And the Space Academy Award goes to...

posted May 12, 2011, 5:11 PM by Stephen Zenter
A few months ago, I was surpirsed by my USA management with a presentation at a meeting.  They nominated me for a Stellar award as part of the Rotary National Award for Space Acheivement (RNASA) program.  My nomination was in recognition of my lead flight controller role for ISS Expeditions 23/24 and STS-132/ULF4 mission for the ODIN group.  I was very honored to be nominated for the Stellar award, but I had no idea what it was.  I had never heard of RNASA or the Stellar awards.  It turns out that RNASA began as a program as part of Space Center Rotary of Houston.  RNASA was created to help recognize those who have made outstanding contributions to the US space programs.  For the past 25 years, they have recognized efforts of thousands of government employees and contractors from around the country.  As it turns out, the Stellar awards are presented at the National Space Trophy Award gala each year.  At the gala, the National Space Trophy is presented to an individual that has signifcantly contributed to the US space programs.  You can learn more about RNASA at their website:
The gala was held last Friday.  It was, by far, the most impressive event I have attended while working for USA and NASA.  The day started out with tours of JSC.  I did not take part of the tours since they were of areas that I routinely work in.  But the luncheon following the tours was very nice.  We enjoyed great food at the NASA Hilton and heard from STS-125 Commander, Gregory C. Johnson.  He walked us through the adventures of servicing the Hubble space telescope for the last time.  Following lunch, each of the 151 Stellar award nominees was recognized with a call to to the stage and a presentation of a plaque, which contained an American flag flown on a Shuttle mission.  We also received special RNASA 25th anniversary Fisher Space Pens.  I was impressed to see the many contributors to our different programs from many different centers and companies around the country.
The black-tie formal gala was held Friday evening at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Houston.  Sara and I enjoyed getting dressed up for the night -A big thanks to Aunt Julie for taking care of Christopher to allow us the time away from the house.  A reception was held prior to the gala's start, where we enjoyed drinks and conversation with friends and co-workers.  We mingled with the likes of Gene Kranz, Chris Kraft, Glynn Lunney, current and former Flight Directors; Shuttle and ISS crew members, former and current astronauts.  It was quite a sight to see so many space 'heroes' in one place. 
Dinner was amazing!  Sara and I had not enjoyed food that great since our honeymoon cruise.  Space news correspondent, Miles O'Brien, was the master of ceremonies for the evening.  His humor mixed with respect for the evening's purpose and recognition of the US accomplishments made the evening very entertaining.  Sara and I were seated at a table with other Stellar nominees, Scott Hartwig-USA's VP of Flight Operations, Astronaut Nicole Stott, and her guest Carmel Garan.
Following dinner was the presentation of the 'Space Academy Awards.'  Recipients of the Stellar awards were announced from each category - Early career, Mid career, Late career, and Team.  Unfortunately, I was not a recipient of the Stellar award.  But a fellow flight controller was!  To be honest, winning was not important to me.  Being recognized in such a way was a huge honor, and the nomination was more than I could have asked for.  To wrap up the evening, the National Space trophy was presented to General Kevin Chilton.  He was clearly humbled by the award, and his biography would impress anyone in the spaceflight industry or otherwise.  Congrats to all the 'stellar' contributors to the US space programs!
As I have told everyone, I have never seen such a professional event.  Sara and I really enjoyed the festivities, and I am so happy to have celebrated my nomination with her by my side.  Last Friday marked yet another amazing milestone of my spaceflight career with USA and NASA.  I only represent one of many thousands who support the US space programs.  I can only hope that my future in spaceflight will continue to be so impressive and humbling - as we continue to journey through the Heavens above and search for the answers within the Universe.