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Rankin helped NASA missions, documents history

John Rankin amassed an award-winning career in aerospace and now is a well-respected local historian. CONTRIBUTED
John Rankin amassed an award-winning career in aerospace and now is a well-respected local historian. CONTRIBUTED

Why I Love This Town

MADISON – John and Mildred Rankin found Madison a “welcome relief from big-city environments” after living near Seattle, Houston and San Francisco.

In 1986, the Rankin family returned here from California for his work with Space Station. During 1970-1971, he had assisted with Skylab in Huntsville.

Rankin was born in Bastrop, La. but his family moved to towns in Arkansas and then Chicago; Green Bay, Wis.; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Natchez, Miss. His formative years were spent in Washington, Miss., the Mississippi Territory’s former capital and now a village of about 300 people.

About five miles outside town, his family lived on a 200-acre farm. His closest neighbor near his age lived two miles away.

After two years at the University of Mississippi, Rankin earned a bachelor’s degree at Mississippi State University in electrical engineering, specializing in power systems.

“Madison in 1986 was very much a return to lifestyles of my younger days. The lack of significant traffic congestion was a real plus, after living in larger cities,” Rankin said. “Also, trust and acceptance of everyone by everyone was something we had missed.”

His 31-year career with The Boeing Company started in Seattle with commercial jet design and then military systems, including Minuteman. He transferred to the Apollo program in Houston when NASA requested special support after deaths of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

Until retirement in 1996, Rankin supported hundreds of NASA projects, all military branches and industrial/commercial projects, including extensive accident investigations. He earned numerous awards during a ‘star-studded’ career.

The Rankins’ sons are Tom of Dothan, whose sons Alex and Geoffrey attend Madison Academy, and Mitch and wife Mirjam of Tallinn, Estonia.

John Rankin’s avocation centers on digitally preserving Madison County court and land records from the 1800s. His passion for history led to his authoring “Memories of Madison,” covering 1857-2000.

He is a Fellow Member, System Safety Society; designated historian, Madison Station Historical Preservation Society; and Roundhouse docent, especially during Madison Street Festival.

The Rankins have been members of Wall Highway and Capshaw Baptist churches and currently First Baptist Church of Madison. He teaches Bible studies and discipleship courses.

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