NASA engi­neer Ge­orge Mueller was widely cred­ited with help­ing the moon land­ing suc­ceed.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY MARTIN WEIL martin.weil@wash­post.com

Ge­orge Mueller, a coolly de­ci­sive, hard-driv­ing engi­neer, sci­en­tist and ad­min­is­tra­tor who was given much of the credit for en­abling NASA to meet Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s manned moon land­ing timetable, as well as for ini­ti­at­ing the Sky­lab and space shut­tle pro­grams, died Oct. 12 at his home in Irvine, Calif. He was 97.

His death was an­nounced by NASA. The cause was con­ges­tive heart fail­ure, said Arthur Slotkin, a fam­ily spokesman.

As head of NASA’s Of­fice of Manned Space­flight, with the ti­tle of as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor, Dr. Mueller bore much of the bur­den of see­ing to it that the space agency’s Apollo pro­gram met the chal­lenge Kennedy is­sued in a cel­e­brated 1961 ad­dress: land­ing a man on the moon — and bring­ing him back — by the end of the 1960s.

Dur­ing the Cold War, a manned moon land­ing be­came a ma­jor Amer­i­can goal and was con­sid­ered a sym­bol of the coun­try’s will and de­ter­mi­na­tion, par­tic­u­larly in view of what was per­ceived as a space race with the arch ad­ver­sary of the time, the Soviet Union.

In Dr. Mueller, NASA was said to have in­stalled in one of its top posts a man of great abil­i­ties, in both en­gi­neer­ing and ad­min­is­tra­tion, and a leader who un­der­stood both rocket sci­ence and hu­man psy­chol­ogy. At key mo­ments, ac­cord­ing to space his­to­ries, he showed him­self to be adept at as­sess­ing risk and to be bold in act­ing on his as­sess­ments.

One of his sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions was what came to be known as the “all up” phi­los­o­phy of rocket and space­craft test­ing. As its name sug­gests, “all up” was a form of ex­am­in­ing every­thing to be used for a space mis­sion all at once, as op­posed to in­cre­men­tal modes of pro­ceed­ing inch by slow inch.

As ap­plied to the space pro­gram, it im­plied specif­i­cally such tech­niques as the test­ing of all three stages of the gi­ant Saturn V booster rocket while they were cou­pled to­gether and with a pay­load at­tached to boot. It was re­ported that the scheme had its doubters, among them such lead­ing lights of rock­etry as Wern­her von Braun.

But in time, the force­ful Dr. Mueller proved per­sua­sive enough to over­come all such reser­va­tions, and it was “all up” for the mam­moth Saturn V, the launch ve­hi­cle upon which NASA pinned its hopes of send­ing Amer­i­cans to the moon.

Ul­ti­mately, a NASA his­tory reads, “it is clear that with­out all-up test­ing the first manned lu­nar land­ing could not have taken place as early as 1969,” the last year that met Kennedy’s sched­ule.

The same NASA his­tory went on to say that Dr. Mueller’s “bold tele­scop­ing of the over­all plan bore mag­nif­i­cent fruit.” Frank Bor­man’s Apollo 8 crew or­bited the moon on Christ­mas 1968, and in the next year, the sixth Saturn V took Neil Arm­strong’s Apollo 11 to the first manned lu­nar land­ing.

In an in­ter­view for a Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion pub­li­ca­tion, Dr. Mueller in­di­cated that some of his as­sur­ance was borne of ne­ces­sity.

“Well,” he told Air & Space mag­a­zine, “one thing that gave me the con­fi­dence is that there wasn’t any other way we were go­ing to get the pro­gram done on the sched­ule that we had.”

But he main­tained that he was not be­ing rash in send­ing Apollo 8 to cir­cle the moon af­ter the 6.5 mil­lion-pound rocket that was to lift it into space had flown only twice, nei­ther time car­ry­ing men aloft.

“It wouldn’t have gone if I hadn’t been com­fort­able,” he said. “I spent about four months that sum­mer look­ing at ev­ery pos­si­ble way that it could fail, and con­vinced my­self that it wasn’t go­ing to fail,” he said. “So we went for­ward with it.”

In the same in­ter­view, he ob­served that his sort of de­ci­sion­mak­ing would no longer carry the day.

“We have too many peo­ple who be­lieve in ab­so­lute safety,” al­though “there is no such thing,” he said. More­over, he added, “if you de­signed your pro­gram to be ab­so­lutely safe, you’d also be sure you’d ab­so­lutely never fly.”

Yes, he sug­gested, he did run a risk, but it was only “a rea­son­able risk.” What he would have ruled out, he said, was “an un­rea­son­able risk.” A method of dis­tin­guish­ing one from the other, he im­plied, en­tailed imag­in­ing the worst that could hap­pen, and then de­cid­ing whether that dan­ger could be over­come.

In Jan­uary 1967, NASA suf­fered one of its most dev­as­tat­ing set­backs to that point. Three as­tro­nauts were killed in a fire dur­ing a launch pad test. The re­sponse given then by NASA’s ad­min­is­tra­tor, James E. Webb, helped show how Dr. Mueller was re­garded. De­spite the tragedy, Dr. Mueller would re­main in his job, Webb said, be­cause he was “one of the ablest men in the world.”

