Neal Edwin Ausman Jr. was born in Nix Hospital, San Antonio, TX on October 5, 1935 to Neal Edwin Ausman, West Point Class of 1930, and Mary Elizabeth Poole. He was the eldest of three children. As an Army Air “fledgling,” Neal began at Randolph Field, TX and ended up at Mitchel Air Force Base, Long Island, NY, with many stops in-between. Neal particularly enjoyed living in Tokyo, Japan as a teenager. During his sophomore and junior years, he attended the Tokyo American High School. In 1953, he graduated from Hempstead High School in Long Island, NY, where he played football and ran track, concentrating on sprint and long jump events. He came very close to going to the New York State finals but was beaten in the qualifying rounds by Jim Brown, who went on to play football for Syracuse University and the Cleveland Browns.
Neal spent the next four years at the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY. He was a member of Company C-2, Class of 1957. While at the Point, Neal participated in track and field, was a Cadet Chapel acolyte and a member of the Spanish Club. A ready wit and an amiable nature were two of Neal’s many assets. Academics proved to be no difficulty for the ‘Long Island Flash.’
After graduating, he chose the United States Air Force and was assigned to the Strategic Air Command as a navigator for KC-97 tanker aircraft. He married his first wife, Andrea De Note, in 1958, and they had two daughters, Lisa Marie and Christine Ann. On his last Air Force assignment at the Eastern Test Range, which scheduled all launches for Cape Kennedy, his duties were “booking” some 11,000 tests, including 150 major launches annually on the range and keeping the 10,000-mile range in a green light status. This required constant coordination with range users, who were military, government contractors, NASA, and various universities.
While at the Eastern Test Range, Neal was bitten by the space exploration bug. After 10 years in the Air Force, he decided to pursue a career in space exploration. He resigned his commission to work for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.
Neal’s work with JPL included involvement in several space exploration projects that furthered our understanding of the solar system. He contributed to the Mariner, Pioneer, Helios, Viking, and Voyager missions.
The highlight of his career was with the Galileo mission to Jupiter. In 1977, Neal was selected as the deputy mission operations and engineering manager, which involved a 300-person flight team responsible for managing the spacecraft flight design, the software used on board the spacecraft, and ground computers to control the operations of the spacecraft. In 1989, he was appointed Galileo mission director and served in that capacity until his retirement on February 28, 1997, after 29 years with JPL. He was responsible for overseeing the day-to -day activities of the Galileo flight team operations, ensuring the spacecraft did what it was supposed to do every minute of the day for seven years and four months. When problems arose, Neal directed the flight team to determine what went wrong and to fix the problem. The overall mission consisted of 11 orbits of Jupiter with a close flyby of four large moons on 10 of 11 orbits. Neal left the project after successfully managing the testing and uplinking of new flight software for the imaging instrument, the attitudes control system, and the central computer, as well as successfully using the software during the first six Jupiter orbits. Neal said that the process of uplinking the software was the equivalent of conducting a brain transplant while the patient was running a marathon. For Neal, his time in the USAF and JPL was a perfect way to spend his professional life since space explorations was his passion.
Neal’s family always came first despite this devotion to his career and hobbies. His first marriage ended in divorce in 1972. On October 2, 1982, he married Shelagh Tyrrell, a lovely English lady. Shelagh was the love of his life for his last 34 years, and there was never a happier couple.
Neal was an accomplished wood sculptor, a designer and maker of stained glass windows, a photographer, and an avid traveler. He was always optimistic and a confident leader. He volunteered his time and talents to his communities’ fire safety council by helping to establish an evacuation route for Fallbrook residents, which was put into use during the 2007 wildfires. He was vice president of the neighborhood residents association for many years. He also volunteered for after school programs in which he shared his knowledge of space exploration.
Neal is survived by his wife, Shelagh; his daughters, Lisa Marie Leets and Christine Ann Hudson; grandson Kevin Hudson; and granddaughters Whitney Leets, Victoria Leets, and Jennifer Hudson. In addition, he has a sister, Mary ‘Jo’ Adams, and a brother, William ‘Bill’ Ausman. Neal’s family and friends miss him, but the wonderful memories of the kind, positive, intelligent, honorable man he was will always live on.