Robert Cabana, director of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center, boasts an impressive resume. Born in Minneapolis, he graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1971. He was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and completed Naval Flight Officer training in Pensacola in 1972. He then served as an A-6 bombardier/navigator and, in 1975, began training and was designated a naval aviator in 1976.
A distinguished graduate of U.S. Naval Test Pilot School, he was selected as an astronaut candidate in June 1985 and completed his initial astronaut training in July 1986. A veteran of four spaceflights, Cabana has logged 38 days in space, serving as the pilot on STS-41 and STS-53 and mission commander on STS-65 and STS-88. Following his retirement as colonel from the Marine Corps, he took on executive roles at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, where he ultimately became deputy director. In October 2007, Cabana was appointed director of NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. A year later, he became the 10th director of John F. Kennedy Space Center, where he still serves. His awards include induction into the Astronaut Hall of Fame and being named an Associate Fellow in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, in addition to receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross, among other honors.
Known as Bob, his love of flying began at age 5 during a trip to Baltimore with his mother. While there, he was taken to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., where he first laid eyes on the Spirit of St. Louis, hanging from the museum’s massive ceiling. That childhood experience had a profound impact on his life and his desire to fly. And fly he did. During his career, Cabana has logged more than 7,000 hours in 45 different aircraft.
As an astronaut, Cabana logged more than 900 hours in space. While Commander of the Shuttle Endeavour in December 1998, he had a memorable experience during his International Space Station construction mission. He and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev entered the newly joined modules that comprised the space station together side by side. “I think it’s pretty neat to have seen it grow from a small two-module space station 15 years ago to this current facility that is the size of a football field,” says Cabana.
Even though he is not in space, he still is on the move as an avid bicyclist. He loves Florida, where he is able to indulge his hobby year-round. A leader, a dreamer and a visionary, Cabana still gets choked up when he experiences the Shuttle Atlantis exhibit now on permanent display at the KSC Visitor Complex.
Just as the Spirit of St. Louis touched him as a child, he eyes Atlantis with optimism for the future: “I’m hoping that’s what Atlantis does for future astronauts—and they see that and they are inspired as I was. That’s my goal.”