LITTLETON, Colo. — Noel Hinners, a former chief scientist for NASA who helped plan the scientific exploration of the moon for the Apollo program and later oversaw projects such as the Mars Surveyor Program, has died.

Hinners’ brother Bill Hinners said Saturday that Hinners died Friday after battling a brain tumor. He was 78.

Hinners began his meteoric space career in 1963 by helping plan the lunar exploration, and he was just 33 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. He worked on the Apollo program until 1972, when he became the space agency’s director of lunar programs.

Hinners later served as the director of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington and the director of the Goddard Space Flight Center. He retired from NASA as its third-ranking executive in 1989.

At Lockheed Martin Corp., Hinners was a vice president of flight systems whose responsibilities included NASA’s Mars Surveyor Program and Stardust, the first program dedicated to exploring a comet.

“He was invaluable to the U.S.,” Bill Hinners said, adding that among his brother’s contributions were his efforts to recruit high school students into careers in science. “His spunk and personality and willpower to go on is what made him work so well with people.”

Keith Cowing, who runs the blog NASA Watch, said Hinners was a reader of his website and would post comments. He called him “one of the last of a certain breed” of NASA scientists from the early days of space exploration programs.

“He had one foot firmly placed in the old NASA and one in the new NASA,” Cowing said.

Hinners worked a variety of positions at NASA, Cowing said. “He did everything you could do in and around NASA once,” Cowing said.

Hinners is also survived by his wife, Diana, of Littleton, Colorado; sons Jeff and Craig; sisters Barbara Miller of Atlanta, Cynthia Altschuler of Morristown, New Jersey, and Janet Amos of Ventura, California; and brothers Richard Hinners of New Jersey, Bruce Hinners of Wayne, New Jersey, and John Hinners of Port Murray, New Jersey.

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