Michael D. Leinbach
M.E. Civil Engineering
|Alma mater||University of Virginia|
|Title||Shuttle Launch Director|
Michael D. Leinbach (born c. 1953) was the Shuttle Launch Director at NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida. He was responsible for activities in the overall shuttle launch countdown, including planning, policy, and execution.
Leinbach was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, and graduated from Yorktown High School, Arlington, Virginia in 1971. He received a Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 1976, and a Master of Engineering in Civil Engineering (emphasis in structural dynamics) in 1981 from the University of Virginia.
In 1984, Leinbach joined NASA as a structural engineer. Initially, Leinbach was a lead design engineer for various launch pad systems, including weather protection and the Emergency Egress Slide Wire system. In 1988, Leinbach became a NASA Test Director (NTD), responsible for directing daily operations at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex. In 1991, he was named Shuttle Test Director, and conducted the terminal countdown and launch of seventeen shuttle missions, in addition to being responsible for all planning activities associated with pre-launch.
From 1998 to May 2000, Leinbach was the deputy director of Space Station Hardware Integration, responsible for all International Space Station (ISS) processing at KSC, and at contractor locations. During this time, he oversaw the development of a program to verify functionality and operability of the first phase of the ISS Program.
In May 2000, Leinbach was assigned to serve as Assistant Launch Director, and was promoted to Launch Director in August 2000.
In 2003, following Space Shuttle Columbia's breakup upon re-entry, Leinbach was the leader of the initial debris recovery team in Texas, and Louisiana. He was named to lead the Columbia Reconstruction Team, whose goal was to determine the cause of the accident based only on the debris collected and reassembled at KSC. Following the investigation, Leinbach suggested loaning the debris to various academic institutions for study, to help develop safer spacecraft for the future.
Leinbach led the NASA Shuttle Launch Team for all shuttle missions since 2005 except STS-122, polling all areas prior to launch, and giving the final "go" for launch. Leinbach was NASA's final shuttle launch Director, giving the final shuttle launch GO call to Atlantis (STS-135) in 2011. He retired from NASA four months later, ending his decades-long tenure at the agency on 30 November 2011. The following year, he began overseeing human space operations for United Launch Alliance (ULA), which builds and flies Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets. He remains dedicated to promoting long-term human space flight in commercial, political, and government arenas.
In 2015, Leinbach began work with author Jonathan Ward on a project called Bringing Columbia Home. According to the website, "Bringing Columbia Home is part of a project begun by Mike Leinbach and Jonathan Ward in 2015. Our vision is to celebrate the amazing work done by NASA, FEMA, the FBI, the US and Texas Forest Services, dozens of other federal, state, and local agencies, and thousands of private citizens—people from every walk of life who made it their mission to bring the space shuttle Columbia and her crew home one last time." The project includes the website, a blog by the same name written by both men, a Facebook community, and their book, which was ultimately published in January 2018.
Leinbach has received a number of group achievement and performance awards, including NASA's Exceptional Service Medal in 1993, "For leadership in planning and conducting shuttle launch countdowns" and NASA's Medal for Outstanding Leadership in 2003 "For significant contributions to the Space Shuttle Program." In November 2004, Leinbach was awarded the Presidential Rank Award, an award given by the office of the President of the United States for "Exceptional long-term accomplishments."
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