Former director of Johnson Space Center dies
A NEWS RELEASE FROM NASA:
Spaceflight pioneer Aaron Cohen, a former director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, died Thursday, Feb. 25, after a lengthy illness. He was 79.
Cohen had a 33-year career with NASA. He was a steady hand at the helm of Johnson as NASA recovered from the shuttle Challenger tragedy and
returned the space shuttle to flight. Cohen left the agency in 1993 to accept an appointment as a professor at his alma mater, Texas A&M University. At the time, he was serving as acting deputy administrator at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
"Aaron Cohen was one of my early mentors here in NASA and he was instrumental in the success of numerous pivotal achievements in human space flight." said NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden from Headquarters in Washington. "His engineering expertise and rigor were tremendous assets to our nation and NASA. Aaron provided the critical and calm guidance needed at the Johnson Space Center to successfully recover from the Challenger accident and return the space shuttle to flight. We will miss him as a colleague, mentor, and a friend. Our hearts go out to his wife, Ruth, and the rest of his family."
Cohen joined NASA in 1962 and served in key leadership roles critical to the success of the flights and lunar landings of the Apollo Program. From 1969 to 1972, Cohen was the manager for the Apollo Command and Service Modules. He oversaw the design, development, production and test flights of the space shuttles as manager of NASA's Space Shuttle Orbiter Project Office from 1972 to 1982. After serving as Director of Engineering at Johnson for several years, he was named director of the center in 1986, serving in that post until 1993.
"Aaron's expertise was critical to NASA's greatest achievements, and his integrity, talent and passion made it a privilege to work with him," said Mike Coats, Director of the Johnson Space Center. "He will be missed and long remembered by his many friends here at JSC."
Cohen's many honors include the highest award given for federal executives, the Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive, with which he was received in 1982 and 1988. He was presented NASA's
highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal, three times.
Cohen was a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Astronautical Society and the American Institute of
Aeronautics and Astronautics. He was a distinguished alumnus of Texas A&M, from which he earned a bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering in 1952. He earned a master's in Applied Mathematics from Stevens Institute of Technology in 1958. He also was a recipient of honorary doctorates from Stevens Institute and from the University of
See Aaron Cohen's official NASA biography
DAN FELDSTEIN'S 1993 HOUSTON POST INTERVIEW WITH AARON COHEN AS HE WAS RETIRING FROM JOHNSON SPACE CENTER:
Q) If you could change one way NASA does business, what would it be?
A) People say the yesteryears were wonderful compared to now. The real difference is that the decision making process today has been elevated.
What you need to do is get decision making down to lower-level people, where the knowledge really is. You would reduce your overhead, too.
Why is it that way today? It's just due to time. People bring their jobs with them when they get promoted. For various reasons - and this is in
corporations too - as you grow in age, decision making goes to the top.
Q) What would be your top advice to a NASA administrator?
A) We need to chart a course and stick to that. We need to stabilize space station management and design and go build it.
We need to set the program content, schedule and dollars, and commit. You can't afford to be too conservative, either. You need to be right.
Q) What would your advice be to Congress?
A) There's an easy answer. Steady funding. But I'm not sure that's going to be the way of life. The way appropriations are set up, we're going to have to try to get our money each year.
It's a two-way street. When we commit to Congress, we need to have an agreement with Congress. We need to live up to our end of the bargain and they
need to live up to theirs.
Q) Does it really seem like 31 years?
A) I came here as a junior engineer and I had no idea I'd wind up sitting in this office. Zero idea. People like Bob Gilruth (center director from 1961-72), Chris Kraft (director from 1972-82) and Max Faget (conceived Mercury capsule, the basis for Gemini and Apollo) were just names.
I was a lowly engineer working on the future heat shield for the Apollo program.
I never did have a career plan. If you said, "How did it happen, " I'm not sure I could explain, other than I had very good opportunities.
Q) Who is the smartest person you ever met at NASA?
A) Oh boy. Let me answer the question a little differently. If you take Dr.Gilruth, I learned from him that the human element of space flight needed compassion because you dealt with lives of human beings and families.
I learned from George Low (project manager of Apollo) that in human space flight you had to be bold, yet you had to know when to be conservative, and you had to know how to pay attention to detail - not give up on the detail of every intricate part on the spacecraft.
I learned from Chris Kraft that you needed to make rapid decisions, yet you also needed to know how to turn around if you made a wrong decision.
Q) When do you think humans will return to the moon?
A) I'm not going to be able to give you a date, but I'll tell you what I think has to happen. We have to build a space station on schedule and on cost.
The same for the Mission to Planet Earth program. The economy has to get better.
And one more thing. NASA has to be able to tell its story better.
Q) How long do you think we'll be using the shuttle?
A) We're doing an assured-access-to-space study now. We're looking at shuttle evolution, a reduced shuttle or a capsule.
I personally feel we'll be using the shuttle for a long time. To do those other two is going take a lot of money. The shuttle will be evolutionary and
become more and more reliable.
Q) What's your parting advice to JSC civil servants and contract workers?
A) I'll take this opportunity to thank everybody. I didn't feel like they worked for me. I felt like I worked for them.
My advice is that we've had rough times before. We've had tragedies and fires, we've had failures and budget cost growths. The best thing they can do is continue to make the shuttle successful and safe and once we get going on the space station - which I think is shortly - they need to make it a success in terms of schedule and cost.
We have to eliminate cost growth in our programs. If we can do that, I'm
convinced that the Johnson Space Center and the NASA programs will be successful and we'll have a strong space program.
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