George W.S. Abbey

George Abbey
George Abbey

For speakers from the banquet event, see 1997 Agenda.

Profile by Marianne J. Dyson, published in the RNASA Program Book, March 6, 1997

The theme for this year's dinner is "Dreams to Destiny," and it is especially appropriate that George Abbey has been selected to receive the National Space Trophy. For more than three decades, Mr. Abbey has brought his energy and talents to bear on furthering the goals of America's space program. Visionary leadership, commitment to excellence, and dedication to the goals of space exploration have been the hallmarks of his outstanding career.

Mr. Abbey's reach for the stars began early in his life. After receiving his bachelor of science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1954, he joined the Air Force where he accumulated more than 4,500 hours flying a variety of aircraft. He also received a master's degree from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1959.

In his early association with the nation's space program, he served in management positions in the Air Force's DYNOSOAR program. Research from this program contributed to the lifting body technologies which evolved into designs for the X vehicles, one of which - the X-38 - is in work at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) today. He also served as a technical liaison between the Boeing Company and NASA's Langley Research Center on the Lunar Orbiter program.

In 1964 he was detailed to JSC (then the Manned Spacecraft Center), where he joined the Apollo program. He resigned his Air Force commission in 1967 to become a permanent part of the JSC staff as technical assistant to the manager of the Apollo Program, George M. Low. He served as the Program Manager's principal assistant, and his efforts were crucial to the many successes of the Apollo era, including Apollo 8's circumnavigation of the moon, and Apollo 11's first landing on the moon in 1969.

After the successes of early Apollo missions, Mr. Abbey became technical assistant to the Director of JSC in December 1969. He quickly established himself as an integral part of the senior leadership of the Center, and his contributions in this role were numerous. His experience with international space missions began in the early 1970's, when he played a key role in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program. He was also instrumental in organizing the Center in its transition to the Shuttle era, and played a key role in many of the institutional and technical decisions which shaped the Shuttle program.

In 1976, Mr. Abbey was assigned to the position of Director of Flight Operations, responsible for operational planning and overall direction and management of flight crew and mission control activities for all human space flight missions. His leadership during this era was particularly crucial, since it spanned the testing and operational phases of the Space Shuttle program. It was also during this period that NASA resumed, after a 9-year hiatus, the selection of astronauts for the civil space program. In 1977, Mr. Abbey formed the Astronaut Selection Board, serving as its chair, and in 1978 the first group of thirty-five Shuttle-era astronauts came aboard. Many of the astronauts selected in this group (and others that followed) have gone on to serve in major roles in NASA, the military, and the public sector.

In a 1985 reorganization, Mr. Abbey became the director of the newly-formed Flight Crew Operations organization, responsible for selection, training and assignment of flight crews as well as management of the Center's aircraft programs. In this role, he continued to play a major role in Shuttle program development and operations.

In 1988, Mr. Abbey was appointed Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Flight at NASA Headquarters. In 1990, he was appointed Deputy for Operations for the Synthesis Group. On the twentieth anniversary of the first lunar landing, the President outlined a program to return to the Moon to stay, and for a human landing on Mars. The Synthesis Group, chaired by former astronaut Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Stafford, was charged with defining architectures and technologies necessary to accomplish those goals. Because of his extensive experience and vision, Mr. Abbey served as the senior NASA representative to the Group whose report is highly regarded for its thoroughness, scope, and inspirational vision of exploration of our solar system. Then-Vice President Dan Quayle called the report a "landmark contribution."

Later in 1991, the President appointed Mr. Abbey as Senior Director for Civil Space Policy on the National Space Council. In 1992, he became Special Assistant to NASA's new Administrator, Dan Goldin. Mr. Abbey served as a principal advisor to Mr. Goldin as the Agency responded to unprecedented government-wide streamlining initiatives. He also played a major role in establishing the partnerships and organization to build the International Space Station.

In 1994, he was appointed Deputy Director of JSC and led a number of important initiatives, including the most sweeping reorganization in JSC's history. He led a number of important efforts to more sharply focus the Center's attention on safety matters. Most importantly, he played a strong role in ensuring that JSC's institutional and technical resources were focused on the many challenges associated with Space Station and Shuttle.

Mr. Goldin appointed Mr. Abbey as JSC's Director in January 1996. "Over the course of his eminent career with NASA, he has distinguished himself as an innovator and pioneer at all levels of agency management," Goldin stated. Shortly after Mr. Abbey's designation, the Agency adopted a "lead Center" management approach, increasing the breadth and scope of Mr. Abbey's role as Center Director as JSC assumed increased program management responsibility for Shuttle, International Space Station, and critical elements of NASA's life science programs.

Other key Center responsibilities include astromaterials, Phase I-Mir, Space Operations management, Human Exploration and Development of Space, and EVA technology. Managing these responsibilities is made even more challenging because of the unprecedented levels of international participation in today's space program.

Beyond the challenges associated with managing the responsibilities assigned to JSC, Mr. Abbey has undertaken a number of efforts to build stronger community ties. Some examples of his initiatives include two very successful open houses, the JSC Inspection, which was designed to showcase the Center's technologies, facilities, and people to the business and commercial communities, and the Longhorn Project.

The Longhorn Project is a cooperative effort between NASA, Clear Creek Independent School District (CCISD), and businesses. It is designed to offer students the opportunity to learn about cattle care and breeding, aquaculture, and fruit and vegetable cultivation. Funds will come from donations to CCISD from the public, area business, and industry. JSC will provide the use of a 60-acre plot of land and employees to interact with students. Mr. Abbey saw this as a way to support the community through the innovative application of existing resources. JSC already is involved in a number of scientific and educational efforts involving horticulture, development of synthetic soils to grow plants in space, and the use of plants to recycle water and air. This is another opportunity to bring NASA's high technology to bear on down-to-earth challenges.

While Mr. Abbey's responsibilities make for many long hours at work, he does have a number of outside interests. He is a strong supporter of Center extracurricular activities, and regularly attends chili, fajita, and other cookoffs and events. He is engaged on an on-going basis with the restoration of several "classic" automobiles, including a 1954 Oldsmobile, a 1969 Mustang, and a 1968 Mercury that belonged to his father. As time allows, he devotes much of his spare time to community events, including serving as the Grand Marshal of last year's St. Patrick's Day Parade in Houston.

Mr. Abbey has been recognized over the years for his outstanding accomplishments. He has received numerous awards and commendations from NASA, including the Distinguished Service Medal and Outstanding Leadership Medal. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom as a result of his contributions to the Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team. And he has received two Presidential Rank Awards for his contributions as a member of the government's Senior Executive Service. Most recently, Mr. Abbey was honored by the Clear Lake Area Economic Development Foundation with its prestigious Quasar Award for his contributions to the economic vitality of the greater Clear Lake region.

"Mr. Abbey's reputation as one of the chief architects of our Nation's human space program is well known both nationally and internationally," one nominator stated. He deserves recognition for his ". . . exceptional vision, his superior leadership qualities, his unique and effective problem solving techniques, and his broad understanding of technical management . . . "

The groundwork Mr. Abbey is building for the future will indeed turn our dreams to destiny. The RNASA Foundation salutes his many contributions -- past, present, and future, to our space program.

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