Moultrie Observer

February 4, 2012

Wayne Littles: From Moultrie to the moon shot … and beyond

Hometown honors retired NASA executive

Kevin Hall
The Moultrie Observer

MOULTRIE — EDITOR'S NOTE: The following story has been corrected from its original version.

The year J. Wayne Littles graduated from Moultrie High School — 1957 — Russia launched the world’s first man-made satellite, Sputnik 1. The Space Race was on, and America was losing.

Five years later, with a mechanical engineering degree from Georgia Tech in his hand, Littles joined the competition. Over the next half-century, the Moultrie native helped the United States put a man on the moon, develop a reusable space shuttle and establish a space station.

“I got into the program very early,” Littles recalled. “It was a very exciting time.”

By the time he left NASA, Littles was involved in cooperative efforts with the Japanese, the European Space Agency — and even the Russians.

At the time of his retirement from NASA, Littles was director of the Marshall Space Flight Center but had been the space agency’s associate administrator for the Office of Space Flight — one of the top posts in NASA.

On March 1, Littles will receive the inaugural Colquitt County Career Achievement Award during a banquet at the Colquitt County Arts Center. Tickets are on sale now for $50 each at the Moultrie-Colquitt County Chamber of Commerce.

The award will recognize individuals who spent a significant time in the Colquitt County School System then went on to extraordinary success elsewhere. Chairman Brooks Sheldon said it’s intended to be a source of community pride, as well as an inspiration to current students to show what heights they too can reach.

On March 2, Littles will make a presentation to Colquitt County High School seniors. The presentation is one of the award’s requirements.

At the March 1 banquet, special recognition will also be given to the late William Frank McCall Jr., a Moultrie-born architect who shaped his field throughout the southeastern United States.

Because the address to students is a requirement of the Colquitt County Career Achievement Award, Sheldon said, the recipient must be living. The special recognition is a chance to highlight the works of Colquitt County natives who have died.

Littles was one of eight nominees submitted for the Career Achievement Award, Sheldon said.

“The bar is very high,” he said, but he withheld the names of the other nominees with the intention of presenting awards to them in coming years.

Littles was born in Moultrie on July 14, 1939, to Aileen and the late Wright W. Littles, and he is married to the former Bebe Blalock of Moultrie. They are the parents of Dr. Jerrol Wayne (Jay) Littles Jr. and Dr. Louise Littles Strutzenberg, and they and have four granddaughters.

Littles received a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Georgia Tech, a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Southern California and a Doctor of Philosophy with a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in mathematics from the University of Texas. He has an honorary Doctor of Science degree from the University of Alabama. He is a graduate of the Advanced Management Program at Harvard University. He was elected to the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honorary Society, the Pi Tau Sigma Mechanical Engineering Honorary Society, the Phi Eta Sigma Honorary Society and the Briaerean Honorary Society.

Littles began his professional career with Rocketdyne/North American Aviation in Canoga Park, Calif., working on the H-1 and F-1 Saturn rocket engines for the Apollo Program missions to the moon. He managed the Heat Transfer Research Laboratory for Teledyne-Brown Engineering before joining NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) as an engineer in 1967, where he served in various engineering and management positions before becoming director of science and engineering for MSFC, managing 2,000 engineers and scientists. He later served as deputy director for the Marshall Space Flight Center.

He was promoted to NASA chief engineer at NASA Headquarters where he had technical responsibility for all NASA programs. He was then promoted to associate administrator for the NASA Office of Space Flight, responsible for management of space shuttle, space station, and a wide range of science programs with a budget of $6.5 billion. In this position the Johnson, Kennedy, Stennis and Marshall space flight centers reported to him and he was responsible for interfacing with congressional committees and panels regarding NASA budgets and NASA programs and with Russian and other international partners’ government and industry leaders.

When NASA made a decision to manage its programs at field centers rather than at NASA Headquarters, he returned to the Marshall Space Flight Center in January 1996 and served as director of the center until his retirement from NASA. During this period, he was responsible for managing shuttle propulsion projects, the Chandra SpaceTelescope, micro gravity and global hydrology research, propulsion technology and space station elements.

After retiring from NASA he served as vice president and general manager for Pratt and Whitney’s liquid space propulsion business in West Palm Beach, Fla. There he was responsible for development of the RD 180 rocket engine in cooperation with NPO Energomash near Moscow, the management of the RL 10 rocket engine program and hypersonic engine programs. Since retiring from Pratt and Whitney he has served as an engineering and management consultant for Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Pratt and Whitney, International Launch Systems, United Launch Alliance, and NASA.

Littles twice received the nation’s highest civil service award, the Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive, the first presented by President George H. W. Bush and the second presented by President Bill Clinton. He had earlier received the nation’s second highest award, the Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive, from President Ronald Reagan. He twice received NASA’s highest award, the Distinguished Service Medal. He also received two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal and the NASA Medal for Equal Opportunity. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and he received the Roger W. Jones Award for Executive Leadership from American University. He has been elected to the Academy of Distinguished Engineering Alumni, Georgia Tech.

He has served on the board of governors of the National Space Club, Advisory Board of the Huntsville/Madison County Botanical Garden Society and the Advisory Board of the School of Engineering of the University of Alabama/Huntsville. He’s a member of the International Academy of Astronautics, of the Evaluation Committee for the National Space Development Agency of Japan, of the Board of Directors of West Palm Beach United Way, and of the Huntsville Rotary Club. He’s been a participant in CASA and Habitat for Humanity.

He and Bebe have been a members of Trinity United Methodist Church for 45 years.