HAPPY STORIES make for happy evenings, and stories rarely are happier than that of David Thompson, recipient of the 2019 National Space Trophy, who turned a boyhood filled with small rocket launches into the formation of a well known aerospace company.
And, looking around at smiles on the faces of the black-tie crowd of nearly 750 at the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation Gala April 26, it was evident they were all happy for him as former astronaut and Orbital Sciences Senior Vice President Frank Culbertson presented the award and another former astronaut and Space Trophy winner, Gen. (Ret.) Thomas Stafford, presented him with an Omega watch.
Thompson, retired president and CEO of Orbital ATK, along with two Harvard Business School classmates, founded Orbital Sciences Corp., in the early 80s. Later, it grew to become Orbital ATK, which last year was purchased by Northrop Grumman for a mere $9 billion.
Film star William Shatner, who you knew as Star Trek’s Capt. James Kirk, was an honored guest and recipient of RNASA’s Space Communicator Award. Unfortunately, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstein had to cancel his visit the day before the gala.
After RNASA Chairman Rodolfo Gonzalez welcomed the crowd, saying that “the foundation’s mission is to encourage, recognize, honor, and celebrate U.S. space achievement. The members of the foundation truly appreciate the enormity of the work that is represented by tonight’s audience,” and dinner featuring Petite Filet of Beef and Crab Cakes, the smiling crowd cheered as astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Dr. Shannon Walker passed out marble Stellar Awards to several dozen of our best and brightest – a ceremony that has become known as the space industry’s Academy Awards.
And, what a crowd it was, filling up the giant Houston Hyatt Regency Ballroom. Folks like former NASA Administrator Michael Griffin, Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer, Glenn Research Center Director Janet Kavandi, JSC Deputy Director Vanessa Wyche and Engineering Director Kevin Window, Barrios Technology CEO Sandra Johnson and President Robert McAfoos, Boeing Houston Site Director Mark Mulqueen and Vice President Jim Chilton and Lockheed Martin Vice President Dr. Mike Hawes, along with their spouses.
Glancing around, you might also have spotted Jacobs GM Lon Miller, MEI Technologies CEO David Cazes, Oceaneering Vice President and GM Mike Bloomfield, United Launch Alliance COO John Elbon, Bastion Technologies CEO Jorge Hernandez, MRI Technologies President and VP Debbie and Tim Kropp, Dynetics CEO David King, KBRwyle President Byron Bright and Senior VP Dr. Vernon McDonald, ERC Manager Darryl Smith, Ares Vice Presidents Dr. Jimmy Young and Bill Wessel, SAIC Vice President David Nuckles, Aerojet Rocketdyne VP Scott Ward and Leidos Manager Wes Tarkington – many with their wives.
After dinner, the program kicked off with a year-in-review film by Space City Films, after which NASA’s Deputy Assistant Administrator for Communications Bob Jacobs welcomed honored guest William Shatner, best known for his role as Capt. James Kirk of Star Trek’s USS Enterprise, saying that “I know his work has touched everyone in this room…And it inspired most people here to do what they’re doing today.”
Shatner shared his thoughts about mankind’s hunger for adventure this way, “what is inside our heads that compels us to set forth on the precipice of existence? For what? Is it ego? Is it pride? Is it a death wish? Is it the sense of adventure that propels the human spirit into unfamiliar modes, into life threatening environments because the challenge is there? Is it humanity’s need to experience the unknown to grasp it, embrace it, absorb the experience as only a human can? Yeah, the challenge of life over death, that’s it.”
Former Space Trophy winners Tommy Holloway, Glenn Lunney and Eileen Collins were in the crowd, as was retired JSC Director Ellen Ochoa, who came down from Idaho to see all her old pals.
Other familiar faces included Aviation Weekly Editor Mark Carreau, Clear Lake Chamber Chairman Brian Freedman, well known retirees Pat and Wendell Wilson, Leslie and Ted Cummings and Eleanor and Arnie Aldrich, plus astronauts Richard Hieb, Randolph Bresnik, Scott Altman, Mark Polansky, Robert and Dr. Megan Behnken, Richard Arnold and Bob Curbeam.
Space Center Rotary members mingling with the crowd included President Nancy Anderson and husband, Robert; President-elect Mike Porterfield and his wife, Cindy; Patty and John Branch, Susan and Bill Taylor, Suzi Howe, Dr. Jean Walker, Scott and Martha Rainey, Stan Galanski, Frank Perez and Priscilla Ennis, Melinda Mintz, Geoff and Vivian Atwater, Karen and Gary Johnson, Clay Boyce, Jordis and Bob Wren, Jeanette and Mark Hollis, Adrienne and Dr. Vissett Sun, along with Rotary District Gov. Carmen Cuneo, Rotary District Gov.-elect Gary Gillen and his wife, Janice; and former Rotary International Vice President Jennifer Jones with her dad, John Jones.