Robert Cabana is the director of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, a former astronaut, and a veteran of four Space Shuttle flights. He is also a former Naval Flight Officer and Naval Aviator in the United States Marine Corps. He was born Robert Donald Cabana on January 23, 1949, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has two brothers and is married to Nancy Joan. Together they have three children: Jeffrey, Christopher and Sarah. In 1967, Cabana graduated from Washburn High School in Minneapolis, and from there went on to attend the United States Naval Academy. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics in 1971. After graduating, Cabana attended The Basic School at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, and then, in 1972, finished Naval Flight Officer training at Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. As an A-6 Intruder and navigator with squadrons in the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, Cabana served at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina. He was then stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan as the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. After his service overseas, he returned to NAS Pensacola in 1975 for pilot training to become a Naval Aviator. In 1976, he was assigned to the 2nd MAW at MCAS Cherry Point, where he flew A-6 Intruders. He attended the United States Naval Test Pilot School in 1981, and then served at the Naval Air Test Center at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. He was the A-6 program director, X-29 advanced technology demonstrator task manager, and as a test pilot for flight systems and artillery separation testing on A-6 Intruder and A-4 Skyhawk series aircraft. He then served as the Assistant Operations Officer of Marine Aircraft Group 12 at MCAS Iwakuni, Japan.
In June 1985, Cabana was chosen by NASA as an astronaut candidate, and he completed initial astronaut training a year later, which qualified him to pilot future Space Shuttle missions. His initial assignment was as the Astronaut Office Space Shuttle flight software coordinator, but in November 1986 he was reassigned as the Deputy Chief of Aircraft Operations for the Johnson Space Center. He then served as the lead astronaut in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory. Cabana also served as a spacecraft communicator in Mission Control during Space Shuttle missions.
Cabana’s first flight to space was on STS-41 aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. They launched on October 6, 1990 from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. During the mission effectively deployed the Ulysses spacecraft, operated the Shuttle Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet instrument to follow atmospheric ozone levels, began the Solid Surface Combustion Experiment, and carried out many other experiments. After 66 orbits of the Earth, the mission landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California on October 10, 1990. Cabana’s next flight to space was also aboard Discovery. STS-53 launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on December 2, 1992 with five crew members in tow. The mission successfully deployed the classified Department of Defense payload and then performed several Military-Man-in-Space and NASA experiments. After 115 orbits of the Earth, the crew safely landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California on December 9, 1992.
In 1994, Cabana returned to space with STS-65 aboard Space Shuttle Columbia, which launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on July 8. The crew conducted the second International Microgravity Laboratory mission, as well as completed of 82 experiments from six space agencies from around the world. The mission was accomplished in 236 orbits of the Earth, returning to Florida on July 23. In 1998, Cabana was launched into space for the final time. Space Shuttle Endeavour carried the STS-88 crew to the International Space Station on December 4. During the assembly mission, Unity, the U.S. built nodule, was mated with Zarya, the Russian built Functional Cargo Block. Three spacewalks were also performed to assist in attaching hardware in the building of the station. While in space, the crew performed the first activation and access of the International Space Station to prepare it for future assembly missions and full time living. After a very successful time in space and 185 orbits of the Earth, the mission landed on December 15.
After helping get the ISS up and running, Cabana joined the ISS Program and served as Manager for International Operations. Cabana retired from the Marine Corps as a Colonel in August 2000. From August 2001 to September 2002, he served as Director of Human Space Flight Programs in Russia. As NASA’s lead representative to the Russian Aviation and Space Agency, Cabana oversaw all human space flight operations, logistics, and technical functions, including NASA’s mission operations in Korolev and crew training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City. Upon his return to Houston, Cabana was assigned briefly as the Deputy Manager, International Space Station (ISS) Program. In October 2007 Cabana served as Director of the John C. Stennis Space Center, and was reassigned in October 2008 as Director of the John F. Kennedy Space Center.
Cabana received many awards and honors throughout his life, including the Defense Superior Service Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, National Intelligence Achievement Medal, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, four NASA Space Flight Medals, and was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2008.