NASA Marshall Center's Steve Cook Leads Development of NASA's New Space Launch Vehicles
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
News release: 06-079
As a child, Steve Cook dreamed of someday launching space vehicles, and astronauts, to worlds far beyond his hometown of Bloomington, Minn.
Today, he's living that dream.
As director of the Exploration Launch Projects office at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., Cook manages one of NASA's key exploration initiatives -- designing and developing the agency's new launch vehicle systems that will lift explorers and cargo to space, and enable ambitious missions to the moon, Mars and destinations throughout our solar system.
"To live for long periods of time on another world, we need to establish the fundamental capability to safely, reliably and affordably transport ourselves to that destination, operate on the surface and return home to Earth," says Cook. "This is what exploration is all about. And to be a part of the team that takes that vehicle or propulsion system concept, and designs and flies it -- it's an exciting opportunity."
The Marshall office manages NASA's Exploration Launch Projects. This effort includes the Crew Launch Vehicle, the Cargo Launch Vehicle and its Earth Departure Stage. The Crew Launch Vehicle will transport the Crew Exploration Vehicle -- the capsule-shaped module that can carry up to six astronauts -- and cargo-only payloads to space. The Cargo Launch Vehicle and its Earth Departure Stage will carry larger hardware and heavy supplies to space for use by exploration missions on the moon and other destinations.
Named to his position in 2005, Cook is responsible for overall management and direction of the launch vehicle projects, including design, development, vehicle integration and testing for both launch systems.
The new launch vehicles resemble their forebears -- the Apollo-era Saturn rockets and the space shuttle -- and draw on NASA's proven experience in the successful development of launch systems.
"Apollo was an historical first step in a long journey," Cook says. "And we've learned so much by our experiences with the shuttle, space station and numerous robotic spacecraft. Now, it's time to move forward in fulfilling our destiny as explorers. The moon holds significant resources and scientific and commercial potential. Returning to the lunar surface to live and work for long periods of time sets the stage for exploration to Mars and beyond."
Having spent more than 16 years developing space transportation systems, Cook says NASA's new crew and cargo launch vehicles effort is "the one" -- an once-in-a-lifetime project.
"I've had many wonderful experiences in developing advanced space transportation technologies, but nothing compares to this project," he says. "This is fundamentally why I came to NASA. It's the challenge of a lifetime -- to develop and fully integrate a new human-rated launch system from beginning to end. It's something that NASA hasn't done in 30 years."
Cook joined NASA in 1990 as a lead systems engineer in the Preliminary Design Office. In 1993, he was named interim manager of the Delta Clipper-Experimental Advanced Flight Vehicle Project, a single-stage-to-orbit technology demonstrator first tested by NASA in 1995.
From 1995 to 1997, Cook was deputy manager of the X-33 Flight Vehicle Program, an effort to develop the reusable, single-stage-to-orbit X-33 experimental technology demonstrator. From 1998 to 2004, he was deputy manager of the Advanced Space Transportation Program and Next Generation Launch Technology Program. Cook was deputy manager of Marshall's Space Transportation Programs and Projects Office from 2004 to 2005. He also served during that time as a deputy lead for NASA's Exploration Systems Architecture Study, which laid out NASA's future plans for implementing the Vision for Space Exploration.
Cook has received numerous awards, including a NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2006 for his contributions as a member of the Exploration Systems Architecture Study. He also received in 2006 the Holger Toftoy Award from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. The award recognizes outstanding technical management by a section member in aeronautics and astronautics. He received NASA's Outstanding Achievement Medal in 1999 for notable accomplishments in the area of Space Transportation. He also has received three NASA Administrator Commendations and three Marshall Center Director Commendations, and was named in 2005 to NASA's Senior Executive Service, the personnel system covering most top managerial and policy positions in the executive branch of the federal government.
Cook received a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering and mechanics in 1990 from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He graduated in 1985 from Thomas Jefferson Senior High School in Bloomington. Cook's parents, Tony and Shirley Cook, and his sister, Nicki, reside in the Twin Cities.
ATK Thiokol, also of Minneapolis, Minn., is the prime contractor for the first stage element of the Crew Launch Vehicle.
Today, Cook says it's an honor to lead a world-class team of rocket scientists from around the world and to be part of NASA's new exploration goals.
"From the earliest days of the nation's existence, Americans have been explorers. It's what has made us a great nation," Cook says. "Space holds unlimited promise, and it's up to us to continue this tradition -- to expand the frontier beyond our own backyard to the farthest reaches of our solar system."