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Hale Steps Down As Space Shuttle Program Manager

By | February 25, 2008

      John Shannon Becomes New Shuttle Program Manager, After Serving As Hale’s Deputy For Two Years

      N. Wayne Hale, who has served as the space shuttle program manager during some of the most challenging times in the program, will be stepping down from the post.

      Since taking the top shuttle program job in September 2005, Hale led the difficult moves to bring the shuttle program back to life, after the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003 that caused the loss of that spaceship and its seven crew members.

      That calamity was triggered by a chunk of foam insulation ripping free from the external fuel tank and punching a hole in the heat-shielding leading wing edge on the Columbia orbiter vehicle, forming a lethal gap so the ship was destroyed during reentry.

      Hale masterminded moves to reduce the dangers of foam loss, and it worked.

      NASA lessened the amount of foam applied to some areas, redesigned ice frost ramps, and more. In recent shuttle flights, little foam loss has been spotted, and much of it has been so late in the ascent to space that it wouldn’t damage the orbiter vehicle even if a strike occurred.

      He managed the shuttle program through six missions, half a dozen launches of what is the most complicated machine ever built.

      Hale also led the program during one of its most difficult challenges, in the just-ended Space Shuttle Atlantis STS-122 Mission to the International Space Station.

      Atlantis was poised to launch Dec. 6 when data from fuel gauges in the external fuel tank acted up, obviously providing wrong information, as the tank was filled with liquid hydrogen and oxygen.

      Those fuel gauge sensors in the hydrogen tank were suspect, but ultimately were exonerated. Rather, deft sleuthing using equipment modeled on gear used by electrical utility workers enabled NASA experts to pinpoint the problem: faulty connectors in wiring leading from the fuel gauges through the outer wall of the tank. A quick soldering job solved the problem. The fix now will be used on later shuttle flights, making them more dependable.

      And a kinked radiator hose was remedied with invention of a special tool to help it fold properly into a storage box.

      Finally, Atlantis went up Feb. 7 on a successful mission to the International Space Station, expanding it by adding a European laboratory to make the artificial moon truly international.

      Returning from the mission, Atlantis was found to be free of any major damage or problems. (Please see Space & Missile Defense Report, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008.)

      That leaves NASA poised for an ambitious five more shuttle flights this year.

      So Hale leaves his post on a high note, to move to another NASA position, deputy associate administrator for strategic partnerships, NASA announced Friday.

      In his new position, he will work in Houston as a senior NASA official in the Space Operations Mission Directorate, providing strategic leadership to foster cooperative partnerships that help achieve NASA goals, build alliances across the public and private sectors, and improve U.S. competitiveness and economic growth, NASA announced.

      "Wayne has done so much for the human spaceflight program and built a strong team. The momentum he created will continue," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate NASA administrator for space operations.

      A man with a wry, dry sense of humor that could defuse tense situations, Hale once commented on the possibility that Atlantis might have a problem shortly after launching that could force it to land at an emergency runway in Europe.

      Tongue firmly in cheek, Hale observed that that might not be precisely the way Europeans would like to get their laboratory back.

      Shannon New Shuttle Program Leader

      Hale will be replaced as shuttle program manager by his deputy, John Shannon.

      A Mission Management Team chairman, Shannon was Hale’s deputy since November 2005.

      "We know John will do an outstanding job as the program manager after his tremendous leadership as Wayne’s deputy," Gerstenmaier said.

      Hale also praised Shannon.

      "John Shannon is completely ready to take the reins in NASA’s most critical program," Hale said. "His leadership skills are well established, and the shuttle program will do well under his care."

      As manager of the shuttle program, Shannon will be responsible for overall management, integration, and operations. He began his NASA career as a flight control officer in the Mission Control Center in 1988.

      Shannon was selected as the head of Space Shuttle Guidance, Navigation and Flight Control in 1992 and became a space shuttle flight director in 1993, supporting 58 shuttle missions. He holds the distinction of being the youngest flight director in NASA history. After serving as deputy director of the Columbia Task Force in 2003, Shannon was selected to create the Space Shuttle Program Flight Operations and Integration Office.

      Hale’s Long NASA Career

      Hale’s new job is the latest in a career of more than three decades at NASA.

      Before becoming manager of the space shuttle program, Hale served as deputy manager following the Columbia accident and chaired the program’s Mission Management Team. Before that, he was the launch integration manager at Kennedy Space Center.

      Hale began his career with NASA in the Propulsion Systems Section of Flight Operations at Johnson Space Center at Houston in 1978.

      He became a lead propulsion systems officer in Mission Control and later headed the Propulsion Systems Section from 1985 to 1988. Hale also oversaw flight control teams in Mission Control during all aspects of 40 space shuttle missions, including 28 overseeing the critical ascent and entry phases. His last two years as a flight director were spent as deputy chief flight director for shuttle operations.

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