Momentum Member Spotlight – March 2014
AIAA Congratulates Glynn Lunney
By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications
The Member Spotlight’s beam shone to the southwest this month, when it fell on Houston, Texas, and landed on 2014 AIAA Goddard Astronautics Award winner Glynn Lunney, a “true hero of the space age, and one of the outstanding contributors to the exploration of space over the last four decades” according to former NASA Johnson Space Center Director Christopher C. Kraft
Lunney began his career at NASA with the agency’s inception in 1958, and served NASA through its most historic hours. As a flight director in the Gemini and Apollo programs, Lunney was there during Apollo 11’s landing on the lunar surface, and was later part of the team that brought the Apollo 13 astronauts safely back to Earth, after an explosion critically damaged their capsule in the early stages of their 1970 lunar mission. Lunney, as well as the rest of the Apollo 13 team, received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Richard Nixon for their efforts. After the Apollo program ended, Lunney became the technical director of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, a joint spaceflight collaboration between the United States and the then Soviet Union. Lunney’s leadership of the project allowed representatives of both nations to overcome significant cultural and technical barriers to cooperate successfully in space, not only demonstrating that rival ideologies could unite for the benefit of the safety of space travelers, but laying the crucial groundwork that later led to the development of the International Space Station, and the ongoing collaboration between the U.S. and today’s Russian Federation.
After the end of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, Lunney led the effort to develop approaches and processes for payloads and payload customers for the Space Shuttle, subsequently serving as Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Flight, and then as Acting Associate Administrator for Space Transportation Operations.
During the Space-Shuttle era, Lunney became the program’s second manager, leading the team that contributed to so many of the eras successes, and that brought the orbiters Discovery and Atlantis into the shuttle fleet. In 1985, Lunney left NASA to join Rockwell International Corporation, where he managed the Global Positioning System program, before he returned to manned spaceflight when he joined the United Space Alliance, managing its Space Shuttle and Space Station flight program.
Like many his age, Lunney found his inspiration for flight on the wings of World War II fighters and in the exploits of America’s combat and test pilots. “Like many young boys growing up in WWII, I was fascinated by the exploits of the daring pilots in combat and the post-war advances being made at Edwards by our test pilots. The P-38 (Lightning) and P-51 (Mustang) were my favorites and my models were only a shadow of what the real planes were. But they were the inspiration to make me think of the challenges of aviation as a noble calling.” Unlike a lot of our candidates who made the decision to study aerospace because they were inspired by a particular figure in the profession, it was Lunney’s family doctor who focused his sights on an aero career: “There was no one with any airplane experience in my universe, but our family doctor, Doctor Marmo, helped me with the critical choice for college. He asked me about my interests and what excited me. He immediately reinforced my interest in the world of flight and recommended that I take engineering in college. That was seen as an entrance to aviation.”
When picking out his favorite career moment, almost impossible with so many wonderful opportunities, Lunney paused and looked backward over his long career, stating, “Looking back on a career in both NASA and industry, I was very fortunate and yes, very lucky, in the opportunities that were unfolding in front of me as a young engineer. My early co-op experience, at what was then the Lewis Center in Cleveland, was a great starting point. Everybody should have the joy of an Editorial Review of what would become an NACA report. All of this led to joining the Space Task Group and the Mercury Project. The next 15 years were a golden time in my career. My path led me to being a part of the formulation of the concept of a Mission Control Center and the planning for the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo flights. At an early age, I was selected as a Flight Director for most of the Gemini and Apollo flights. Probably the highlights have to include at least the Christmas Eve flight of Apollo 8 in lunar orbit, the grainy TV image of Neil as he descended the Lunar Module steps to the moon’s surface, and the satisfaction of helping to bring the crew of Apollo 13 home safely.” Lunney underscored the value of teamwork in all of those moments, pointing out that he himself did nothing alone, but that “wrapped around all of this history was my association with the Mission Control team and the flight crews, a brotherhood of teamwork and mutual respect in a grand enterprise. I went on to a career full of other great challenges also.”
For young professionals just starting out in the industry, Lunney said, “my advice is to be aware that your behavior and actions are sending a clear picture to your peers about who you are. You are part of a team and your integrity matters. Along with other traits, successful leadership depends on earning and winning the trust of those around you. For the most experienced hands, this is a time to help your team and the people in it to a level of sustainability for the longer haul. Pass on what you have learned.”
For college students thinking about entering the aerospace profession, Lunney had this advice: “This is a time of learning your trade. Some of your subjects may be more fun than others, but it is all part of getting ready. This is the start of building your competence and many different experiences can contribute to that foundation. Try to get a summer or a semester job working in the field. It helped me to see the value of the classes and it reinforced my belief that I was on the right path. Such ‘right path confidence’ makes it easier to tolerate the not-so-fun classes.”
Lastly, for high school students considering going to college and studying aerospace, Lunney offered this advice, “You should be prepared for the difficulties with the pursuit of an engineering degree. It is not necessarily the toughest but it is harder than some of the other college choices. Get ahead, stay ahead, and don't fall behind. And pay attention to the 'softer' classes, yes, even English. You will have to work at communicating your ideas in understandable terms. It almost always takes that to get a good idea implemented.”
Lunney concluded our interview with his thoughts on the value of AIAA to aerospace professionals: “I have always appreciated the ongoing dialogue and learning sponsored by AIAA in all of its many forms. Like others, I took it for granted. As I began to meet people from other industries and exchanged experiences, I came to realize and appreciate the many ways in which AIAA identifies subjects or questions facing our industry and then focuses efforts to define or offer appropriate solutions. It is a great service to all of us, in government, industry, and academia.”
AIAA congratulates Glynn Lunney for winning the 2014 Goddard Astronautics Award, and salutes his long dedication to our nation’s space program and his outstanding leadership and teamwork, and for being selected for the March Member Spotlight!