Even Capt. Kirk was there for 2019 RNASA Space Gala

June 1st, 2019

David Thompson, left, retired CEO of Orbital ATK, is presented the 2019 National Space Trophy by Northrup Grumman Space Systems Group President Frank Culbertson at the RNASA Space Gala April 26 at the Houston Hyatt Regency.

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.

Boeing Site Director Mark Mulqueen and his wife, Dawn, right, stop for a photo with United Launch Alliance COO John Elbon and his wife, Brenda, at the Rotary Space Gala, held Friday, April 26 at the Downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel.

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.

RNASA Foundation Chairman Rodolfo Gonzalez and his wife, Anangela, wear big smiles as the Space Gala comes to an end.

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.

Retired CEO of Orbital ATK named Space Trophy recipient

February 1st, 2019

David W. Thompson will receive the 2019 National Space Trophy.

The Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation has selected David W. Thompson, retired president and CEO of Orbital ATK, to receive the 2019 National Space Trophy. The banquet honoring him will be held Friday, April 26, at the Houston Hyatt Regency in downtown Houston.

“The RNASA Foundation is extremely excited about recognizing Mr. Thompson as the guest of honor at the 2019 RNASA Space Award Gala,” Foundation President Rodolfo Gonzalez said, going on to invited the public and the aerospace community to attend the black-tie event.

Thompson was nominated for the award by Northrop Grumman Corp. Space Systems Group President Frank Culbertson. In recommending Thompson, Culbertson cited his “four decades of outstanding leadership and pioneering innovations in the development and operation of launch vehicles and satellite systems, which have transformed scientific, exploratory, commercial and defense applications of space.”

Thompson said, “It is with great enthusiasm, and even greater humility, that I accept the 2019 National Space Trophy! My heart-felt thanks to the RNASA Board of Advisors for selecting me for this highly-regarded honor.” Thompson began his four-decade long career in space technology as a young engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978, following summer internships during college and graduate school at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Johnson Space Center and Langley Research Center.

His career as a space entrepreneur and business leader accelerated in the early 1980s when he and two Harvard Business School classmates founded Orbital Sciences Corp., a startup that focused on the development of space systems for commercial, military and scientific customers. Over the subsequent 35 years, Thompson led his company from its infancy to Fortune 500 status, reaching more than $5 billion in annual revenue and employing nearly 15,000 people in 2018.

As one of the world’s first commercial space enterprises, Orbital pioneered the investment of private capital for space systems development and manufacturing in the 1980s and 1990s. During this time, the company created a family of six new launch vehicles, including the Pegasus rocket and several missile defense vehicles, as well as an array of lower-cost satellites for both low-Earth orbit (LEO) and geosynchronous (GEO) applications. Thompson’s vision was that diverse customers – from traditional government agencies to new privately-owned satellite operators – would use these products, and that commercial-style business practices would reduce their costs and delivery times. The success of this strategy is reflected in the more than 1,000 rockets and satellites delivered by the company to over 50 customers since the 1980s.

Under Thompson’s leadership, Orbital expanded beyond its original business of research and manufacturing into providing space-based services in the 1990s and 2000s. More recently, the company partnered with NASA to develop the Antares rocket and Cygnus spacecraft commercial cargo system for the International Space Station, which has conducted 12 supply missions to ISS over the past six years. And later this year the company plans to inaugurate the world’s first in-space robotic servicing and repair of GEO communications satellites, launching an exciting new form of commercial space logistics operations.

In 2014, Orbital and its long-standing industry partner, Alliant Techsystems, merged to form Orbital ATK, a larger, more diversified space and defense systems company with a broader product line, including rocket propulsion for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift vehicle as well as motors for tactical and strategic missiles. Finally, last year Northrop Grumman purchased Orbital ATK for over $9 billion, forming Northrop’s Innovation Systems business sector. The merger with Northrop is expected to generate faster growth and new products, as well as creating greater opportunities for thousands of the company’s space engineers and scientists.

Thompson earned his B.S. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a M.S. in Aeronautics from Caltech, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

He is an Honorary Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), a Fellow of the American Astronautical Society and the Royal Aeronautical Society, and a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics.

He was AIAA’s president for the 2009-2010 year, and today serves as a member of the Boards of Trustees of Caltech, the Aerospace Corp., the Carnegie Institution for Science, the Hertz Foundation, and the Princeton University Astronomy Council. He was recently appointed to the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group and has been honored with numerous awards including the National Medal of Technology by President George H.W. Bush, as well as Virginia’s Industrialist of the Year and High-Technology Entrepreneur of the Year by Inc. Magazine.

Visit www.rnasa.org/tables.html to reserve a table for the RNASA Banquet and find information about sponsorships and tickets. To reserve a room at the Houston Hyatt Regency, visit www.rnasa.org/houston.html or call 713-654-1234 and request the RNASA group rate.