HOUSTON — George Mueller, who led NASA’s human spaceflight efforts through the first moon landing and was credited as the “father of the space shuttle,” died Oct. 12 after a brief illness. He was 97.
Mueller, as associate administrator, headed the Office of Manned Space Flight at NASA’s Washington headquarters from 1963 through 1969. During that time, Mueller brought together NASA’s three human spaceflight centers under a common management system, introduced an approach to testing that made landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade possible, played a key part in the design of the United States’ first space station and advocated for a reusable space transportation system that became known as the space shuttle.
Mueller didn’t stay at NASA though, to see the shuttle be approved in 1972 or see Skylab launch in 1973. Rather, he resigned from the space agency in 1969, four months after the first moon landing, and returned to industry, serving as General Dynamics senior vice president and as chairman and CEO of System Development Corp.
Before joining NASA, Mueller managed aerospace programs at Ramo Wooldridge Corp. (later part of TRW), where he led the design review for the guidance systems on the Atlas and Titan ballistic missiles. He was also program manager for Pioneer 1, the first spacecraft to be launched by the then-newly founded NASA on Oct. 11, 1958.
Mueller ultimately returned to his desire to develop a low-cost method of accessing space, helming the commercial spaceflight company Kistler Aerospace (later Rocketplane Kistler) from 1995 to 2004.
“I’m doing what I set out to do with the space shuttle, and that’s building a fully reusable launch vehicle,” he stated in 1999.
Kistler filed for bankruptcy in 2010, four years after being selected by NASA to provide commercial cargo services for the International Space Station, having never flown its proposed K-1 launch system.
Mueller is survived by his second wife Darla Jean, who he married in 1978, and was the father of four children.
A longer version of this article originally appeared on CollectSPACE.com. Used with permission.