Robert "Gene" Austin

Robert Eugene “Gene” Austin was born March 26, 1939 in Dekalb County, AL and peacefully passed away July 25, 2021. He was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years (whom he knew for 73 years), Judith Lewis Austin, who passed away from a glioblastoma brain tumor September 30, 2019.They traveled extensively throughout the U.S. along with some international travel. 

Gene enjoyed a 42+ year career as a charter member of NASA and exclaimed when he retired, ‘there will never be another golden age of space, and I can say I worked in it.’ His senior year of high school English, he was challenged to write something which interested him and he chose to write about sending people to Mars.


In the beginning of his career, he and a team of engineers spearheaded the development of nuclear propulsion for space travel but it was never used due to world events changing and the way people viewed it (interestingly, decades later, NASA has deemed nuclear propulsion as a ‘game changer’ and how we can get to Mars in half the time of the fastest possible trip with traditional chemical propulsion). He then worked on a team on ion propulsion which used electrical particles to build up thrust and propel objects through space. NASA’s Deep Space 1 probe, launched in October 1998, using ion propulsion to
do planetary exploration.

His most notable and cherished accomplishments were marrying Judy, his two daughters (and five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren), working on Wernher Von Braun’s team to plan the manned missions to Mars, and traveling with Von Braun to meet with Vice-President Spiro Agnew to explain how we’d one day accomplish this feat. His last project with NASA was as the program manager for the X-33 future space vehicle before retiring. He always told people he had a wonderful career and he never felt like he worked a day in his life because he loved what he did.

He is survived by his children, Deirdre (James) Gunn and Kristen (Tim) Beasley; his grandchildren, Anna, Heather, Russell, Emma, and Hannah; along with seven great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister, Jane Darden; mother-in-law, Jewell Lewis; and brother-in-law, Bob Lewis. His brother-in-law, Joe Darden, passed away July 27, 2021.

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming, “Wow! What a ride!” – Hunter S. Johnson

What a ride indeed! Enjoy your next journey discovering all the secrets to the universe and galaxies – Godspeed, Dad!

Visitation will be from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday, July 31st at First United Methodist Church with the funeral service immediately following at the church. Burial will be in Maple Hill Cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, we ask for donations to be made in Gene Austin’s memory (a donation was made in lieu of flowers for the funeral): The NoahBRAVE Foundation, 813 Charming Court, Franklin, TN 37064. Venmo to @NoahBRAVEFoundation ( The NoahBRAVE foundation was established in memory of Lori and Tom Evans’ son, Noah, who was heavenly healed from a brain tumor (DIPG) at the age of 13. This foundation exists to find a cure for DIPG brain tumors and to support families.