We have Liftoff - Forging new opportunities for Purdue faculty and students

Lana Murphy Couch
Lana Murphy Couch was a trailblazer. When she graduated from Purdue in 1963, she was one of only two women in her class in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics to receive a diploma. Over the next 40 years, she held high-ranking positions at NASA, where she worked on the development of hypersonic technology programs.

Couch’s accomplishments set her apart, but she didn’t see herself as extraordinary. She was fascinated by things that moved fast — from automobiles to airplanes — and could not imagine a better job than one that allowed her to manage the development of propulsion technologies. She was responsible for the creation of critical projects, like the Hyper-X Program and the National Aero-Space Plane Program to develop an aircraft that could fly into orbit from a runway takeoff.

During her years at NASA, she developed a reputation as a problem solver with keen analytical skills and a no-nonsense approach. One of her colleagues joked that once Couch decided what should be done to move a project forward, “you damn well better do it.” Her tenacity yielded success, and she was honored with numerous awards, including the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, the NASA Equal Employment Opportunity Medal and recognition from Purdue including the Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Award and the Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award. 

Her many talents were no surprise to those who knew her well. She seemed to succeed at whatever she set out to accomplish — from painting Asian artwork to tending the garden in the country home she shared with her husband, Richard.

After Couch passed away in 2007, Richard sought to create new opportunities for faculty at Purdue to follow in her trailblazing footsteps. The Lana M. Murphy Couch Professorship of Aeronautics and Astronautics — a $1.5 million endowment — will help provide the school with resources that ensure its ability to attract, retain and reward top faculty talent in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics and allow them to pursue cutting-edge research in aeronautics and space technologies. 

Couch’s studies at Purdue equipped her with the skills and resources necessary to forge a new path in aeronautics. The gift will allow a new generation of students to engage with talented faculty to pursue their dreams and, like her, embrace challenges as opportunities.