Spaceflight Insider

George Mueller, ‘Father’ of the Space Shuttle, passes away

Dr. George E. Mueller (center with glasses) shares a laugh with Wernher von Braun and other NASA officials during the Apollo era. NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Dr. George E. Mueller (center with glasses) shares a laugh with Wernher von Braun and other NASA officials during the Apollo era. Photo Credit: NASA

Dr. George E. Mueller, the leader of NASA’s human spaceflight programs in the 1960s, died of congestive heart failure on Monday, Oct. 12, at his home in Irvine, Cal. He was 97 and is survived by his second wife, Darla; two children from his first marriage, Jean Porter and Karen Hyvonen; two stepchildren, Wendy Schwartzman and Bill Schwartzman; 13 grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.

Mueller stayed active in space efforts for most of his adult life. NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Mueller stayed active in space efforts for most of his adult life. Photo Credit: NASA

Mueller is considered, by some, to be “the father of the Space Shuttle” due to his early advocation of a cost-effective, reusable, space transportation system.

He also conceptualized an on-orbit workshop, built of surplus NASA hardware. This lead to the development of Skylab – America’s first space station.

However, prior to both Shuttle and Skylab, Mueller effectively created the Office of Manned Space Flight, now the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters.

And, perhaps, his most significant space-flight contribution was his “all-up” testing philosophy relating to the Apollo Moon-landing program. Many credit this testing scheme as a key to allowing the United States to fulfill President Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade of the 1960s.

Prior to Mueller’s “all-up” proposal, it was expected that more than 15 Saturn V launches (of either stages / components or entire vehicles) would be needed before attempting the first landing – due to then-accepted “building block” testing approach where one rocket stage was flown, and certified, prior to adding the next.

Mueller insisted that the “building block” approach was not necessary and that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish 15 launches prior to the end of the decade.

As a result, the first flight of the Saturn V (Apollo 4 / uncrewed) took place with three “live” stages and a “live” service / command module on Nov. 9, 1967, the third flight (Apollo 8) orbited the Moon on Christmas Eve 1968, and the sixth flight (Apollo 11) resulted in Neil Armstrong’s “one giant leap for mankind” on July 20, 1969.

Mueller continued his work in the space industry long after his tenure with NASA had ended and, among other things, he served as CEO of Kistler Aerospace, a precursor to the current commercial space flight efforts of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Orbital ATK.

Kistler’s K-1 rocket (never flown) was to be powered by the same Soviet-era NK-33 / AJ-26 engines that were later used by Orbital Technologies (now Orbital ATK) in its Antares launch vehicle.



Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.

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