Engineering alum and NASA space flight team member O'Neill dies

Engineering alum and NASA space flight team member O'Neill dies

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John O'Neill
John O'Neill

John O’Neill, a University of Nebraska mechanical engineering graduate and key member of NASA’s space flight teams for 35 years, died August 18, 2014 in League City, Texas. He was 82.

O’Neill was born on November 26, 1931, in Jackson, Nebraska. After high school, he served in the Air Force, gaining a love for the aerospace industry by flying F86D Interceptor fighter jets.

After leaving the Air Force, he enrolled at the University of Nebraska and graduated in 1960 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering. He earned a master’s degree in engineering at the University of New Mexico in 1963, while he worked as part of the Technical Development Program at the Sandia National Laboratories.

Later that year, O’Neill began his NASA career at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, working in various roles for the Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle and Space Station programs. From 1967-74, O’Neill was Chief of the Flight Planning Branch and Crew Procedures Division, playing a key role in the flight plans for missions that included the Apollo 11 moon landing.

O’Neill was promoted four times before becoming NASA’S Deputy Director of Mission Operations in 1987. In 1994, O’Neill was appointed Director of Mission Operations when the legendary Gene Kranz retired. He was promoted to Director of Space Operations in 1996 and stayed in that position until his retirement in 1998.

After his NASA retirement, O’Neill was a consultant to the United Space Alliance and a senior advisor to the University Space Research Associate (USRA). He also worked with the Project Management Development Program at NASA until 2013 and was a founding member and chairman of the board for Space Center Houston, the visitor’s center at the Johnson Space Center.

In 1971, during the latter stages of the Apollo program, O’Neill received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in addition to a NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He was honored as NASA’s Engineer of the Year in 1989 and was awarded a University of Nebraska Alumni Achievement Award in 1991.

He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Mary; daughters Mary and Peggy, sons Dan and Colin, 13 grandchildren and a great grandson.