Over the course of nearly 30 years, Steven Szabo’s career was marked by sustained accomplishments and achievements in engineering, program management and leadership. Friend, role model, and inspiration to many, Szabo’s untimely death of cancer at age 51 was a loss felt deeply at the center.
Szabo began his career at the NASA Lewis Research Center in 1963 after earning his engineering degree from Ohio Northern University. He joined Lewis as a systems engineer in the Centaur Project Office. In just a few years, he was promoted to project engineer for the Centaur full-scale engine firing tests at Lewis’ Plum Brook Station. In 1973 and 1974, he served as project engineer for the Centaur Standard Shroud cryogenic unlatch tests aimed at qualifying the shroud for Titan/Centaur missions and served as project engineer for the Titan/Centaur missions. During that time, he also studied for and received his Master of Science in engineering science from the University of Toledo.
Within the Launch Vehicles Directorate, he served as chief of the Mechanical Engineering Branch, chief of the Systems Engineering Office, and chief of the Seasat Launch Vehicles Office. He was awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1978 for exceptional project management skill and leadership in establishing and directing the launch vehicle system support for Project Seasat. His efforts led to the solution of weight and payload capability problems on schedule and below budget estimates. In that same year, he was named associate division chief of Lewis’ Vehicles Engineering Division. He also authored or coauthored 10 papers on cryogenic and propulsion systems on launch vehicles.
Szabo served as deputy chief of the Launch Vehicles Division until 1984 when he was named chief of the Space Transportation Engineering Division. In that position, he directed the work of more than 100 employees responsible for the engineering requirements of the design, testing and operational phases of Lewis’ Atlas/Centaur and Shuttle-Centaur programs.
In 1986, Szabo was given the task of establishing the Engineering Directorate at Lewis, and served as director of Engineering from 1986 until September 1991. In establishing this new directorate he was particularly proud of the addition and improvement in engineering capabilities and of the growth in personnel. For organizing and managing the new directorate, he was awarded the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal. He was appointed head of Space Flight Systems in 1991, a position that would require ensuring continued progress on the Advanced Communications Satellite and the successful launch of the Mars Observer spacecraft. However, it was shortly after this appointment that Szabo was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which he battled courageously for the next two years until his death in March 1993.
Szabo was also recognized in 1988 when he received the Presidential Rank of Meritorious Executive for his distinguished achievements as an engineer and a leader. In 1989 he received NASA’s Federal Engineer of the Year Award.
What was most often noted about Szabo’s career, in addition to his myriad technical abilities, was his capacity to inspire others and build relationships. His natural leadership skills were marked by personal investment in the success of others. To celebrate his career and memory, the center created the Steve Szabo Engineering Excellence Award, our most prestigious engineering award.
- Steven Szabo articles (1969-94)
- Center Honor Award Descriptions (2016)
- Centaur Pressurized Propellant Feed Tests (1972)
- Centaur Standard Shroud Cryogenic Unlatch Tests (1973)