NASA’s Johnson Space Center renames Rocket Park in honor of former director George WS Abbey


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George WS Abbey never saw the launch of a Saturn V rocket in person. He was always watching from a screen in the Houston Control Center, where he worked diligently to ensure the mission was a success.

Still, he was impressed with its size and the strength of its engines. Apollo 8 stands out for him.

“It was a very emotional moment when we left Earth’s orbit and actually went to the moon for the first time,” Abbey, 89, said of the mission in which three astronauts took to the moon. circled the moon.

Abbey’s career at NASA ranged from Apollo to the Space Shuttle to the International Space Station. But for visitors to Space City, its name will now be linked to the historic rocket.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center dedicated Rocket Park to Abbey on Friday. This park has one of three Saturn V rockets on display around the world.

And the Houston rocket, on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum collection since 1977, is the only one made up of all the certified in-flight hardware capable of pushing a spacecraft into orbit around the moon. . The other two consist of flight equipment, models and test components.

The Johnson Space Center exhibit is now called George WS Abbey Rocket Park. NASA held a groundbreaking ceremony on Friday morning.

“He has touched so many different people helping them in their careers,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of the Johnson Space Center. “But most people come to honor his legacy and his role in the success of human exploration. He’s a legend at NASA.

Abbey’s career with NASA began in 1964 when he was assigned to the Apollo program as an Air Force Captain. Three years later, he became a NASA official and technical assistant to Apollo Spacecraft program director George Low, according to a press release.

Every Friday, a group of people gathered to discuss the issues with the Apollo spacecraft and how they would be resolved. It was Abbey’s job to create the agenda for these meetings, which meant he had to know what issues arose and what major issues needed to be addressed in order to stay on schedule.

Abbey was sitting with Joseph Shea, the former director of the Apollo Spacecraft program, when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. And he was a technical assistant to the director of the Johnson Space Center (originally called the Manned Spacecraft Center) Robert Gilruth and to the deputy director Christopher Kraft when an oxygen tank exploded during the Apollo 13 mission.

Abbey and the Mission Operations team won the Presidential Medal of Liberty, the highest civilian honor in the United States, for bringing home the Apollo 13 astronauts. Abbey also received the Distinguished Service Medal of NASA for his contributions to the Apollo program.

“To have them give my name to something like Rocket Park is a great honor,” Abbey said.

But the Apollo program was only the beginning of Abbey’s career. He became director of flight operations at Johnson Space Center in 1976 and headed the selection committee for the first group of space shuttle astronauts.

It was the first class of astronauts to recruit women and people of color.

In 1988, Abbey moved to NASA Headquarters to take on the post of Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Flight, and he was subsequently appointed Senior Director of the National Space Council for Civil Space Policy and Special Assistant to the administrator of NASA.

He played a critical role in the early negotiations with Russia, which laid the groundwork for collaboration on the International Space Station. He also helped prepare space station equipment for flight.

“A lot of people think we wouldn’t have flown the International Space Station today without its leadership role in bringing all the teams together; bring the engineering teams together, bring the program teams together, ”Wyche said. “We affectionately refer to the meetings he would have on Saturday as the GASR. And it was in honor of George Abbey Saturday Review.

Abbey became deputy director of the Johnson Space Center in 1994, then director of the center in 1996.

In his efforts to engage more broadly with Houstonians, he opened up 53 acres of pasture land next to Rocket Park to become an agricultural education center where students could learn about longhorns and agriculture, according to the release. Press.

He was thinking about STEM awareness before it “became the trendy thing,” Wyche said.

Abbey ran the Johnson Space Center until February 2001, and left NASA in 2003 to focus on space policy at the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. He is still there as a principal researcher in space policy.

The idea to rename Rocket Park came from Mark Geyer, the former director of Johnson Space Center. Geyer died Tuesday after battling pancreatic cancer, but he knew the dedication ceremony had been planned.

“Mark wanted to recognize all of the contributions Mr. Abbey made to NASA,” Wyche said. “His spirit is very happy that we are able to achieve this. “

As for Abbey, he’s hoping the Artemis program will bring NASA astronauts back to the moon and then go further into space. And he hopes the agency will achieve this by working with Russia and other international partners.

“As I see him evolve from a competitive program to a co-op program, I hope this legacy continues,” Abbey said. “As we continue to explore space, we can do it together.”

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