Boeing executive Michael Mott, a former senior NASA official and U.S. Marine Corps aviator, died Nov. 19 at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston after a battle with lymphoma. He was 56.
Mott was vice president and general manager of Boeing NASA Systems of Houston, which manages the company’s international space station prime contract as well as its work on the space shuttle program. Mott had held that position, where he oversaw the work of some 4,120 employees, since 2000.
Before joining Boeing in July 1998, Mott was associate deputy NASA administrator, a job he took in December 1993. In that position he reported directly to then-NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin.
As NASA’s third in command, Mott often had the job of breaking bad news or cracking the whip, colleagues recall.
Steve Oswald, Boeing vice president for the space shuttle and a former NASA astronaut, met Mott in 1978 while the two were training at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Md. Although Mott certainly could play the role of disciplinarian, Oswald said, he was by nature “more of a benevolent king sort of guy.”
“He was a good-time guy who worked hard and played hard and kept everybody laughing all the way through it,” Oswald said.
Mott was known as “Mini” to friends, family and colleagues because of his height. “He wasn’t a big guy but pound for pound he was one of the most talented folks around and had more energy than three folks combined.”
William Readdy, former NASA associate administrator for space operations, offered a similar observation. “‘Mini’ fought cancer with the same courage and intensity he pursued everything else in life,” said Readdy, a former astronaut and naval aviator who also flew with Mott at Patuxent River. “And when I last talked with him on Nov 10th, the 230th birthday of the Marine Corps he was tired, but unbowed and still very optimistic about rejoining the team and continuing to make a difference in our nation’s space exploration program.”
Friends said Mott was fond of recounting the time in the mid 1970s when he had to eject from a burning F-4 combat aircraft during a demonstration flight over the Chesapeake Bay. Oswald said a guided bomb that the fighter was carrying failed to deploy properly and detonated near the aircraft, punching holes in the wings and knocking out the hydraulic control systems.
During his NASA career, Mott was closely involved in the Shuttle-Mir program, a series of U.S. astronaut visits to the Russian space station that preceded the start of on-orbit assembly of the international space station. In March 1994, Mott took his first trip to Russia , where his puckish humor was on display.
As Mott recalled during a 1999 interview for a NASA oral history project, famed cosmonaut Valery Ryumin, who like Mott served in the military during the Cold War, was being “a little loud and obnoxious.”
“I turned to the interpreter who was sitting next to me, and in stage whisper, in my finest English, Southern English, said ‘Valery looked much better when he had a gunsight on his forehead.’ Of course, most of the Russians speak very good English, so I’m sure that they all heard me, which was my intent, and the meeting became a lot more cordial at that point than previously,” Mott recalled.
After leaving NASA, Mott moved to Southern California to work for Boeing as the head of business development for the company’s space and communications office . In 2000, he moved to Houston to guide the strategic direction of Boeing’s NASA business.
Oswald said Mott remained involved in the running of Boeing NASA Systems up until the final weeks of his life, although he had delegated his day-to-day responsibilities to Renee Vanderbrink, his chief financial officer. Vanderbrink has taken over Mott’s position on an acting basis.
Will Trafton, an aerospace industry veteran who worked with Mott at NASA and later at Boeing, called Mott “a great American in every sense.”
“He loved his family, the Marine Corps, space, the NASA team and his Boeing team,” Trafton said. “He was a terrific team builder. He had a wonderful and tremendously positive impact on a lot of lives.”
Mott was born in Tennessee. Friends said Mott’s father, who worked for the telephone company, relocated the family frequently, but always seemed to end up back in Tennessee.
Mott graduated from Vanderbilt University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and later earned a master’s degree in systems management from the University of Southern California.
In the Marine Corps, Mott served in a variety of operational and staff positions throughout the United States and the Western Pacific. During his military career, he participated in 89 test flight projects and commanded the Marine Aircraft Group 41 at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington .
Although Mott applied for the NASA astronaut corps, his eyesight kept him from qualifying. Oswald said Mott “would have made a heck of an astronaut.”
Randy Brinkley, NASA international space station program manager under Mott, said of his friend and former boss: “Mike Mott is a modern day American hero who has dedicated his life to serving his nation. I am so grateful to have been his friend. He is an inspiration to all of us and will be sorely missed!”
Mott is survived by his wife Kathy and his two children Michael and Ashley.
A memorial service will be held at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Nassau Bay, Texas, Nov. 29. A second service and funeral was being planned for Dec. 3 in Nashville, Tenn.