An engineer who was involved from the start in NASA’s efforts to launch the first astronauts into space and who later led Mission Control through some of its most challenging and triumphant hours, Flight Director Glynn S. Lunney has died at the age of 84.
A family friend said Lunney died in his sleep March 19 after a long illness.
“Glynn was the right person for the right time in history,” Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer said in a statement. “His unique leadership and remarkably quick intellect were critical to the success of some of the most iconic accomplishments in human spaceflight. While he was one of the most famous NASA alumni, he was also one of the most humble people I have ever worked with. He was very supportive of the NASA team and was so gracious in the way he shared his wisdom with us.” said Geyer.
Lunney was working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics as a co-op student in 1958, when he was recruited by the newly-formed NASA at the age of 22. The youngest member of the Space Task Group, he and his colleagues at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., were charged with figuring out how to send the first astronauts into space.
It was his next mission as flight director, though, that Lunney called the best of his career. Lunney and his team were just about to begin the evening shift on April 13, 1970, when the Apollo 13 crew radioed, “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
BEST WORK EVER
Glynn Stephen Lunney was born in Old Forge, Pa., on Nov. 27, 1936. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Detroit in 1958, when he saw his first drawing of what would become the Mercury capsule, igniting his desire to join NASA.
After his 27 years at the space agency, Lunney went to work for Rockwell, overseeing the division of the company building Global Positioning System satellites. He then worked on the space station before returning to the shuttle, becoming vice president and program manager for United Space Alliance, a company equally owned by Rockwell (later, Boeing) and Lockheed Martin, that supported NASA’s spaceflight operations contract.
For his service to the U.S. space program, Lunney was honored with the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, NASA Exceptional Service Medal and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom as a member of the Apollo 13 mission control team. In 2005, Lunney was presented the National Space Trophy from the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation.
Lunney is a co-author of the 2011 book, “From the Trench of Mission Control to the Craters of the Moon,” which he wrote with his fellow members of the Gemini and Apollo-era flight dynamics branch. He wrote his own book, “Highways Into Space” in 2014.
He was portrayed on screen by actor Marc McClure in the 1995 feature film “Apollo 13” and by actor Jackson Pace in the National Geographic series “The Right Stuff” for Disney+. Lunney appeared as himself in the 2017 feature-length documentary, “Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo.”
Lunney is survived by his wife of 61 years, Marilyn Kurtz, and their four children, Jennifer; Glynn Jr., Shawn and Bryan. The latter, Bryan, is NASA’s first second-generation flight director.