George Mueller, the celebrated creator and first leader of NASA’s Office of Manned Spaceflight during the Cold War, died last week at his residence in Irvine, Calif. He was 97.
Born on July 16, 1918, the National Medal of Science recipient is perhaps best known for putting forth the aggressive, admittedly risky “all-up” guiding principle of spacecraft and rocket testing during his six years at NASA. The radical initiative, accompanied by a sweeping management overhaul, rocketed space mission trials forward at an accelerated pace, enabling the fledgling government space agency to meet President John F. Kennedy’s goal of putting humans on the moon by the end of 1960s, despite persistent scheduling snafus.
NASA credits Mueller with overseeing the completion of Project Apollo and for the birth of the Skylab, our country’s first space station, and the Space Shuttle projects. Under his leadership, the Apollo 8 crew orbited the moon in 1968 and, the following year, on July 20, 1969, the Apollo 11 team laid claim to a major milestone for humans, the first manned lunar landing.
Often called the "Father of the Space Shuttle," he departed NASA after the completion of the Apollo 11 mission, though he never fully exited the aerospace industry. Following a six-year executive post at General Dynamics, he retired briefly, then later returned to his life’s passion, taking up the post of CEO of Kistler Aerospace (later Rocketplane Kistler) in 1995. He remained active at the now-shuttered reusable launch system company until 2004.
Mueller is survived by his second wife, two daughters, two step-children, 13 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.