2000 AAE Distinguished Engineering Alumnus

Michael T. Kennedy

Vice President, EELV/Delta IV Program
The Boeing Company
BSAAE '70

[Michael T. Kennedy]

For his outstanding technical and managerial achievements in the satellite communications and launch systems industry, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Michael T. Kennedy.

On leaving California and studying at Purdue

I was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, but grew up in Southern California. My father was an industrial engineer for Douglas Aircraft Company, and a natural aptitude and interest in science led me to engineering as well.

People would ask, "Why are you leaving California for winters in Indiana?" I could have gone to UCLA or Cal-Berkeley, but I just felt like Purdue was more focused on engineering. I also wanted a true "college town" experience.

My senior design project was a great experience. In Professor George Palmer's class, we had to come up with a conceptual design for a space shuttle. Since I had some industrial internship experience, I was able to take the team lead. It was my first experience as program manager—telling people what to do and getting to an end product on deadline. Our team's design was judged best by a group of faculty. It really whetted my appetite to be more than just a technology expert. I wanted to run multidisciplinary team

An aerospace career climb

I was always a firm believer in proper preparation and working hard. Purdue certainly provided ample motivation and reward to those that did that. I felt if I did that hard preparatory work, I could be a recognized technology leader in my science field. And for the first 15 years of my career, that's what I did. I made my way up through the structural-mechanics analysis area from a junior engineer to senior engineer of a large group, where I served as a technology, as well as a people and administrative, leader. In the mid '80s I shifted out of a pure technology area into more of a project/program management role. I've worked on a variety of strategic defense initiatives programs and the International Space Station program. The last four years I've worked on the development side of the new Delta Rockets program for Boeing. The Delta IV launch in 2001 will be the highlight of my aerospace career.

Throughout all of it, I've gotten a great deal of satisfaction. I've had the chance to work with and get to know astronauts, the people who actually use our products in space. It makes you really want to succeed when you know your friends are up there.

On his songwriting career

I've been fortunate to have successfully pursued a parallel career as a professional songwriter. I started in high school with my best friend. We wrote over 200 songs. We had about 30 recordings, with two big hits. Having Sonny and Cher perform "Heartbeat, It's a Lovebeat" on their Valentine's Day show was a real highlight. Then, disco took over the scene and I concentrated on aerospace. I still utilize some of my show business background in my work. After all, rocket launches really are a "really big show."

On the future

We're seeing a large upside in our launch vehicle and satellite business. It has spectacular growth potential. To be successful, though, we need to continue to bring in people with fresh ideas and new energies. While attracting a highly skilled, talented workforce, at Boeing we've also created a disciplined succession plan to bring those talented people along. I spend a lot of my time grooming the folks to take over important jobs in the company. And that process really starts in the academic arena, at great schools like Purdue!


1998– :
Vice President, EELV/Delta IV Launch Vehicle Program, The Boeing Company. Program manager of next generation of expendable launch vehicles. Working toward first launch in 2001.
1996–98:
Division Director, Delta III Launch Vehicle Program, McDonnell Douglas Aerospace Company. Led development of first commercially funded rocket program within McDonnell Douglas (merged with Boeing in 1997).
1994–96:
Director, Pressurized Elements of International Space Station, McDonnell Douglas. Led design development and test of first U.S.-provided elements of the International Space Station.
1993–94:
Director, Structures/ Mechanical and Thermal Systems, Space Station Program, McDonnell Douglas. Oversaw design, analyses, and testing of structural/mechanical systems, as well as career development of 700 engineers.
1992–93:
Senior Manager, Structural/Mechanical Systems Analyses, Space Station Program, McDonnell Douglas Astronautics
1986–92:
Manager, Strength Analysis and Mass Properties, McDonnell Douglas Astronautics
1974:
Awarded Song of the Year by Record World Magazine; received gold and platinum records for composition "Heartbeat, It's a Lovebeat," performed by the DeFranco Family
1971:
Received gold record for composition "Is Anybody There," performed by Bobby Sherman
1971:
Elected to American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers
1970–85:
Performed structural analyses and directed structural tests on Saturn, Skylab, Delta and Titan programs, McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Company
BSAAE '70, Purdue University