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NASA Mourns Loss of Former Kennedy Director Forrest McCartney
Kennedy Space Center Director Forrest S. McCartney Image above: Forrest McCartney, pictured here in 1989, was director of NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center from Sept. 1, 1987, to Dec. 21, 1991. Photo credit: NASA
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Launch Director Bob Sieck and Kennedy Space Center Director Forrest S. McCartney with space shuttle Atlantis Image above: Launch Director Robert Sieck (left) and Kennedy Space Center Director Forrest McCartney pose with space shuttle Atlantis on Nov. 20, 1990, following the first end-of-mission shuttle landing at Kennedy in more than five years. Photo credit: NASA
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Forrest S. McCartney, former director of NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center, died July 17, 2012, with his family at his side. He was 81. McCartney, of Indialantic, Fla., was Kennedy's director from Sept. 1, 1987, until Dec. 21, 1991.

"It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of former Kennedy Space Center Director Forrest McCartney," said Kennedy Director Robert Cabana. "Forrest was one of the finest gentlemen I have ever known, and no one cared more for the KSC team than Gen. McCartney. He was always out in the processing areas talking with the troops and getting the pulse of KSC. He was a man with the highest integrity who always did the right thing. He will most certainly be missed."

McCartney served as director of Kennedy under detail from the U. S. Air Force beginning Oct. 1, 1986. He came to NASA from the position of commander, Air Force Space Division and concluded a distinguished 35-year military career on Aug. 31, 1987, with a retirement ceremony at the office of the Secretary of the Air Force in the Pentagon.

“It was a privilege and honor to have been a part of the Kennedy Space Center team during the return to flight activities following the Challenger accident," McCartney wrote in June prior to Kennedy's 50th anniversary celebration. "The KSC shuttle workforce was a world-class group of professionals that made their mark on spaceflight history. I will always be grateful to them for letting me join their team."

Born March 23, 1931, in Ft. Payne, Ala., McCartney experienced hard work as a young man which influenced his educational goals.

"I worked for the county one summer on road construction," he said during an interview for an oral history project in June 2008. "Figured out I didn't want to be in road construction, that was for sure."

His choices that followed shaped his career and positioned him to become a leader in another form of transportation -- the roadway to space.

McCartney graduated from Gulfcoast Military Academy in 1949. He received a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from the Alabama Polytechnic Institute in 1952. His first military assignment was with the Air Force Logistics Command at Robins Air Force Base, Ga.

McCartney earned a master's degree in nuclear engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, in 1955.

McCartney's first Air Force assignments included duty as a satellite controller at the Satellite Control Facility in Sunnyvale, Calif., in 1959 during early space operations; an assignment at the Office of Space Activities, Air Force Systems Command Headquarters at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., from 1961 to 1966; and service as a project officer in the Titan II program and various Air Force communication satellite programs.

He then was assigned to the Directorate of Space at U.S. Air Force Headquarters in Washington, D.C., in 1967, as the program element monitor for satellite communications programs and other selected space-related efforts.

Gen. McCartney transferred in 1971 to the Air Force Eastern Test Range, headquartered at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., as the director of Range Engineering.

In June 1974, McCartney was assigned to the Space and Missile Systems Organization at Los Angeles Air Force Station as the systems program director for Fleet Satellite Communications Systems (FLTSATCOM). In August 1976, he was reassigned within the organization as deputy for Space Communications Systems.

During an interview in 2008, McCartney recalled, "FLTSATCOM ushered the military services, particularly the Navy and the Air Force, into an arena of tactical communications. The satellite permitted naval vessels, as well as airplanes, to have satellite communications for command and control."

McCartney moved to Norton Air Force Base, Calif., in September 1979, as vice commander of the Ballistic Missile Office. In November 1980, he was named commander of the Ballistic Missile Office and MX Program director. He became vice commander of the Air Force Space Division in May 1982.

In May 1983, McCartney was promoted to his retirement rank of lieutenant general and named commander of the Air Force Space Division and vice commander of the new Air Force Space Command.

Spacecraft programs with which McCartney was directly associated include the FLTSATCOM series of military communications satellites, the DSCS communications satellites, the Navstar Global Positioning System, and the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS).

McCartney was at Kennedy's helm during the Space Shuttle Program's recovery following the space shuttle Challenger accident. He was especially concerned about the impact the accident had on Kennedy's workforce and his thoughts on the subject could apply to the changes ongoing at Kennedy today.

"Anytime you get perfect, you just think you're perfect, you're either fooling yourself or you're not connected with reality," McCartney observed during his oral history interview. "The workforce changes. It atrits, it gets older a year every year. Folks retire and new folks come along, trying to capture the tribal knowledge as it's sometimes called. All of that is a constant active effort that just has to be addressed."

He saw the task through to the successful launch of shuttle Discovery's STS-26 Return-to-Flight mission in September 1988.

After joining NASA, he was the recipient the Military Astronautical Trophy in 1987; NASA's Distinguished Service Medal in 1989; the National Space Club's Goddard Memorial Trophy also in 1989; and the National Space Club Florida Committee's Kurt H. Debus award in 1992.

McCartney was active in the local community, previously serving on the board of trustees of the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Fla., which awarded him an honorary doctorate degree, and on the boards of the Space Coast Science Center and the Merritt Island Wildlife Association.

McCartney is survived by his wife, the former Ruth Griffis of Memphis, Tenn., and two daughters, Margaret and Worthy.

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To read his entire oral history project interview, visit:


Kay Grinter
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center