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Monday, May 9, 2011

U. S. Air Force Gen. Kevin Chilton, Retired, 2011 National Space Trophy recipient

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Kevin Chilton, left, STS-76 commander, Mir space station visitor Shannon Lucid and STS-76 payload commander Ron Sega pictured in 1996. Photo Credit/NASA Photo

U.S. Air Force General Kevin Chilton, retired, became the 25th recipient of the National Space Trophy, an award bestowed annually by the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation for career contributions to the exploration and uses of space, on May 6 in Houston. Chilton retired from the military in March after 31 years. During the last four years, he led the U.S. Strategic Command, where he oversaw a multi-service team of 40,000 personnel responsible for the nation's nuclear weaponry and strategic deterrence. Between 1987 and 1998, Chilton was assigned to NASA's Johnson Space Center, where he served as a shuttle pilot and commander as well as NASA's deputy program manager for the International Space Station.

"If I was successful at all when I returned to the Air Force, it was because of the 11 years I spent at NASA and learning this business that is so important to us," Chilton told an audience of more than 1,000 aerospace professionals who gathered to honor him. "I learned the space business from all of you. I learned from the folks in the medical business, the engineering community, operations. I learned the business of launch from the theoretical to the practical element of getting out and fixing things that are broken and then the drama of the countdown."

While at NASA, Chilton commanded STS-76, the third shuttle mission to Russia's former Mir space station -- launched in March 1976. He served as pilot aboard the STS-59 Space Radar Laboratory mission in April 1994 as well as STS-49, the May 1992 inaugural flight of Endeavour. Endeavour's daring satellite rescue mission featured the world's only three person spacewalk.

Upon his return to active duty in the Air Force, the former test pilot served on the Air Force Space Command Staff, and then the Air Staff, the Joint Staff, the 9th Reconnaissance Wing, the 8th Air Force, the Joint Functional Component Command for Space and Global Strike and as commander, Air Force Space Command. In 2006, Chilton became the first former astronaut to achieve the rank of four-star general.

Two years later, Chilton led the planning and coordination for Operation Burnt Frost, the successful Feb. 20 (2008) shoot down of a defunct National Reconnaissance Office satellite carrying 1,000 pounds of hydrazine fuel. Facing imminent re-entry, the toxic fuel posed a threat to human life.

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