Debus a Forefather of NASA, Kennedy Space Center
Dr. Kurt H. Debus

Dr. Kurt H. Debus was director of Kennedy Space Center from July 1962 until November 1974. Image credit: NASA
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"To go to the moon is symbolic of man’s leaving Earth, the opening of a vast new frontier."

Twenty-five years after his death, the words of Dr. Kurt H. Debus continue to challenge future generations to steadily travel down the path of progress he helped map out for space exploration.

Before the creation of the National Aeronautics and Space Act in 1958, Debus and his colleagues already had taken the first technical steps toward traveling to the moon. Their scientific contributions to NASA helped turn President John F. Kennedy’s vision of landing man on the moon a reality.

Throughout his time with the United States ballistic missile systems development program, Debus helped lay the groundwork for human spaceflight. He overcame problematic re-entry heating challenges for long-range missiles and successfully launched the first orbiting object, the Explorer I Earth satellite.

With new aspirations, NASA turned to Debus and his team for help in the race to space.

In 1959, Debus began converting old launch complexes into Launch Complex 56 to support the Mercury-Redstone program for the first suborbital missions. He contributed largely to the development of the complex's new abort scenarios and techniques for detecting and initiating emergency scenarios.

Debus' insistence on demonstrated reliability during the 1961 Mercury-Redstone precursor flights helped NASA attain the confidence to launch a manned spacecraft. He believed "at least one unmanned shot must be obtained with flawless performance" before the flight of one of the Mercury Seven astronauts.

NASA Headquarters officials and the Space Task Group added an extra MR-Booster Development flight that flew with complete success on March 24, 1961. Less than two months later, NASA successfully launched Alan Shepard into space - a first for American history books, and the beginning of President Kennedy's manned lunar landing challenge.

After 14 years as Kennedy's center director, Debus retired in 1974 and completed his historical tenure with words of inspiration for the next generation of innovators:

"This is not an ending, but a point of departure. I don’t fear overpopulation or that the Earth will poison itself with pollution. The Earth will find ways to become that beautiful island that our astronauts saw when they viewed it from the moon … and I can say, 'I told you so.' "
Kate Frakes
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center