George D. Hopson

Sentinel over NASA’s Long Lineage

Inducted in 2005

Alabama native George D. Hopson is project manager for the space shuttle main engine. It is the most advanced liquid-fueled rocket engine ever built. Since 1989, he has seen the project certified and flight-implemented. He supervises 2,100 employees on the $300 million project. Of course, he is eminently qualified for the work, having served Marshall Space Flight Center for over four decades. Unexpectedly, this NASA project manager is 76 years old.

Joining NASA in Huntsville in 1962, Mr. Hopson was an eight-year veteran of the industry. He was also a Marine Corps veteran, enlisting in 1945, one semester before graduation. Additionally, he had earned a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering in 1950, through the ROTC program at The University of Alabama. Commissioned in the Army Corps of Engineers, he joined a combat engineering battalion in Korea, earning the Bronze Star. When conflict ended, he returned to Tuscaloosa to complete a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Mr. Hopson’s first professional assignment was in propulsion engineering, at General Dynamics in 1954. He exploited this opportunity to learn “the works” on heat transfer and thermal dynamics. In 1962, he joined the von Braun team at the Marshall Space Flight Center, as Fluid and Thermal Systems Branch chief, within the old Astronautics Laboratory. Captivated by the challenges of NASA’s “race to the moon,” he accepted increasingly responsible positions, reflecting his versatility in technical matters. He contributed much to the Saturn V project, then advanced to chief of the Life Support and Environmental Branch. There, lacking any advanced technology, he developed means for our first space station, Skylab, to orbit Earth for 171 days, settling questions of human capacity for extended stays in space. More recently, Mr. Hopson managed Marshall Space Flight Center’s portion of the International Space Station, preserving its viability through perceptive modification and downsizing.

In 1979, Mr. Hopson became director of the Systems Dynamics Laboratory at the Marshall Space Flight Center; in 1981, he was asked to direct the Systems Analysis and Integration Laboratory, developing the shuttle’s control systems, structural analysis, and aerodynamics. When he became deputy director for space transportation systems in 1988, seeing that NASA engineering would meet long-range goals became his focus. Among other things, he broadened the Civilian Space Technology Initiative. In his current post, his team has significantly enhanced space shuttle safety and reliability using new high-pressure turbomachinery. With such all-encompassing experience under his belt, Mr. Hopson is continually tapped as a source of knowledge, of wisdom, and of the integration of yesteryears’ lessons with tomorrow’s demands.

In 2002, Mr. Hopson received NASA’s exclusive Presidential Rank Meritorious Executive Award. A further honor, NASA’s Distinguished Service Medal (for illustrious contributions to a mission), was presented to him near the time of his 40th anniversary at the Marshall Space Flight Center. He had twice accepted NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal (for his role in the first orbiter shuttle flight and for his role in return-to-flight following the loss of the shuttle Challenger) and its Exceptional Service Medal (for his work on Skylab).

Mr. Hopson was married to the late Marguerite Hopson. The couple lived on a farm near the Marshall Space Flight Center. They raised four children together.

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