pioneering patent in the field.

He developed the shock protection and backpack carrier for the special atomic demolition munition (SADM) or “backpack nuke” - a family of portable nuclear weapons fielded by the U.S. military in the 1960s but never used in combat. The Army planned to use the weapons in Europe in the event of a Soviet invasion to destroy power plants, bridges and dams.

During the U.S. energy crisis of the early 1970s while working at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Frasier led the congressionally mandated effort by a government/industry group that developed the first U.S. automobile and light truck highway fuel mileage standards. This effort was controversial but was accomplished successfully and on schedule.

Cline Frasier with wife Gretchen.

He earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from WSU in 1959 and master’s degrees from the University of New Mexico and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned the NASA Exceptional Service Award and Superior Achievement Award and the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary’s Award for Meritorious Achievement.

He served as a mentor in the mentor and analysis program at WSU Vancouver. He started and supports the Cline W. Frasier and Gretchen Gnauck Frasier Endowed Scholarship at WSU. Family-related support of WSU includes the Robert L. & Maude L. Cline Endowed Scholarship, Fred W. Frasier Memorial Scholarship and Roberta Cline Frasier Anderson Scholarship.

The WSUAA Alumni Achievement Award was created in 1970 by the WSUAA Board of Directors to recognize alumni who have given outstanding service to WSU and made contributions to their professions and communities. The award is the highest honor bestowed by the Alumni Association. Of an estimated 250,000 students who have attended WSU,  Frasier is the 524th Alumni Achievement Award recipient.


Christina Parrish, WSU alumni engagement, 509-335-6907,