Encyclopedia Astronautica

George William Samuel Abbey (born August 21, 1932) is a former director of the Johnson Space Center (JSC) and Fellow in Space Policy at the Baker Institute of Rice University

Abbey was born in Seattle, Washington in 1932 to Sam and Brenta Abbey. His father was born in London but had emigrated to Canada, returning to Europe to serve in the First World War. After being injured in France, Sam returned to London to recuperate where he met Bridget, later changing her name to Brenta, who had moved to the capital from the village of Laugharne in Wales. Sam and Bridget married and their first child, a boy, was born in Wales before the couple moved to Canada before settling in Seattle. Abbey attended Lincoln High School there. He received his bachelor’s degree in general science from the United States Naval Academy in (Annapolis, Maryland) in 1954; and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in 1959.

A pilot in the U.S. Air Force, Abbey had more than 4,000 hours in various types of aircraft before being detailed to NASA. While in the Air Force, he served in the Air Force Research and Development Command and was involved in the early Air Force manned space activities, including the Dyna-Soar Program. Abbey joined NASA in 1964 as an Air Force captain assigned to the Apollo program. In December 1967 he left the Air Force and was named technical assistant to the Johnson Space Center director.

In January 1976, he was named director of flight operations, where he was responsible for operational planning and for the overall direction and management of flight crew and flight control activities for all human spaceflight missions.

In 1983, he became director of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate, where he continued to be responsible for all space shuttle flight crews and JSC aircraft operations. Abbey would select the crews that flew during the early years of the space shuttle. As director of flight operations, he put America’s first woman in space when he assigned Sally Ride to the crew of 1983's STS-7. Abbey was appointed deputy associate administrator for space flight at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. in March 1988.

In July 1990, he was selected as deputy for operations and senior NASA representative to the Synthesis Group, charged with defining strategies for returning to the Moon and landing on Mars.

In July 1991, Abbey was appointed senior director for civil space policy for the National Space Council in the Executive Office of the President. President George H. W. Bush reestablished, by executive order, the National Space Council, led by Vice President Dan Quayle. Part of its job was to find a direction for America’s space initiatives in a time when the nation would no longer be engaged in a technology race with the Soviet Union. The Council began to see several unique opportunities for engaging the former Soviet Union in a space station program.

In 1992, he was named special assistant to the NASA administrator. In 1994 Abbey was named deputy director of the Johnson Space Center and was subsequently selected as the JSC director in 1996.

Director of Johnson Space Center (1996-2001) He served as an integral part of the NASA Shuttle-Mir Program, providing crucial oversight, management, and guidance the first phase of the International Space Station.

Abbey was the man most responsible for the international space station, enlisting partner nations to share the adventure — and the costs — of a permanent outpost in Earth orbit.

George Abbey had more influence on human spaceflight than almost anyone in history, but few outside the field know his name. By Michael Cassutt Air & Space magazine, August 2011

"In 1993, with Freedom’s budget growing and its capability shrinking, President Bill Clinton asked Goldin to come up with a cheaper space station. Abbey pulled together a small “tiger team” of old Apollo hands—John Young, Tom Stafford, and Max Faget among them—who met with Goldin and Abbey in Stafford’s office in Alexandria, Virginia. Over a single weekend in April 1993, working with yellow pads and Legos, the group came up with a new modular space station. Russian modules could be used in addition to some of the ones already planned for Freedom. Phase 1 of the new partnership would be a series of U.S. shuttle flights to the Russian Mir station. Abbey’s tiger team didn’t invent the International Space Station, but, with the Russian partnership, they figured out a way to get it built. The White House approved the plan." By Michael Cassutt Air & Space magazine, August 2011.

Born in Seattle, Washington - August 21, 1932

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  • NASA American agency overseeing development of rockets and spacecraft. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, USA, USA. More...

  • Mullane, Mike, Riding Rockets, Scribner, New York, 2006.

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