XCOR Loses Co-Founder Aleta Jackson

Aleta Jackson DeLong (Credit: Mike Massee)
Aleta Jackson DeLong (Credit: Mike Massee)

“She was the den mother to the XCOR family, and we loved her – but not as much as she loved us. I miss her.”

Doug Weathers
former XCOR employee

XCOR lost one of its four founders on Sunday.

Loretta “Aleta” Jackson DeLong passed away in Midland, Texas, after a losing a battle with ovarian cancer. She was 68.

Aleta had founded XCOR in 1999 with Jeff Greason, Doug Jones and her partner and future husband Dan DeLong. The four had been laid off from Rotary Rocket and decided to found XCOR.

I got to know Aleta during my interactions with XCOR. She was an extraordinary person. I will miss her spirit.

One of her former XCOR co-workers, Mike Massee, published a moving tribute to Aleta on Facebook. I’ve reproduced it below with his permission.

By Mike Massee

Aleta Jackson
Aleta Jackson

Yesterday I lost a very good friend and the world lost an extraordinary and unique woman.

Loretta L. Jackson, or Aleta as we all knew her, had the fortune to participate in the entire breadth of the modern space age beginning with Gemini and ending with the founding or operation of no less than three successive NewSpace companies.

Born in 1948 in Tuscon, Arizona, a young Aleta became an engineering intern at McDonnell Corporation in the mid-1960s. She was a draftswoman who was also called upon to help fit instruments into the Gemini space capsules on account of having very small hands which could fit around the tight spaces.

After a tour in the US Air Force, Aleta became a secretary for Gerard O’Neil’s L5 Society in Washington, D.C. and later had a decade-long career with the Xerox Corporation.

She returned to the world of Aerospace in the early 1990s working closely with General Graham on the highly successful DCX / Delta Clipper reusable launch vehicle demonstrator. A prolific writer and sometimes author, she was also the editor for the Journal of Practical Applications of Space during that time and involved with Graham’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) organization.

The DC-X project inspired the first wave of NewSpace launch companies and Aleta found herself working for The Rotary Rocket Company in the mid-1990s where she met the love of her life and future husband Dan DeLong. “I quickly took him off the market!” as she liked to say.

Following the collapse of Rotary Rocket, Aleta agitated the former members of Rotary Rocket’s propulsion team not to give up, and the first founder’s meeting of XCOR Aerospace was held in Dan and Aleta’s living room in Mojave in 1999.

As a co-founder of XCOR, Aleta had a key role in supporting XCOR’s very successful early projects, including the record-breaking EZ-Rocket and Rocket Racer aircraft development and flight programs, culminating with a stint as flight test engineer on the Rocket Racer. In the early days Aleta did everything from welding to office management and continued to fill a vital office management role within the company throughout its 17 year history as they continued to develop the Lynx suborbital spacecraft concept as well as engine technology for customers such as United Launch Alliance, ATK and NASA. She was the ‘glue’ that held the company together and was the go-to logistics person when you needed something done.

As Aleta and some of XCOR’s early founders moved on, Aleta helped start their next venture, Agile Aero in Midland, Texas.

Aleta was known as the ‘walking rolodex’ and had a distinct knack for networking and gathering the right people for the job, no matter how disparate their paths had been beforehand. This trait came in handy over and over again as XCOR sought to establish itself as a formidable player in the nascent commercial space movement in the early 2000’s.

A lifelong fan of science fiction, fantasy and Japanese anime, Aleta was heavily involved in Arizona and Southern California Science Fiction and literary circles, which frequently overlapped with the space community. She was an SCA member where she fought in the medieval style and frequented renaissance faires. She was also skilled at fencing or “swisheypoke” as she liked to call it and loved costuming.

As a young woman, Aleta became an artist’s model for a number of wonderful science fiction book covers, capitalizing on her ethereal looks and charm school educated poise. She counted among her close friends many authors, art collectors and artists who were drawn to her and she to them. I have fond memories of Halloweens spent with Aleta and Dan at Larry Niven’s house, a thanksgiving at Jerry Pournelle’s Chaos Manor and being introduced to artists such as Michael Whelan and Frank Kelley Freas, all thanks to Aleta.

A lifelong lover of cats and dogs, she was especially fond of Manx cats and Akitas. There was never a time when her house did not contain cats that were short on tail and high on personality. Cats and books were the overwhelming features of her abode, loves that she shared with her life partner and husband Dan.

Aleta Jackson strode purposefully into my life in the year 1996. The NewSpace movement was just getting started and The Rotary Rocket Company needed an animation to show how their launch vehicle was going to work. Aleta and I immediately bonded over our cultural knowledge of film and the things that inspire us, including and especially the hugely influential Japanese Anime Wings of Honneamise as well as every Studio Ghibli film ever made.

After working with her for several years, I lost touch with her for a few more until I got a phone call in late 2001.

“We’re building a rocket powered airplane” she said, “And we need your help.”

When Aleta calls, you go. Because you know it is going to be good.

I would spend the next 14 years of my life with Aleta and her XCOR co-founders reaching for space.

Aleta touched many, many lives and changed them for the better. I feel privileged to have been one of them. I will miss her friendship, warmth, knowledge, conversation, hospitality, spunk, wit and charm. I will celebrate a life very well lived. Goodbye my friend Aleta, and godspeed.

“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
Up, up the long, delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, or ever eagle flew —
And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

— John Gillespie Magee, Jr.