Dr. Mueller him­self had some­thing to say that was also il­lu­mi­nat­ing.

“As far as I can tell,” he said in an oral his­tory, “I have a dif­fer­ent re­ac­tion to stress than many peo­ple do.” His ap­proach, he in­di­cated, was not to dwell on fail­ure, nor to let it cause him to lose heart.

Rather, he said, the proper ap­proach was “one of tak­ing a look at the prob­lems and say­ing, now, this is what needs to be done, and then work­ing with the peo­ple to get their think­ing process go­ing again.”

Ge­orge Ed­win Mueller was born in St. Louis on July 16, 1918, a few months be­fore the end of World War I.

As a boy, he was cap­ti­vated by sci­ence fic­tion, and he built model air­planes pow­ered by rub­ber bands. Ra­dio was com­ing into vogue, and he built his own re­ceiv­ing sets. At what was then the Mis­souri School of Mines, a tech­ni­cal school, he stud­ied elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing and re­ceived a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in 1939. He re­ceived a master’s de­gree, also in elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing, from Pur­due Univer­sity in In­di­ana in 1940.

As a young grad­u­ate, he held jobs in which he worked on the de­vel­op­ment of mi­crowave tubes, tele­vi­sion and radar. He worked at Bell Labs in New Jer­sey and took grad­u­ate cour­ses at Prince­ton Univer­sity.

As an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of elec­tri­cal en­gi­neer­ing at Ohio State Univer­sity, he worked to­ward his doc­tor­ate, re­ceiv­ing a PhD in physics in 1951.

In the 1950s, he went to work in the aero­space industry. Af­ter join­ing Ramo-Wooldridge Corp., he re­mained there through a merger into what was to be­come TRW. He played an im­por­tant role in the de­vel­op­ment of the in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, and he be­gan to for­mu­late his “all up” pro­gram of test­ing.

“You don’t want to be test­ing piece-wise in space,” he was quoted as say­ing. For com­plex sys­tems, “all up” was vi­tal, he said, be­cause it was not pos­si­ble to pre­dict what com­po­nent might fail, but with an en­tire sys­tem be­ing tested, “you have a rea­son­able chance” of find­ing what had not per­formed.

In the 1960s, work on rock­ets be­came in­creas­ingly as­so­ci­ated with NASA, and ul­ti­mately, Dr. Mueller was drawn in at a high level, start­ing as deputy as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor. His power and author­ity steadily in­creased.

In ad­di­tion to his man­age­ment of the moon pro­gram, he helped de­sign Sky­lab, Amer­ica’s first space sta­tion, and spoke out strongly in fa­vor of a lower-cost, reusable launch ve­hi­cle. The space shut­tle em­bod­ied some of the con­cepts of reusabil­ity that he ad­vo­cated.

Af­ter the moon land­ing, Dr. Mueller left NASA in De­cem­ber 1969, at what he sug­gested was the proper mo­ment. Given the work­ings of the bu­reau­cracy and gov­ern­ment, he once said, “it’s clear that you have a lim­ited time of ef­fec­tive­ness in Wash­ing­ton if you re­ally are do­ing any­thing.”

He re­turned to the space industry. He was an ex­ec­u­tive with Gen­eral Dy­nam­ics and then held the top posts at Sys­tem De­vel­op­ment. Later he joined and led Kistler Aero­space, one of the pri­vate firms that has tried to de­velop means for launch­ing pay­loads into or­bit. His hon­ors in­clude the Na­tional Medal of Sci­ence.

Dr. Mueller’s mar­riage to Maude Rosen­baum ended in di­vorce. Sur­vivors in­clude his wife of 37 years, the former Darla Hix Schwartz­man, of Irvine; two daugh­ters from his first mar­riage, Jean Porter of West Lib­erty, Ky., and Karen Hyvo­nen of South Hadley, Mass.; two stepchil­dren whom he helped raise, Wendy Schwartz­man of Cal­abasas, Calif., and Bill Schwartz­man of Villa Park, Calif.; 13 grand­chil­dren; and 13 great-grand­chil­dren.

Be­yond the com­pet­i­tive as­pects of the space race, Dr. Mueller be­lieved in the im­por­tance of space ex­plo­ration.

“The only ques­tion,” he once said, was “whether this na­tion will pre­vail in space . . . or will we aban­don the fu­ture to oth­ers.”

In 1967, well be­fore the term “knowl­edge econ­omy” came into com­mon use, he urged that the space pro­gram be con­tin­ued be­yond Apollo.

“To­day,” he ar­gued, “knowl­edge, as well as guns and but­ter, mea­sures the true power of mod­ern states.” Space ex­plo­ration did not im­pede ef­forts to im­prove life on earth, he said, but rather it “con­trib­utes to the fun­da­men­tal so­lu­tion of th­ese prob­lems.”

NASA

Ge­orge Mueller, cen­ter, and other NASA ad­min­is­tra­tors af­ter the launch of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969. With Mueller, from left, are Charles W. Mathews, Wern­her von Braun and Lt. Gen. Sa­muel C. Phillips.

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