November 13, 2009
Colloquium Speaker: Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson, USAF (ret)
Lt. Gen. James A. Abrahamson, USAF (ret) was always called “Gen Abe”. He worked with JHUAPL briefly when he was NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Flight (and responsible for the Space Shuttle; and the Kennedy, Marshall, and Johnson Space Flight centers). He held that space responsibility for 3 years, starting on the second flight of the Space Shuttle and leading ten safe and successful flights. Then President Reagan selected him for the job of the first Director of his Strategic Defense Initiative program (also called “Star Wars Program”), in April of 1984. He led that program for over 5 years, until his retirement from the Air Force in March 1989. It was during those “Star Wars Years”, that Abe truly discovered the Applied Physics Lab’s advanced capabilities in space enterprises. He and his SDI Organization people had many activities with APL, but the three “Delta” series projects were the largest and most impressive. GenAbe brought a long history in successful project management to the above jobs. His first “space job” was as a green AF lieutenant, and the Space Craft project officer for the Vela Hotel, nuclear test satellite “sentinel”. He also led the Air Force’s first “smart missile” development, the television guided Maverick missile—the only DoD “total package procurement” project that was successful and where the original contract stayed intact. He was the Director of the Multinational F-16 fighter development, test, and initial deployment program, and then got his taste of headquarters management at the Air Force Systems Command. He was also a fighter pilot and test pilot, was selected as an Astronaut on the A.F. Manned Orbiting Laboratory program, but did not get to fly in space when President Nixon cancelled that highly classified project (he then was too old to be transferred to NASA’s astronaut corps). His civilian jobs since retirement have included President and Founder of the Hughes Aircraft Co. Transportation Sector (working on advanced aerospace technology for GM automobiles); and then as working Chairman of Oracle Corporation. After that he has explored being an entrepreneur with several of his own small companies. He is currently Chairman of GEOEYE Corporation (commercial space imaging) and Chairman of Global Relief Technologies (working with the Red Cross and others automating disaster relief and related applications).
Within the time limits, I would like to provide some personal observations about the start of the Strategic Defense Initiative. That sets the stage for some summary comments and observations about JHUAPL’s absolutely vital role in SDI. That vital role is a story of JHUAPL’s incredible technical successes in 3 key projects while I was the Director; and more later with other Directors. I would like to especially recognize the challenges you took on, and some of the key people there, who made this success. This will include some personal observations about your entire team and a few personal stories. Finally, if sufficient time remains, I will provide some background and some personal comments about SDI and the Cold War, and where we are today! My congratulations on 50 years helping to build the triumph's of the Space Efforts of the United States.