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Only in Kansas City – BBQ-Inspired Space Innovation


Late Researcher Dr. Harold L. Finch Leaves Lasting Legacy 

MRIGlobal was saddened to learn of Dr. Harold L. Finch’s recent passing at the age of 89. Harold was an engineer for Midwest Research Institute (MRI) in its early days, beginning in Oct. 1961. In an autobiography shared by his son, Harold said he was “drawn to apply there because of the reputation and goal-centered scientific direction of its dynamic president, Dr. Charles N. Kimball.” Kimball always challenged our researchers to aim high and pursue dreams that would make a difference. Inspired by watching the space race unfold in the early 1960s, Finch was determined to have that kind of impact in the journey to put man on the moon by the end of the decade, and hearing these words convinced him to apply for and begin a position with the institute.

When he then first learned that he would be asked to dream up new projects for MRI and find funding for those ideas, he was hooked. Through his novel ideas and hard work, he garnered attention and the company’s first contracts with NASA, resulting in MRI’s biggest project award to date. This resulted in a promotion for Finch to become MRI’s youngest-ever Project Director at age 29, and later he was named the company’s youngest Principal Engineer.

Later, he was ideating on how to keep astronauts from either burning up or freezing to death in an orbiting Apollo spacecraft. Burned out, he took a break and went to Gates BBQ – a classic and well-known Kansas City BBQ joint – and found his answer. Watching a chicken on the restaurant’s rotisserie, he realized the rotation caused heat to disperse evenly throughout, instead of charring on one side and remaining uncooked on the other. He went back to work and developed a computerized system to create a controlled rolling action for the spacecraft, causally popularized as the “barbecue roll.”   

His career with MRI was a long and storied one, and he went on to other great successes in his career. Finch spoke laudably of his time here, and he and his son wrote a fascinating autobiography on his years with the institute.  

The world was undeniably changed by Harold Finch’s time with MRI. His ability to dream and follow those dreams with dedication and passion shaped the lives of countless people, while helping bring mankind to the final frontier.