Astronaut Becomes USNA’s First Tig H. Krekel, Class of ’75, Distinguished Chair in Space Science

Captain Kenneth Reightler Jr., ’73, USN (Ret.), a former astronaut who served twice as pilot aboard the Space Shuttle DISCOVERY including the first U.S./Russian Joint Space Shuttle Mission, has been named the first Tig H. Krekel, Class of ’75, Distinguished Chair in Space Science at the United States Naval Academy.

Reightler has been teaching in his alma mater’s aerospace engineering department since 2012, but this new, permanently funded chair ensures a greater level of stability and continuity for the Academy’s space science programs. This was a top priority of alumnus Tig H. Krekel ’75, whose recent $2 million gift via the Naval Academy Foundation made the chair possible.

“Space science has been a major element of the aerospace world for a long time,” said Krekel, whose extensive business career included serving as the president and CEO of Honeywell Aerospace Equipment Systems, president and CEO of Hughes Space and Communications and a group president of the Boeing Company. “U.S. leadership in this arena is being challenged on a daily basis. Greater emphasis on the space science discipline at the Academy and greater excitement about the issues at play will make midshipmen better prepared to engage in this evolving battlefield, and it will benefit their careers both in and out of the military.”

As the inaugural Krekel Chair, Reightler, who spent more than a decade with defense leader Lockheed Martin after retiring from the Navy and NASA, will teach courses in the field, assist with midshipman capstone projects focused on space science, guide midshipman research and establish connections with other disciplines. In addition, he will continue hosting appropriate guest speakers as well as supporting the Academy’s annual Astronaut Convocation, an event designed to excite and inspire midshipmen interested in pursuing career opportunities in human space exploration. The Academy has a long tradition of sending its graduates to the space program. It has 53 alumni astronauts, more than any other undergraduate institution, and submariner Lieutenant Kayla Barron ’10, USN, was recently named to the 2017 astronaut class.

“I see my role as two-fold: complementing what we already have in our outstanding academic faculty, and looking for ways to bring in the unique experiences I have had as an astronaut and in the aerospace industry. In addition, I look forward to connecting the Academy with prominent and inspirational leaders in the space field with whom I have longstanding personal relationships,” said Reightler. “One of the things I like best about this position is its emphasis on working with various disciplines on the Yard which are connected to space. Conducting science in space is multidisciplinary by nature, a true ‘team sport.’”

Krekel’s generous gift makes it possible for Reightler and future occupants of the chair to settle in at the Academy for an extended period, enabling them to strengthen their teaching abilities, develop new courses and embark on longer-term research projects. In addition, they will be better able to gain an understanding of the Academy’s current needs and be well prepared to meet them in the future.

Krekel is confident that Reightler and his background set the right standard for the new position. “As technology continues to advance, our military will encounter a space environment we can’t foresee,” said Krekel. “Today’s midshipmen will be dealing with a dramatically changed threat profile in space, which implies a greater challenge to stay ahead of our adversaries. Distinguished faculty like Captain Reightler can take the academic underpinnings and connect them to real world applications. I know Ken, and I know other astronauts who have flown with him, and he is held in the highest regard.”

Krekel also believes Reightler’s reputation will attract other leaders in the space industry to the Academy and the chair in the future. He is confident his initial investment will lay the foundation for an overall growth and strengthening of the Academy’s space curriculum, as well as attract additional support for the program from other alumni and Academy friends with similar interests. Together, these will ensure the Academy’s role as a leading institution in the fields of aerospace engineering, astronautics and space science.


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