Mike Leinbach Joins United Launch Alliance as Head of Human Spaceflight Operations

Former NASA shuttle launch director Mike Leinbach has joined United Launch Alliance (ULA) as the company's Director of Human Spaceflight Operations. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

Mike Leinbach is known as the straight-talking launch director that sent space shuttle crews thundering into space from 2000 until the very last shuttle mission, STS-135, which took place in July of 2011 (excluding STS-122, which Doug Lyons was launch director of). It was announced today that Leinbach has joined Denver, Colo., based United Launch Alliance (ULA) as the company’s Director of Human Spaceflight Operations. 

“We are fortunate to have Mike with his wealth of human spaceflight experience join the ULA team,” said George Sowers, ULA’s vice president of Business Development. “His background in leading overall space shuttle launch activities for more than a decade, executing 37 space shuttle launches, will be invaluable as we develop human spaceflight capabilities for our Atlas and Delta systems.” 

Leinbach’s career up to this point has been with NASA at the space agency’s Kennedy Space Center located in Florida. Leinbach began his nearly 30 years with NASA in 1984 when he began working for the agency as a structural engineer. Within four years he had become a test director, a position that placed him in charge of all operations at Launch Complex-39, where the space shuttles were launched from. In this capacity he was responsible for and conducted the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test or TCDT as well as other critical aspects of launch operations. 


Mike Leinbach was interviewed by the author just after the final Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test of the shuttle program.

In January of 1988 until May of 2000 Leinbach served as the deputy director of the Space Station Hardware Integration Office. It was here that Leinbach was placed in charge of components destined for the orbiting International Space Station. One of his responsibilities was to test out the capabilities of various station components before they took the expensive trip to orbit. 

In August of 2000 Leinbach was selected as Shuttle Launch Director becoming the person that gave the iconic final “go” for launch. In 2003, however, his knowledge and experience with the space shuttle would be put to a far more somber use when he led the initial debris recovery team searching for the remains of space shuttle Columbia. He was subsequently tapped to lead the Columbia Reconstruction Team whose mandate was to find out the cause of the accident as well as to prevent a recurrence of the disaster. 

Leinbach demonstrated his wit and humor during a recent interview. It is Leinbach's strong personality that made him one of NASA's foremost leaders during the final days of the shuttle era. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

It was Leinbach’s leadership abilities that led to him being awarded NASA’s Medal for Outstanding Leadership in 2003 and the Presidential Rank Award in 2004. Leinbach holds a Bachelor of Science in Architecture and a Master of Engineering in Civil Engineering that he received from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. 

“With ULA having been selected as the launch vehicle of choice for three of the four Commercial Crew Development companies, Mike’s expertise in human launch systems provides a strong synergy in bringing together two world-class launch cultures,” said Jerry Jamison, vice president of Launch Operations.

Leinbach was with NASA for some 27 years. During that time his abilities propelled him to the forefront of NASA's hierarchy. Here is seen with former First-Lady Laura Bush. Photo Credit: NASA


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