Glynn Lunney in 1974, as manager of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project
|Alma mater||UDM, B.S. 1958|
|Occupation||NASA manager and flight director|
|Spouse(s)||Marilyn Kurtz Lunney|
|Awards||Presidential Medal of Freedom|
Glynn S. Lunney (born November 27, 1936) is a retired NASA engineer. An employee of NASA since its creation in 1958, Lunney was a flight director during the Gemini and Apollo programs, and was on duty during historic events such as the Apollo 11 lunar ascent and the pivotal hours of the Apollo 13 crisis. At the end of the Apollo program, he became manager of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the first collaboration in spaceflight between the United States and the Soviet Union. Later, he served as manager of the Space Shuttle program before leaving NASA in 1985 and later becoming a vice president of the United Space Alliance.
Lunney was a key figure in the US manned space program from Project Mercury through the coming of the Space Shuttle. He has received numerous awards for his work, including the National Space Trophy, which he was given by the Rotary Club in 2005. Chris Kraft, NASA's first flight director, described Lunney as "a true hero of the space age", saying that he was "one of the outstanding contributors to the exploration of space of the last four decades".
Glynn Lunney grew up in the coal city of Old Forge, Pennsylvania. He was the eldest son of William Lunney, a welder and former miner who encouraged his son to get an education and to find a job beyond the mines. Lunney graduated from the Scranton Preparatory School in 1953. A childhood interest in model airplanes prompted Lunney to study engineering in college. After attending the University of Scranton from 1953 through 1955, he transferred to the University of Detroit, where he enrolled in the cooperative training program run by the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. The center was a part of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), a United States federal agency founded to promote aeronautical research. Cooperative students at NACA took part in a program that combined work and study, providing a way for them to fund their college degrees while gaining experience in aeronautics. Lunney graduated from college in June 1958, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Aerospace engineering.
After graduation, Lunney remained with NACA. His first job was as a researcher in aerospace dynamics at Lewis Research Center, where he worked with a team studying the thermodynamics of vehicles during high-speed reentry. Using a B-57 bomber, the team sent small rockets high into the atmosphere in order to measure their heating profile.
Only a month after Lunney graduated, President Eisenhower signed into existence the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), into which NACA was subsumed. His timing was perfect, for as Lunney later said, "there was no such thing as space flight until the month I got out of college". Lunney was soon transferred to Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where in September 1959 he became a member of the Space Task Group, which was the body given responsibility for the creation of NASA's manned space program. Aged twenty-one, he was the youngest of the forty-five members of the group. His first assignment was with the Control Center Simulation Group, which planned the simulations used to train both flight controllers and astronauts for the as-yet unknown experience of manned spaceflight.
A member of the Flight Operations Division, Lunney was one of the engineers responsible for planning and creating procedures for Project Mercury, America's first manned space program. He took part in the writing of the first set of mission rules, the guidelines by which both flight controllers and astronauts operated. During Mercury, Lunney became, after Tecwyn Roberts, the second man to serve as the Flight Dynamics Officer (FIDO) in Mission Control, controlling the trajectory of the spacecraft and planning adjustments to it. His colleague Gene Kranz described him as "the pioneer leader of trajectory operations, who turned his craft from an art practiced by a few into a pure science". It was during these years that Lunney became the protege of flight director Chris Kraft, a relationship that would last some twenty years.
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NASA's manned spaceflight program was transferred to the newly built Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, and Lunney moved with it. In Houston, he became head of the Mission Logic and Computer Hardware section, where he defined and oversaw the computing and display requirements of the flight dynamics division within Mission Control.
Gemini was a step forward for NASA's manned space program: the Gemini capsule was larger and more advanced than Mercury, capable of supporting two men for up to a two-week mission. Because of the longer mission durations, Mission Control began to be manned in shifts. In 1964, Glynn Lunney and Gene Kranz were selected by Chris Kraft to join Kraft and his deputy John Hodge as flight directors. Aged only twenty-eight, Lunney was the youngest of the four.
Lunney worked backup on Gemini 3, taking charge of the newly established Mission Control Center in Houston, at a time when flights were still controlled from Cape Canaveral in Florida. On Gemini 4, he again was working backup, this time in Florida, supporting the first mission that was controlled entirely from Houston. After spending some time on unmanned testing for the Apollo program, he returned to work as a flight director on Gemini 9, 10, 11 and 12.
