Tennessee Tech University’s favorite astronauts come home to receive honorary doctorates

thumb Bell_Crouch_stageWhile congratulating 1,271 graduates as the newest Tennessee Tech University alumni at Saturday’s commencement ceremonies, the university also honored its two favorite astronauts and distinguished alumni with TTU’s first honorary doctorates.

Presiding over his final commencements, TTU President Bob Bell presented an honorary doctorate in science to scientist and astronaut Roger Crouch and an honorary doctorate in engineering to U.S. Navy pilot and astronaut Capt. Barry Wilmore.

Before conferring the degrees upon Crouch and Wilmore, the TTU Brass Ensemble played "Fanfare for the Common Man," composted by Aaron Copland. Copland wrote the piece in 1943 for the common man who, after fighting n World War II, deserved a fanfare, Bell explained.

thumb Bell_Otuonye_Wilmore_Rencis_2"Today, that piece pays tribute to two common men who have distinguished themselves through uncommonly exceptional service to our nation and to our space program," Bell said. 

"We are most proud of these outstanding TTU alumni and their contributions to society, and I can't think of any two individuals who are better suited to receive this university's first honorary doctorates."

TTU has two spring commencement ceremonies, and Crouch and Wilmore received their doctorates during separate ceremonies. In all, Tennessee Tech awarded degrees to nearly 1,300 students in 41 areas of undergraduate study and 20 areas of graduate study. Ten individuals received doctoral degrees. Graduates represented 75 Tennessee counties, 31 states and 14 other countries.

Crouch encouraged the graduates at the morning ceremony to take responsibility for themselves and to be persistent when pursuing a goal.

"You are responsible for the world in which you live. It is not the responsibility of the government, the church, a social club or your fellow citizens, it's solely up to you," Crouch said. "If you want something to change, you personally have to do something different to bring about that change."

"If you think small things can't affect the quality of life, just recall a time when you were in bed and there was a mosquito or fly in the room."

The secret to making a difference, Crouch said, is to not be afraid to try new things.

"There may be many false starts and do-overs, but as long as you never quit, you are not a failure," Crouch said. "Some NASA folks are famous for saying, 'failure is not an option.' But in the case of Apollo 13, there were failures. What was not an option was quitting."

Crouch jokingly added that along with persistence, you must have flexibility. "You can never catch a fish in a pond with no fish," he said.

"For me, I wanted to be a fighter pilot and then eventually be an astronaut and go to the moon," said Crouch. "I am colorblind, so the regular pilot and astronaut routes were not available to me. But I kept trying, and when I was almost 56 years old and after nearly 35 years of rejections, I was selected to fly into space."

Crouch went on to log 471 hours in space. He spent four days on his first mission, which was cut short because of a fuel cell issue, then 16 days on his second mission.

A native of Jamestown, Tenn., Crouch said, “there’s no one here more common than me.”

He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from TTU in 1962 and master’s and doctoral degrees in physics from Virginia Tech. His mother, Maxine Crouch, lives in Jamestown. His wife, Anne, is from Baltimore, Md., and the Crouches now live in Washington, D.C.

As chief scientist at NASA, Crouch established the space shuttle and International Space Station research programs during the ’80s and ’90s. He served as program scientist on five Spacelab flights in the ’90s. Selected for flights on the Microgravity Science Laboratory Mission in 1997, he carried out research aboard space shuttle Columbia on the STS 83 and STS 94 missions. 

During the afternoon ceremony, graduates from the colleges of engineering and education heard from Wilmore, who will return to space in the fall of 2014 as commander of the International Space Station. He will spend the next two and a half years training for the mission, learning all the systems of the station and learning to speak Russian fluently.

Wilmore challenged the graduates to live life by what they can give, not what they can get, and to serve their fellow man.

He spoke of the bravery of Pfc. Gary W. Martini, a U.S. Marine who died in combat in April 1967 during the Vietnam War. Entrenched enemy forces attacked Martini’s platoon, killing 14, wounding 18 and pinning the remainder of the platoon behind a low rice paddy dike.

Martini left the shelter of the dike and hurled hand grenades at the enemy lines while racing through open area to reach a fallen comrade. Martini dragged him to safety, then, despite being wounded himself, returned to rescue a second comrade. Martini was mortally wounded during the second rescue.

“Stouthearted and indomitable, Pfc. Martini unhesitatingly yielded his life to save two of his comrades and to insure the safety of the remainder of his platoon. His outstanding courage, valiant fighting spirit and selfless devotion to duty reflected the highest credit upon himself, the Marine Corps, and the U.S. Naval Service. He gallantly gave his life for his country,” said Wilmore.

Martini was 18 years old when he died; the United States of America presented him with the Medal of Honor.

“From time to time, it is very beneficial for us to focus on the details of how our freedom has been preserved,” said Wilmore. “It’s a great reminder of what selflessness truly looks like.”

Born in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Wilmore grew up in Mt. Juliet, where his parents, Eugene and Faye Wilmore, still reside. Wilmore earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering at TTU in ’85 and ’94, respectively. He received a master’s degree in aviation systems from The University of Tennessee in 1994, and he is a graduate of the United States Naval Test Pilot School.

Wilmore piloted his first Atlantis flight to the International Space Station in 2009, and he has logged more than 259 hours in space. He will serve as commander of Expedition 42 on the ISS in 2014. The expedition will launch aboard the Russian Soyuz rocket, and Wilmore will spend about six months in space aboard the station.

Wilmore is married to Deanna Newport Wilmore from Helenwood, Tenn. She is an alumna of TTU; she earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1984. Wilmore’s father, brother Jack, and Jack’s wife and son also have degrees from TTU. Wilmore played football at TTU and was inducted into the TTU Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

While Crouch and Wilmore are the only two of the nearly 73,400 alumni of Tennessee Tech to go into space, there are TTU alumni from every state in the U.S., along with 112 other countries and territories.

 

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