Wiley E. Williams
Space operations pioneer Wiley E. Williams, 92 died peacefully in his sleep in Lake Charles, LA November 17. Wiley was born April 10, 1929 in Winter Haven, FL, the son of Bertha Day Williams and Wiley J Williams.
Wiley received many medals, awards and other honors during his work career but one he always remembered was from a designer of the Lunar Module that ferried and protected the 12 Americans as they descended from lunar orbit to the surface of the moon. The MIT graduate simply shook William’s hand and said… “We designed the very unique LM Landing Radar, but you Ops guys made it work. I want to tip my hat to you.”
Space Operations, which was William’s specialty, is rarely recognized by the outside world but is the essential job of taking hundreds of pieces of hardware and scientific instruments built by scores of laboratories and manufacturers and making them all work together for a specific mission. In the case of Apollo it was estimated that more than 500,000 people across the country had a role in the program and involved millions of pieces of hardware.
A graduate engineer of Georgia Tech, Williams moved to the Space Coast after serving as an officer in the Army in 1960, where he actively served in Korea. He was hired by the Army Ballistic Missile Agency to work on launching Pershing Missiles. A year and a half later he was hired by NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center, Florida Operations. In the heady days of Mercury, Gemini and later Apollo he quickly moved up into management as Chief of the System Test Integration Office in 1963 and NASA Test and Operations Manager after the Kennedy Space Center was founded.
It is rare that someone does such a good job for a government agency that their boss suggests they go to work at a different company but that’s what happened with Williams. He had been working on the Gemini program that helped develop the rendezvous maneuvers and techniques needed to carry out lunar missions. His operational skills were recognized by the Grumman company after they won the contract to build the Apollo Lunar lander and they offered him the job as Director of Spacecraft Operations. This put him in charge of hundreds of engineers designing and building the subsystems such as the ascent and descent propulsion systems, reaction control systems, rendezvous and landing radar, electrical power, pyrotechnics, ground navigation/control, structures and crew systems. His earlier NASA experiences had prepared him to plan and direct the integration of all these subsystems into the first spacecraft to operate entirely in outer space with people aboard.
For his outstanding role in Apollo, Grumman Aerospace named Williams Vice President of Grumman Programs in Florida.
Despite the new title and responsibilities Williams decided to return to NASA to work as the NASA/KSC Director of STS Cargo Operations for Space Transportation System 9/Spacelab 1, a joint NASA and European Space Agency mission flown using the “Columbia” vehicle. Wiley was a recipient of the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 1978. This award is the second highest award in the NASA Incentive Awards Program. It is granted for significant achievement or service characterized by unusual initiative or creative ability that clearly demonstrates substantial improvement in engineering, administrative, space flight, or space-related endeavors which contribute to NASA programs.
Wiley joined Grumman Technical Services Division in July 1985 as Vice President for Integrated Ground Operations as a member of the joint Lockheed/Grumman/United Space Boosters Shuttle Processing Contract (SPC) senior leadership team. He assumed responsibilities and President of Grumman Technical Service, Inc. for four years, beginning in July 1987 when Fred Haise (Apollo XIII crew member) moved from that role to lead Grumman’s Space Station contract.
While President of Grumman Technical Services Division, Wiley's team at Kennedy Space Center was recognized repeatedly as "the best of the best" for quality and excellence when they were awarded the Defense Security Service's "James S. Cogswell Award for Security Achievement" in May 1989 and NASA's coveted "George M. Low Trophy for Quality and Excellence" in November 1991.
In 1985 he returned to Grumman as a Vice President and later as President. Astronaut Fred Haise recalls “I first worked with Wiley during the Apollo Program during the Apollo Program on the Lunar Module preparations for Launch. He was a great NASA Manager overseeing what was a challenging task as vehicles were being delivered that were missing flight hardware and had other carryover problems. I worried about leaving GTSI when Grumman was awarded the System Engineering and Integration contract for Space Station Freedom but was comforted by knowing Wiley would be in charge.
Wiley consummated contracts with Saudi Arabia for the radar O & M, the Navy for the TA4J contract. Those were Major contracts. There were a number of smaller contracts for the O & M of Army and Navy simulators.
In 1991 Wiley accepted a job as Vice President of Bionetics Corporation in Hampton, Virginia, where he managed day-to-day contract operations and new business activities. He ended his work career there. Later moving back to Titusville, FL then moving to Madison AL to be close to his daughter, Teresa Brammer. He was able to travel back to Florida many times and was able to attend the 50 Anniversary of the Apollo XI/Grumman launch in 2019 where he was greeted by many engineers and co-workers.
With all the amazing things Wiley did in his life, the most important thing Wiley would want you to know is John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him, should not perish but have everlasting life. Wiley knew The Lord personally and would want you to know as well.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 67 years Sara Coppage Williams, Mother Bertha Day Williams, Father Wiley J Williams, Brother Richard A Williams. Remaining to cherish his life story; sister Carolyn Kelly, daughter Teresa W Brammer (Pete) Grandchildren: Sally O'Connor, Ray Floyd III, Jeff Floyd (Cody) Great Grandchildren: Brooklyn Floyd, KariBeth Floyd, Hayley Floyd, Jeffery Floyd, Trey Floyd, Mayson Floyd, Arrow Floyd, Dixie Floyd Great-Great Grandchildren: Haygen Douget, Matthew Zittle, Braxton Clavier, including many cousins, nieces and nephews.
A “Celebration of Life” service will be held December 03, 2021 at Legacy Chapel, Madison Alabama at 2PM with viewing at 1PM.
The family would like to thank the staff at Grand Cove Rehab and Nursing in Lake Charles, Dr. Jason Langhofer, Louisiana Hospice, and her three in home care givers for the wonderful care given to Mr. Williams.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Alzheimer’s Association or to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital (P. O. Box 50, Memphis, TN 38101-9929) in his memory.
Words of comfort to the family may be expressed at www.johnsonfuneralhome.net
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