There was one problem Abbey didn’t fix, however. In early 2001, news of a $4 billion cost overrun on the ISS embarrassed the agency just as the George W. Bush administration was coming into office. Declaring that “there needs to be reform in human spaceflight,” Administrator Goldin removed Abbey from the JSC director’s post. In January 2003, Abbey left NASA for good.
Today he is a fellow at the James Baker Institute of Houston’s Rice University, where he researches and writes policy papers and arranges seminars. He takes time for travel, visiting family in Europe and attending Celtic music festivals. He’s still not afraid to speak his mind. He thinks the shuttle should have kept flying for another five years, and—always an advocate of international cooperation—believes China should be invited to join the space station partnership.
Abbey is a modest man. He doesn’t think about his legacy, and says he isn’t aware he even has a legacy. If Abbey had a credo, though, it would probably be this: Gather as much information, technical and personal, as possible. Know the individuals and the procedures. Make the decision. Dispense punishment in private. And stay out of the limelight. That’s for others.
Michael Cassutt is a novelist and television writer in Studio City, California. His latest novel is Heaven’s Shadow (Ace, 2011), a collaboration with David S. Goyer.