Bob Cabana toured NASA's massive Kennedy Space CenterVehicle Assembly Building 38 years ago, a young Navy midshipman awed by theenormity of Saturn 5 moon rockets on the eve of the Apollo 13 launch.
Then a 21-year-old honors student on a field trip, the futureHall of Fame astronaut couldn't have guessed he was destined to direct thenation's primary spaceport, as NASA winds down its shuttle program and revs upan American returnto the moon.
"We had the 'gold badge tour,' and I remember walkingthrough the VAB in the spring of 1970 with those Saturn 5 rockets stacked up togo to the moon," Cabana, 59, said Tuesday.
"I never dreamed I'd be an astronaut. You know, I heldthose guys in such high esteem," he said. "But I surely never dreamedI would be the director of Kennedy Space Center."
Now the director of NASA's Stennis Space Center in Bay St. Louis, Miss., Cabana will take the helm at KSC in mid-October, while hispredecessor pursues a private-sector opportunity with a company that doesclassified work for the Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence agencies.
Current KSC Director Bill Parsons, 51, will take a job withLockheed Martin Mission Services, which specializes in space and defense workthat often requires what's known as Special Compartmented Informationclearances from the federal government.
It's a world Parsons is familiar with. He worked onclassified Department of Defense shuttle payloads early in his career beforejoining NASA in 1990.
The opportunity with Lockheed Martin came up, and Parsonsdecided he had reached the point in his career where he needed to decidewhether to remain with NASA until retirement or pursue private-sectoropportunities.
He opted for the latter.
"It was a very personal decision. It was a verydifficult decision," Parsons said. "It just felt like it was theright thing to do, so I decided to go ahead and accept their offer, and letother people have a chance at running the Kennedy Space Center."
Parsons makes $168,000 a year as KSC director.
A veteran shuttle pilot and mission commander with fourflights in space, Cabana has equally impressive experience in human spaceflight management positions.
He served as NASA chief astronaut, director of Flight CrewOperations, manager of international operations for the International SpaceStation program, director of NASA operations in Russia and deputy directorof the International Space Station program.
Cabana also has served in "city manager"-typepositions: He was deputy director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston before taking the center director post at Stennis.
"Bob has seen it all and done it all in humanspaceflight, and done it with an open, collaborative style," NASAAdministrator Mike Griffin said in a statement. "There is just no betterteammate. He will be a terrific successor to Bill Parsons as director ofKSC."
Parsons agreed. He's known Cabana — who was inducted intothe U.S.Astronaut Hall of Fame earlier this year — for two decades, and thinksNASA could not have made a better pick.
"Bob Cabana is one of the finest. He will do afantastic job," Parsons said. "I'm very, very happy that Bob hasdecided to take this on."