Mark Geyer
Mark Geyer, seen here testifying before Congress in 2018, led the Johnson Space Center for three years until stepping down in May to focus on cancer treatment. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

WASHINGTON — Mark Geyer, former head of the Johnson Space Center and manager of the Orion program, died Dec. 7 of cancer.

Geyer stepped down as director of JSC May 3 after three years leading the Houston-based center, citing the need to focus on his cancer treatment. At the time of his death he was working as a senior adviser to the NASA associate administrator, Bob Cabana.

“Today, we mourn the loss of a giant for human spaceflight and a beloved member of the NASA family,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said of Geyer in a statement. “It is difficult to overstate the difference he made.”

Geyer joined NASA in 1994 working on the International Space Station program and served as the deputy program manager for the Constellation program from 2004 to 2007. He then became manager of the Orion program, a position he held until 2015. He was deputy director of JSC and acting deputy associate administrator for technical in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate before becoming director of JSC in May 2018.

Nelson, in the statement, credited Geyer for leading the center a time of growing human spaceflight opportunities through the development of commercial crew vehicles and the Artemis program. “That’s because Mark personified the American character, believing we should constantly venture farther into the cosmos for the benefit of humanity,” he said.

“Mark deserves a great deal credit for the success of public-private partnerships at NASA. Specifically, Mark was a strong advocate for legal reforms to provide the agency with additional flexibility and the ability to proceed with greater alacrity,” said Mike Gold, a former NASA associate administrator for space policy and partnerships who is now an executive vice president for Redwire Space. “Mark’s ability to partner was driven by his personal decency, openness, and optimism.”

When Geyer stepped down as JSC director, the center’s deputy director, Vanessa Wyche, took over on an acting basis, a position made permanent by the agency June 30. “As the NASA family mourns his passing, we are forever grateful for Mark’s leadership, and will continue to honor his legacy as a champion of human spaceflight for all,” she said in a statement.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say Mark’s legacy will be realized for generations to come at the agency he loved so dearly,” Nelson said. “When NASA astronauts return to the moon under Artemis, and ultimately prepares for human missions to Mars, this new generation of explorers and adventurers will be guided by Mark’s spirit.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...