November 14th, 2023
NASA Associate Administrator and former astronaut Bob Cabana is retiring effective Dec. 31 after an illustrious 38-year career with the space agency.
Cabana is the third-highest ranking civil servant at the agency, behind only NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. He has been a key figure in shaping NASA’s endeavors and accomplishments.
“Bob is one of the finest leaders I’ve ever known. I’ve been fortunate to know him for decades, and I couldn’t be prouder to have had such a great colleague and friend throughout the years,” Administrator Nelson said in a Nov. 13 agency news release announcing Cabana’s retirement. “Bob is an example of the American grit, passion, and excellence that are woven into the fabric of our nation. Pam and I are eternally grateful for the years of service and positive influence he has had on the United States, NASA, and space exploration and wish him all the best on his upcoming retirement.”
Cabana’s journey with NASA began in June 1985 when he was selected as an astronaut, completing his training in 1986. Over the course of his career, he flew four shuttle missions, twice serving as commander. Notable missions include being the pilot aboard space shuttle Discovery’s STS-41 mission in October 1990, which deployed the Ulysses solar probe, and Discovery’s STS-53 mission in December 1992, which was a Department of Defense mission that carried a classified primary payload.
In July 1994, he served as commander of STS-65 aboard space shuttle Columbia, which launched the second International Microgravity Laboratory mission.
Finally, he was commander of Endeavour’s STS-88 mission in December 1998, which was the first assembly flight for the nascent International Space Station. That mission took the first U.S. module, the Unity node, to space to connect with the Zarya module, which was the first Russian component orbited for the project.
The STS-88 mission marked the first of 37 space shuttle flights to the space station through 2011 to assemble, maintain and resupply the orbiting laboratory. The orbiters were retired in 2011, but the ISS program continued unimpeded and is currently serviced by a fleet of international and commercial spacecraft. The outpost has also remained continuously staffed since November 2000 by astronauts and cosmonauts from around the world and is expected to remain in low Earth orbit through at least 2030.
After spending 38 days in space over his four space missions, Cabana held various leadership roles within NASA. He served as the deputy director of Johnson Space Center in Houston and later as the director of Stennis Space Center in Mississippi in October 2007. That was followed a year later by his appointment as the director of Kennedy Space Center in 2008.
During his more than a decade-long tenure at KSC, Cabana oversaw the transition of the facility into a multi-user spaceport, supporting a wide range of space exploration activities, including the first crewed flight to the ISS aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon in 2020, the first human spaceflight to orbit from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttles.
Cabana’s remarkable career reached its pinnacle when he was appointed as the associate administrator of NASA in May 2021. In this role, he led NASA’s 10 center directors and the mission directorate associate administrators at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., contributing significantly to the agency’s strategic direction in its Moon to Mars plans.
Before joining NASA, Cabana had a distinguished military career, graduating from the Naval Academy in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He was a naval aviator and graduated with distinction from the Naval Test Pilot School in 1981, logging over 7,000 hours in more than 50 different aircraft. Cabana retired as a colonel from the U.S. Marine Corps in September 2000.
In recognition of his contributions to space exploration, Cabana was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2008.
“Leading the exceptional people at NASA who explore the universe for the benefit of humanity has been a great honor,” Cabana said. “From flying in space to guiding teams across the agency in achieving NASA’s mission, I am grateful for an incredible career at NASA and in the space industry, and thankful for all the enriching friendships made throughout this journey. I have been blessed to be part of such an amazing team these last 38 years and serving as associate administrator alongside Bill and Pam has been a highlight.”
The STS-88 mission post-flight presentation. Video courtesy of NASA, AI upscale courtesy of Retro Space HD
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.