Roy D. Bridges Jr.

For his outstanding career in aeronautical engineering and his leadership of the Kennedy Space Center, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Roy D. Bridges Jr.

Director, Kennedy Space Center
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
MSAE '66
[Roy D. Bridges Jr., current]

On his interest in flying and aerospace

Growing up, I wanted a life that was more of an adventure than the average. I remember hearing a news flash on a car radio about the launch of Sputnik and hearing President Kennedy's challenge to America to be the first to the moon, and I thought, "What an exciting time to be alive!" The Air Force had a culture of being on the cutting edge of the aerospace frontier, so when I read about the new Air Force academy in Colorado as a high school student, it seemed to be a perfect fit, and I went there for an undergraduate degree in engineering science.

On his experience at Purdue

I came to Purdue with a group of other Air Force Academy graduates through a cooperative master's program between Purdue and the academy. I was on campus from June of 1965 through January of 1966. I had to attend both summer sessions and the fall semester to get the master's degree in astronautics. It was a very intense program.

[Roy D. Bridges Jr., college days]

Initially, my experience at Purdue looked wonderful. Socially, we'd been locked down at the academy for four years, and at Purdue there's all this freedom. A friend and I were wondering how we could get involved in something, so we joined the sailing club and had a good time. That worked well right up until the first electrical engineering midterm on transmission theory, which we all bombed.

We'd deluded ourselves into thinking that being generally familiar with the material was okay. We didn't have the total and profound understanding that Professor Lindenlaub was expecting. And that was the end of our social life.

On his career

I graduated from Purdue in January of 1966 and entered pilot training in March. After I graduated from test pilot school, I got to participate in a new program to test the A-10, a tank-killer airplane.
I got to do the high-angle-of-attack program. That was thrilling.

Getting to be a part of the space shuttle program as an astronaut was another highlight, of course. I flew on the Challenger for eight days 126 orbits around the earth. That experience was just awesome. I was preparing to fly again on the Challenger when the accident happened in 1986. It was a very heartfelt tragedy, and it changed all of our lives.

I went back to the Air Force to run Edwards Air Force Base, and now here I am back down at Kennedy Space Center, launching rockets. We began this summer to build the international space station, and my people are doing all the testing and checkout. It's an exhilarating thing.

On the end of the Cold War

The world has changed for the better. We're now not poised across no man's land with American and Soviet guns pointing toward each other. That's a positive development we're cooperating to benefit all humankind. I attended a meeting recently at the Kennedy Space Center with a number of Russians involved with Mir and the international space station. When you look at who's sitting around the table together, it seems quite historic really almost unbelievable, considering I've spent most of my life figuring out how to defeat the other side in battle. Now we're cooperating on a grand stage. I just think it's wonderful.

On issues that concern him

We are fortunate to live in a prosperous time. Despite the economic crisis in Asia, never before has the world been this much at peace and had such global economic prosperity. What I see missing are major initiatives, or an inspirational point of view, like we had back in the '60s. We're afraid to do some of those kinds of things, and we have the most difficult time getting commitments from administration to administration for long-term projects, not just space-related projects, but things like the sequencing of DNA, and medical projects. I'm hopeful that we could get back to having goals that inspire young people.

Named a Purdue Old Master.
1997- :
Director, Kennedy Space Center, NASA. Manages processing and launch of space shuttle, processes payloads, tests and prepares the international space station for launch, and oversees expendable vehicle launches carrying NASA payloads.
Director of Requirements, Headquarters Air Force Materiel Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Named U.S. Air Force two-star major general.
Commander, Air Force Flight Test Center, Edwards Air Force Base.
Purdue University Astronaut Engineering Alumnus Award.
NASA Space Flight Medal.
NASA astronaut pilot.
Top graduate, Air Force Test Pilot School.
Distinguished graduate, undergraduate Air Force pilot training.
Military service, including test pilot, instructor pilot, and special assistant to deputy chief of staff, research, development, and acquisition (Pentagon). Flew more than 226 combat missions as member of 416th Tactical Fighter Squadron in Vietnam.

BS '65, Engineering Science, USAF Academy; MSAE '66, Purdue.