Richard G. Smith

Oversaw the First Launch in the Space Shuttle Program

Inducted in 2011

As the third director of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, Richard G. Smith oversaw the first launch in the space shuttle program. His administration spanned the completion of the space shuttle buildup, the launch of 25 shuttle missions and the beginning of the planning effort for the International Space Station.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Auburn University in 1951, Smith became a member of the rocket research and development team at Redstone Arsenal. In 1960, he joined NASA when the Development Operations Division of the Army Ballistic Missile Agency became the nucleus for the establishment of the George C. Marshall Space Flight Center.

Smith served in positions of increasing responsibility at Marshall Space Flight Center. He played various roles in the former Guidance and Control Laboratory and in the Systems Engineering Office prior to being appointed deputy manager and later manager of the Saturn program. In 1974, Smith became director of science and engineering and was named deputy director of Marshall Space Flight Center later that year.

In 1978, Smith accepted an assignment as deputy associate administrator for Space Transportation Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. He served as director of the Skylab task force appointed by the NASA administrator to represent NASA both preceding and following the re-entry of Skylab.

Smith was named the third director of the John F. Kennedy Space Center in 1979. The center has been the launch site for every U.S. human space flight since 1968. In 1981, under Smith’s leadership, the world watched as Columbia launched for a two-day journey around the Earth. The successful mission ended when the shuttle landed at Edwards Air Force Base. The mission was a monumental achievement for NASA and Smith’s dedicated team.

In 1984, following the completion of the STS-41-B mission, Challenger landed at the shuttle landing facility at Kennedy Space Center for the first time. The landing facility was developed under Smith’s leadership, and the Challenger landing represented another major success for Smith. Today, the Kennedy facility is the preferred end-of-mission landing site, with Edwards Air Force Base standing by as the alternate site.

Smith was a member of the NASA Executive Development Education Panel, and he also served as a member of the Auburn Alumni Engineering Council.

Smith received the NASA Medal for Exceptional Service in 1969 and the NASA Medal for Distinguished Service in 1973 for his contributions to the Apollo lunar landing program and the Skylab program. In 1980, he received NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal for his management of the Skylab re-entry program and was awarded the rank of meritorious executive in the Senior Executive Service. He was awarded an honorary doctorate in science by the Florida Institute of Technology in 1981. He was also awarded an honorary doctorate in science by his alma mater, Auburn University, in 1983.

Smith is married to the former Louise Self. They have three children and two grandchildren.

View Other AEHOF Members