March 20 (UPI) -- Glynn S. Lunney, the engineer who played a key role in NASA's early efforts to launch astronauts into space and who led Mission Control through some of its most crucial missions, died after a long illness, the agency confirmed. He was 84.
NASA, which said Lunney died Friday, didn't offer details on his cause of death.
"Glynn was the right person for the right time in history," Mark Geyer, director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement. "His unique leadership and remarkably quick intellect were critical to the success of some of the most iconic accomplishments in human spaceflight."
According to NASA, Lunney joined the agency in 1963, becoming its fourth flight director.
He led the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs before retiring from the agency in 1985, then led human spaceflight activities in private industry with Rockwell International and, later, United Space Alliance until his retirement in 1995.
Lunney received the Presidential Medal Freedom as part of the Apollo 13 Mission Operations Team in recognition of actions that made it possible to save three Apollo 13 astronauts aboard a spacecraft that became disabled on the way to the moon on a 1970 mission.
Under Lunney's guidance, the team worked with the astronauts to shut down the command module systems so that the lunar module could be used as a lifeboat for the crew during the journey home to Earth keeping the crew alive and safe while NASA's teams developed longer-term plans for successful re-entry and splashdown.
"I felt that the Black Team shift immediately after the explosion and for the next 14 hours was the best piece of operations work I ever did or could hope to do," he said later. "It posed a continuous demand for the best decisions often without hard data and mostly on the basis of judgment, in the face of the most severe in-flight emergency faced thus far in manned space flight. There might have been a 'better' solution, but it still is not apparent what it would be. Perhaps, we could have been a little quicker at times but we were consciously deliberate."
He also played a key role in the planning and negotiations that led to the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, culminating in the docking of an American Apollo and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 1975 and paving the way for cooperative efforts on the International Space Station.