steely-eyed missile man

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The American NASA engineer John Aaron, widely regarded as a “steely-eyed missile man” for the important roles he played as a flight controller during the Apollo 12 and Apollo 13 missions.

From steely-eyed (having a hard, strong, and determined mentality or mindset) +‎ missile +‎ man, probably popularized by its use in the book Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 (1994) by the American astronaut Jim Lovell (born 1928) and the American author and journalist Jeffrey Kluger (born 1954); and the film based on the book, Apollo 13 (1995), where capsule communicator 1 Andy (acted by Brett Cullen) says to a technician (Walter von Huene) whose team has devised a solution to a problem with the spacecraft’s carbon dioxide filters: “You, sir, are a steely-eyed missile man.”[1] The book implies that the term was in use at least during the early years of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which was established in 1958: see the quotation.





steely-eyed missile man (plural steely-eyed missile men)

  1. (US, astronautics, often humorous, slang) An astronaut or engineer who quickly comes up with a solution to a difficult problem while under extreme pressure.
    • 1973 May 13, Emsley Armfield, “Picture this … a countdown stops”, in Brevard Sentinel: An Edition of the Orlando Sentinel Star, Orlando, Fla.: Sentinel Star Co., →OCLC, page 4, column 4:
      The "hold" in the countdown of a rocket firing has a long and infamous history. It doubtless is as old as the "countdown" itself. We Brevardians have seen thousands upon thousands of pictures of countdowns in progress, of green lights flashing, green buttons being pushed, fuming LOX [liquid oxygen] boiling off, steely-eyed missile men battening hatches and astronauts climbing aboard.
    • 1994, Jim Lovell, Jeffrey Kluger, chapter 6, in Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13, Boston, Mass.; New York, N.Y.: Houghton Mifflin Company, →ISBN, page 157:
      Among the men in the Canaveral blockhouse and the Houston control room, there was no greater tribute a controller could be paid than to describe him, in the rough poetry of the rocketry community, as a "steely-eyed missile man." There weren't many steely-eyed missile men in the nasa family. [Wernher] Von Braun was certainly one, [Christopher Columbus] Kraft was certainly one, [Gene] Kranz was probably one too. John Aaron, a twenty-seven-year-old wunderkind from Oklahoma, had recently become one as well.
    • 1995 June 28, Jane Summer, “Tom Hanks, co-stars relive ‘NASA’s finest hour’”, in Dave Long, editor, Pharos-Tribune, volume 151, number 153, Logansport, Ind.: Logansport Newspapers, page A10, columns 5–6:
      At first glance, the stolid engineers and impassive pilots of the Apollo program weren't colorful movie characters. As [Ron] Howard [director of Apollo 13 (1995)] got to know the stoic astronauts and "steely-eyed missile men" of Mission Control, he saw their sense of humor, their wilder sides and the doubts they carry like everyone else.
    • 1995 July 3, Richard Corliss, “Hell of a Ride: With Tom Hanks as the Pilot, Apollo 13 is a Stirring Tribute to the Heroes who Fly High in the Face of Failure [film review]”, in Time, volume 146, number 1, New York, N.Y.: Time Inc., →ISSN, →OCLC, page 53, column 1:
      When [Ron] Howard toured nasa, he learned that the visitors' favorite question was: How do you pee in space? "Well," he decided, "that means we'll have to show it in the movie." So they do. Added [Tom] Hanks: "Maybe in the sequel we'll show how they go doo-doo." Spoken like a steely-eyed missile man.
    • 2011, Andy Weir, chapter 16, in The Martian, New York, N.Y.: Crown Publishing Group, published 2014, →ISBN, page 213:
      “Message reads: ‘Houston, be advised: Rich Purnell is a steely-eyed missile man’.” / “What?” Brendan asked. “Who the hell is Rich Purnell?”
    • 2012 February, Elaine E. Liston, “July”, in Chronology of KSC [Kennedy Space Center] and KSC Related Events for 2011 (NASA/TM-2012-216309), Merritt Island, Fla.: John F. Kennedy Space Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, →OCLC, page 210:
      NASA Entry Flight Director Tony Ceccacci said the motto in Mission Control is "flight controllers don't cry." He tried to remain stoic – like a steely eyed missile man – after his team guided Atlantis and its crew through an era-ending atmospheric re-entry. "This will be the last time this team will be together," Ceccacci said, struggling to maintain his composure.
    • 2017, Dallas Campbell, “Preface”, in Ad Astra: An Illustrated Guide to Leaving the Planet, London: Simon & Schuster UK, →ISBN, page 10, column 1:
      The three astronauts – Commander Yuri Malenchenko, a steely eyed missile man and veteran of six space flights; Tim Kopra, the American NASA flight engineer, who doesn't seem to mind being 'the other Tim,' for today at least; the man of the moment, Major Tim Peake, second flight engineer, the first British ESA [European Space Agency] astronaut, who is grabbing all the headlines in the UK – have a busy morning ahead of them.
    • 2017 October 26, John Aaron, interviewee, David Marshall, interviewer, Oral History Interview of John Aaron (NASA Interview Project)‎[2], Lubbock, Tex.: Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Texas Tech University, archived from the original on 2024-03-15, pages 65–66:
      D[avid] M[arshall]: [] Tell me about your steely-eyed missile man nickname. [] J[ohn] A[aron]: Well you know, I ran across the term, steely-eyed missile man a year before that. There was a group of thinkers even back in the—maybe it goes all the way back to military that they were kicking around this thing called steely-eyed missile man. [] I think it, particularly in the early days of NASA, [] it just had to do with the way people react when calamities happen. If they act calmly. It was not a term that was used much in Houston. In fact, it was not even a term that they coined, I don't think, having to do with anything I did in real time. It just kind of evolved. People kind of discovered that term. [] DM: Did anyone call you that at NASA? JA: No. Unh-uh. [] I probably didn't go through all the wickets to deserve that reputation. I mean, I probably do fit the mold. But I'm not the only guy there who was a steely-eyed missile man.




  1. ^ Apollo 13 (1995) – Just Breathe Normal Scene” (0:1:14 from the start), in YouTube[1], 2017 August 4 (about the 1 hour 30 minute point in the film).

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