Mike Lounge, Commercial Space Advocate, Dies at 64

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John “Mike” Lounge, a former space shuttle astronaut who devoted much of his post-NASA career to commercial space ventures, died March 1 of complications from liver cancer. He was 64.

Lounge, a Navy veteran, flew three space shuttle missions during his 13 years at NASA, including the Discovery STS-26 return-to-flight mission following the 1986 Challenger disaster.

Lounge left NASA in 1991 to join Spacehab, a company that manufactured pressurized modules for the space shuttle. After 11 years with the company, he joined Boeing and served as the company’s director of business development for space exploration.

One of Lounge’s Boeing colleagues, Pat Schondel, credited Lounge with helping the company navigate the changes touched off when the White House in 2004 called for retiring the space shuttle and returning to the Moon. “His critical way of thinking, built over a career with the Navy, education as a physicist, instructor at the Naval Academy, and business leader for three different companies, put him in position to recognize early that human spaceflight was headed for a huge change,” Schondel, Boeing vice president for homeland security, NASA/science and technology programs, said March 3. “When the policy came out that decided NASA would put its focus on space exploration and would purchase flights to [the international space station] commercially, Mike had us investing before others to be prepared for those opportunities.

“His passion for human space continued after he retired from Boeing, and he was a strong voice in support of a sustainable policy and budget for NASA that included space exploration and commercial deliveries to [the space station].”

After leaving Boeing, Lounge was president of Houston-based Cisneros Innovation Strategies and served on the NASA Advisory Council’s commercial space committee.

“Mike was a tremendous supporter of the commercial spaceflight industry. The last year and a half he put in countless volunteer hours to support and advocate for all that we are trying to achieve,” Bretton Alexander, the committee’s chairman and president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, said in a March 2 statement.