George Mueller, the ‘Father of the Space Shuttle’ dies at age 97

George Mueller, a former associate administrator of the NASA Office of Manned Space Flight and the man credited as the “Father of the Space Shuttle,” passed away on Monday following a brief illness, the US space agency and family sources confirmed on Thursday.

Meuller, who headed up the OMSF from September 1963 until December 1969, was a tireless advocate for a reusable transportation systems as a way to lower the costs associated with space travel, and also played a key role in the development of Skylab, according to CollectSpace.

His work on Skylab and the Space Shuttle

In 1966, he came up with a concept for an orbital workstation built out of components from the Apollo program, sketching out his idea during a meeting in August. Those drawings served as the basis for Skylab, which became NASA’s first space station and helped the agency test how long-duration space exposure would affect people. Work on the shuttle began shortly thereafter.

“We set up Skylab really to test long-duration exposure of man to space,” Mueller later recalled, according to, “and that was about the same time we started the studies on the space shuttle, because in order to get to Mars we needed to have some ways of getting into space more cheaply than we were doing, and with a lot more energy than we had at the time.”

“So we started the two programs almost together in their studies phases,” he added. “One of the things that we did was to look at what we needed to do in order to get into space really, and that’s what led to the space shuttle. It became clear that if you’re going to really exploit the space environment, you had to have… an inexpensive means of getting into space and out of space.”

Mueller’s other accolades and accomplishments

The St. Louis native did not stick around to see NASA approve the shuttle in 1972 or launch Skylab in 1973, however. He resigned from the space agency in 1969, four months after the first moon landing. He told reporters that he felt it was a good time to step down, due to the termination of the Apollo program and the need to earn more money to support his family.

Mueller, who had won the National Medal of Science in 1971, became the senior vice president of General Dynamics and chairman and CEO of System Development Corp. (SDC) following his six year stint with NASA. In 1995, he took the reins of commercial spaceflight company Kistler Aerospace (later Rocketplane Kistler), a position he held until 2004, CollectSpace reported.

Mueller was also a former president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the International Academy of Astronautics and was awarded NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal, the National Space Trophy and the National Air and Space Museum Trophy. He is survived by his second wife, Darla, and was the father of four children, they added.


Mueller, pictured center, laughs with colleagues while working on Apollo 11. Image credit: NASA