George Mueller, the ex-NASA engineer responsible for revamping the way NASA tested its rockets — a change which ultimately led to America winning the space race against the Soviet Union by landing a man on the moon before the end of the 1960s — has died, NASA reported late last week.
Called the “father of the Space Shuttle,” George Mueller — who joined NASA’s space program just three months ahead of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 — took Kennedy’s promise that America would land a man on the moon before the end of the decade very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that when it came to the lengthy process of testing NASA’s rockets one stage at a time, Mueller suggested an “all-up” approach to the testing, which would see all the pieces of the rockets launched at once. This was an admittedly risky procedure, but one, according to Wernher von Braun — the scientist who oversaw the building of the Saturn V rocket — that single-handedly allowed for the launching of a manned lunar shuttle before the close of the decade, reports the Los Angeles Times.
“It sounded reckless, but George Mueller’s reasoning was impeccable. In retrospect it is clear that without all-up testing the first manned lunar landing could not have taken place as early as 1969.”
Not only did George Mueller oversee the completion of project Apollo, but NASA also credits him with the creation of Skylab — the first manned Space Station — and Mueller is called the “father of the Space Shuttle” because of his unwavering support for the development of a reusable space shuttle.
— Kim LachanceShandrow (@LaShandrow) October 19, 2015
Thanks to George Mueller’s “all-up” testing approach, after only two test runs of Saturn V, the three-man crew of Apollo 8 launched, and became the first manned shuttle to orbit the moon and return safely to Earth, on December 21, 1968. Just seven months later, Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969 — George Mueller’s 51st birthday — and became the first manned shuttle to successfully land on the lunar surface. Mueller wrote an essay in the New York Times following Neil Armstrong’s giant leap, in which he described the significance behind Apollo 11’s successful mission.
“This day man’s oldest dream is made a reality … the ancient bonds tying him to the earth have been broken. With the achievement of the first manned landing on the surface of the moon, we have accomplished the most momentous feat in the long history of man.”
When Apollo 11 successfully returned to Earth, George Mueller continued his declaration of significance.
“Today at 11:49 a.m. Houston time, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, we conclusively proved that man is no longer bound to the limits of the planet on which for so long he has lived.”
Born in 1918 in St. Louis, young George Mueller had an avid interest in science fiction, and model airplanes. It was his fondness for the latter that sparked his interest in aeronautical engineering. His parents — Edwin Mueller, an electrician, and Ella Bosch, a secretary — however, could not afford to send George to a school that offered such a program, reports the New York Times. Instead, George opted to attend the Missouri School of Mines, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1939. The following year, Mueller earned his Master’s from Purdue University, and eventually, in 1951, his doctorate from Ohio State.
Four months after Apollo 11’s successful moon landing, George Mueller left NASA to pursue a career in the aerospace industry. In 1971, President Nixon awarded him with the National Medal of Science for his “many individual contributions” to the Apollo program.
RIP to a NASA space pioneer. Dr. George Mueller was 97 years old. God Speed Sir! pic.twitter.com/4docghugjW
— Ron DeVries (@roam2me) October 15, 2015
In a 1998 oral history for NASA, Mueller mourned the end of the Apollo program as well as “the lack of a vision of where man is going in space.”
“You think of the pioneers that opened up the West. Well, you ought to think of pioneers opening up space in the same fashion. If we’d only found diamonds on the moon, we would have been able to really get that program going.”
George Mueller died on October 12 of congestive heart failure. He was 97-years-old. George Mueller is survived by his wife, Darla, his four children, 13 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.
[Photo by Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images]