George Mueller, a coolly decisive, hard-driving engineer, scientist and administrator who was given much of the credit for enabling NASA to meet President John F. Kennedy's manned moon landing timetable, as well as for initiating the Skylab and space shuttle programs, died Monday at his home in Irvine, California. He was 97.

His death was announced by NASA. The cause was congestive heart failure, said Arthur Slotkin, a family spokesman.

As head of NASA's Office of Manned Spaceflight, with the title of associate administrator, Mueller bore much of the burden of seeing to it that the space agency's Apollo program met the challenge Kennedy issued in a celebrated 1961 address: landing a man on the moon -- and bringing him back -- by the end of the 1960s.

During the Cold War, a manned moon landing became a major American goal and was considered a symbol of the country's will and determination, particularly in view of what was perceived as a space race with the arch adversary of the time, the Soviet Union.

In Mueller, NASA was said to have installed in one of its top posts a man of great abilities, in both engineering and administration, and a leader who understood both rocket science and human psychology. At key moments, according to space histories, he showed himself to be adept at assessing risk and to be bold in acting on his assessments.

One of his significant contributions was what came to be known as the "all up" philosophy of rocket and spacecraft testing. As its name suggests, "all up" was a form of examining everything to be used for a space mission all at once, as opposed to incremental modes of proceeding inch by slow inch.

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As applied to the space program, it implied specifically such techniques as the testing of all three stages of the giant Saturn V booster rocket while they were coupled together and with a payload attached to boot. It was reported that the scheme had its doubters, among them such leading lights of rocketry as Wernher von Braun.

But the forceful Mueller proved persuasive enough to overcome all such reservations, and it was "all up" for the mammoth Saturn V, the launch vehicle upon which NASA pinned its hopes of sending Americans to the moon.

Ultimately, a NASA history read, "it is clear that without all-up testing the first manned lunar landing could not have taken place as early as 1969," the last year that met Kennedy's schedule.

Mueller was born in St. Louis on July 16, 1918. As a boy, he was captivated by science fiction, and he built model airplanes powered by rubber bands. Radio was coming into vogue, and he built his own receiving sets.

Mueller received a master's degree, also in electrical engineering, from Purdue University in Indiana in 1940. He worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey and took graduate courses at Princeton University.

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Mueller's marriage to Maude Rosenbaum ended in divorce. Survivors include his wife of 37 years, the former Darla Hix Schwartzman, of Irvine; two daughters from his first marriage, Jean Porter of West Liberty, Kentucky, and Karen Hyvonen of Southampton, Massachusetts.; two stepchildren whom he helped raise, Wendy Schwartzman of Calabasas, California, and Bill Schwartzman of Villa Park, California; 13 grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.