As with Project Mercury, Lunney was involved in Project Apollo right from the beginning. He took charge of the "boilerplate" tests of the Apollo abort escape system at White Sands, which took place during the Gemini program, and was flight director during the first unmanned Saturn V test flight, SA-501. However, he was not scheduled to serve as a flight director on the first manned Apollo mission, later known as Apollo 1. During the countdown demonstration test that resulted in the Apollo 1 fire, Lunney was at home having dinner with astronaut Bill Anders and his wife, and was called into Mission Control when the fire occurred. It was, as he recalled, "a tremendous punch in the stomach to all of us". The aftermath of the fire, in which three astronauts were killed, left Lunney and his colleagues at NASA feeling that they had perhaps failed to recognize the risks they were running in their efforts to meet Kennedy's timetable of landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade. "Maybe," said Lunney over thirty years later, "we had gotten a little overconfident".
Lunney attracted significant media attention in 1968, when he worked as lead flight director on Apollo 7, the first of the manned Apollo flights. Coming as it did after the Apollo 1 fire, the mission was an important test for the Apollo program, and was stressful for astronauts and controllers alike. Lunney had primary responsibility for dealing with the mission commander, Wally Schirra, who repeatedly questioned orders from the ground. Although pressed by reporters in news conferences, Lunney stayed diplomatic and said nothing critical of Schirra. Privately, however, he was extremely exasperated, and later assured his team of young controllers that "manned spaceflight is usually better than this". He was also diplomatic about Donn Eisele's sarcastic comment to the CAPCOM that he would "like to meet the man, or whomever it was, that dreamed up that little gem". The "gem" turned out to be Lunney's.
As a flight director Lunney was known for his good memory and his unusually quick thought processes—traits that could sometimes prove problematic for his team of flight controllers. "Glynn would drive you crazy", said Jay Greene, a fellow controller, "because his mind would race so fast that he could churn out action items quicker than you could absorb, much less answer."
During the Apollo 13 crisis, Lunney played a key role. Coming on shift an hour after the oxygen tank explosion that put the crew's lives in jeopardy, Lunney and his team faced the unprecedented challenge of having to power up the lunar module on an extremely tight timeline, while transferring guidance and navigation data to it from the dying command module. His excellent memory and quick thinking were critical in the success of his team during the ensuing hours. Ken Mattingly, the astronaut who had been bumped from the Apollo 13 crew due to his exposure to German measles, later called Lunney's performance "the most magnificent display of personal leadership that I’ve ever seen". On the day following the Apollo 13 splashdown, Lunney joined his fellow flight directors in accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom as a member of the Apollo 13 mission operations team. The award was made by President Nixon during a ceremony at the Manned Spacecraft Center.
In 1970, while still a flight director, Lunney was selected as one of the members of a NASA delegation to the Soviet Union, which was to discuss the possibility of cooperation between the two countries in the field of manned spaceflight. "For me it was out of the clear blue sky", said Lunney, who was told of the plans while at a conference in early October. "I did not know anything about [the proposed talks] until that time." The trip took place in late October. While in Moscow, Lunney gave a presentation to Soviet engineers on the techniques that NASA used for orbital rendezvous, and on the compromises that would have to be made in order to achieve a rendezvous between American and Soviet spacecraft. The technical agreement that he helped to draft laid the groundwork for the mission which was to become the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project (ASTP). It was intended to be a joint mission, whose highlight was to be a docking between an American Apollo spacecraft and a Soviet Soyuz.
Lunney was named technical director of the ASTP in the following year. As technical director, he made several more trips to the Soviet Union, helping to negotiate the seventeen-point agreement that would govern the conduct of the mission. He also took part in working groups in Houston that dealt with the technical details of the project. A New York Times profile reported that he was taking Russian lessons in order to be better prepared for the role.
On June 13, 1972, Lunney was given overall responsibility for the test project; henceforth he would be in charge not only of building a partnership with the Soviets, but also of mission planning and of negotiating with North American Rockwell, the spacecraft contractor. According to the official history of the ASTP, Lunney's performance during Apollo 13 and during the Soviet negotiations had recommended him to Chris Kraft, who was by then director of Johnson Space Center. In 1973, Lunney became manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office, a position which gave him responsibility for the Apollo spacecraft used during Skylab missions, as well giving him more authority in his role as head of the ASTP.
The ASTP mission took place in July 1975. It was criticized by some journalists as a "costly space circus", who felt that it wasted NASA funds that could have been better spent on projects such as Skylab. However, Lunney supported the project, saying in a later interview that he did not believe the cooperation necessary to build the International Space Station would have been possible if ASTP had not laid the groundwork for it.
