They arrived at Seattle’s Museum of Flight in more than 100 boxes — nearly four decades worth of personal papers from George Abbey, the Seattle native and former director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center who was a key figure behind the Apollo program, the International Space Station, the Space Shuttle program and many other landmark initiatives from the U.S. space agency.
“I like to characterize him as the Wizard of Oz — the guy behind the curtain,” says Dan Hagedorn, curator at the Museum of Flight. “He was the one who was really making the decisions of a very central nature about the Space Shuttle program.”
Abbey has donated his archive of papers to the Museum of Flight, a substantial addition to the museum’s collection of historical documents.
On Friday afternoon, Abbey himself will visit the museum to make the donation official. His appearance kicks off a weekend full of space events at the museum — including a sneak peek Sunday of the Space Shuttle Trainer being assembled inside the Charles Simonyi Space Gallery, plus panels and lectures featuring astronauts including Buzz Aldrin, Gene Cernan, Dick Gordon and T.K. Mattingly, plus other legendary figures from NASA.
Abbey’s office files went to the National Archives, but the collection being received by the Museum of Flight represents his personal papers. The museum assigned two archivists to process the collection and create a thick binder that serves as finding aid. Researchers will now be able to visit the museum to sift through the documents, and some of the papers will also be exhibited publicly.
Among the surprises in those boxes: Marginal notes and memo-routing slips that provide unexpected insights into what was going on in the minds of Abbey and others making key decisions during pivotal moments in NASA history.
“It’s just a wonderful collection. We’re delighted to have it,” said Hagedorn. “It adds substantially to other space-related collections that we have here, and certainly will be one of our crown jewels.”