After the ASTP mission was completed, Lunney became manager of the Shuttle Payload Integration and Development Program. During this period, it was anticipated that NASA's space shuttle fleet would be flying very frequent missions, and carrying commercial payloads as well as flying missions for government organizations such as the Department of Defense and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The payload integration program was responsible for determining how the various demands of these customers could be satisfied, and how mixed payloads could best be physically accommodated within the cargo bay of the shuttle. During these years Lunney also spent time working at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., as Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Flight and later as Acting Associate Administrator for Space Transportation Operations.
In 1981, Lunney became manager of the space shuttle program, a high-level position where Lunney found himself responsible for setting the agenda for the developing program. His responsibilities were broad ones; they included supervising program planning, budgeting and scheduling; systems engineering; and mission planning. During the earlier shuttle flights he was even involved in determining whether the weather was suitable for launch, but in later years that responsibility was largely devolved to lower levels of the hierarchy.
Many of his colleagues had expected Lunney to succeed his mentor, Chris Kraft, as director of Johnson Space Center; Neil Hutchinson, a fellow flight director, later commented that Lunney "was sort of the anointed one". However, when Kraft retired in 1982, former Apollo flight director Gerry Griffin was offered the position instead.
In 1985, Lunney decided to leave NASA, feeling that the shuttle program had worn him out physically and mentally and that he was ready for a new type of challenge. Although he had retired from NASA the year before, he was called to testify before the U.S. House Committee on Science and Technology in the aftermath of the Challenger accident. While still manager of the shuttle program, he had signed the "Criticality 1" waiver that allowed Challenger to launch even though the joints of its solid rocket boosters had recently been redefined as non-redundant systems. His actions were not unusual in the context of NASA practice at the time, which allowed a "walk through" of such potentially controversial waivers if no debate was expected.
Upon leaving NASA in 1985, Lunney took a position at Rockwell International, the contractor responsible for the construction, operation and maintenance of the space shuttle. At first he worked in California, managing a Rockwell division that was building satellites for the Global Positioning System; this was his first experience with unmanned spacecraft. In 1990, he returned to Houston as President of the Rockwell Space Operations Company, which provided support for flight operations at Johnson Space Center and employed about 3000 people. For Lunney, this represented a return to his roots in mission operations, which he had left twenty years before.
In 1995, Rockwell joined forces with its competitor Lockheed Martin to form the United Space Alliance, a jointly owned organization created to provide operations support for NASA, as well as to take over some of the functions previously performed by NASA employees. At this point, Lunney became Vice President and Program Manager of the United Space Alliance's spaceflight operations in Houston; he stayed in this position until his retirement in 1999.
While at Lewis Research Center, Lunney met Marilyn Kurtz, who worked there as a nurse. They have been married since 1960 and have four children: Jennifer, Glynn, Jr. (Distinguished Professor of Law at Tulane University), Shawn, and Bryan. Their youngest son Bryan has also pursued a career at NASA, becoming a flight director in 2001 and working missions including STS-115, STS-120, STS-123, STS-131 and STS-133.
During his leisure hours, Lunney enjoys sailing; during the sixties the family owned a twenty-foot sailboat which they took out on Galveston Bay, and he occasionally dreamed of going with his wife and children on an ocean cruise lasting for months. In his retirement he has taken up golf, saying that "I have come to realize that golf will never be mastered, but will continue to be humbling."
Lunney is a Fellow of the American Astronomical Society and of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. In 1971, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Scranton. He has received many awards from NASA, including three Group Achievement Awards, two Exceptional Service Medals and three Distinguished Service Medals.
In 2005, he received the National Space Trophy from the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation. The award is given to individuals who have made an outstanding and career-spanning contribution to America's space program. Previous winners have included Chris Kraft and Neil Armstrong. "Lunney's innovation and dedication to the U.S. space flight program", said the RNASA Advisor General, "has set a standard for current and future generations of space explorers. As a manager, he inspired his employees to do their best work and offered direction and encouragement to his team when challenges arose; as an explorer, he always looked toward the future and saw the endless possibilities and benefits of man's journey into space."
In the movie Apollo 13, Glynn Lunney was portrayed by Marc McClure. However, McClure had a relatively minor role. Writer Charles Murray lamented the fact that Lunney was "barely visible in the movie", being overshadowed by the focus on Lunney's fellow flight director Gene Kranz. "Without slighting Kranz's role", Murray commented, "the world should remember that it was Glynn Lunney ... who orchestrated a masterpiece of improvisation that moved the astronauts safely to the lunar module while sidestepping a dozen potential catastrophes that could have doomed them."
Lunney has been interviewed in numerous documentaries about the space program, including Apollo 13: To the Edge and Back (PBS), To the Moon (PBS), Failure is Not an Option (History Channel) and ABC News 20/20's Moment of Crisis: Apollo 13.