Michael J. McCulley

For his outstanding performance as technical manager of a prominent and complex aerospace engineering operation, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Michael J. McCulley.

Vice President and Deputy Program Manager
United Space Alliance
BSMetE '70, MSMetE '70
[Michael J. McCulley, current]

On choosing Purdue

As an enlisted man in the Navy, I worked with a naval officer named Peter Stark, who was a mentor of mine. In his background, he'd had some experience connected to Purdue that was very positive. I didn't know anything about the school. When I was selected by the Navy to participate in the Navy Enlisted Scientific Engineering Program, I had a choice of 20 schools to go to. Stark called me up and said, "Congratulations. Go to Purdue." I said, "Yes, sir."

On his Purdue experience

I didn't set out to get both a bachelor's and a master's degree. When I was a sophomore, another fellow, Bill Watkins, and I started working as lab assistants to pick up some part-time bucks. We developed a strong interest in some of those projects. Around our junior year, it became obvious that we were ahead of the undergraduate curriculum, so that we could have graduated in three and a half years.

[Michael J. McCulley, college days]

The federal law that enacted the scholarship program we were on said that you had to get a degree as fast as possible and go right back to the fleet as a naval officer. But Jerry Liedl, a professor, was pushing us to do some research. Jerry wrote a letter to Dr. Hovde [Purdue's president at the time], and I had to write one to the Navy saying that it was in their best interest for me to stay a little while longer to do this graduate research.

So we started doing research and taking graduate-level courses our junior year. The title of my thesis was "The Electrical and Mechanical Properties of RF-Sputtered BiTE" [bismuth telluride]. It was good research, and Dr. Liedl later was successful in having it published.

My original motivation in applying for the Navy's scholarship program was just to get a degree so that I could be a naval officer. But that master's degree made all the difference over the years. It was the tie-breaker between me and another guy when I applied to test pilot school, and that led to everything else that's happened, including being in the astronaut corps.

On piloting the Atlantis

It was wonderful. The first part of a mission is getting yourself into space. You lift off at four and a half million pounds, with seven and a half million pounds of thrust, and eight minutes later you're in orbit at zero gravity. Very, very exciting rocket ride.

Then you turn the rocket into a spacecraft, and in my case it was my home for the next week or so. You learn to work at zero gravity, and that's got a thrill all its own. The thing I remember most about that phase is what the earth looked like. Space is very, very black, and the earth is very beautiful.

Then you come back and that takes about an hour. You turn the shuttle around backwards above the Indian Ocean, fire these rockets for a few minutes to slow yourself down, and then point to the direction you want to go and free-fall through space until you run into the earth's atmosphere.

The front end of the shuttle reaches temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. I thought about that on reentry, because my feet were on the rudder panels in the pilot's seat. Of course, the materials that protect you from that are immensely important.

On his management style

When I was an officer on Navy ships and aircraft carriers, I developed the habit of having meetings wherever the folks were that I was supposed to meet with whether it was deep in the bowels of an aircraft carrier, in the launch control complex, or at a launch pad.

I've used that same philosophy over the years, and I'm using it now at United Space Alliance at Johnson Space Center. Part of it is just practical stuff. It's easier to meet 25 guys at the launch pad than to have all of them come to me and have to find parking spots. But I also know them better, and they know me better. I learn a lot, and they aren't afraid to tell me I'm wrong when I'm wrong.



1997- :
Vice President and Deputy Program Manager, United Space Alliance (Rockwell and Lockheed Martin), Johnson Space Center. Responsible for fulfilling USA's contractual commitments to NASA, including astronaut and flight controller training and operation of facilities such as Houston's mission control center and launch pads in Florida.
Silver Knight of Management.
Olympic Torch Carrier.
Vice President and Associate Program Manager for Ground Operations, United Space Alliance, Kennedy Space Center. Responsibilities included operation of all facilities and directing more than 5,000 personnel required to process the space shuttle.
Florida Child Advocate of the Year.
Vice President and Launch Site Operations Director, Lockheed Martin Space Operations.
NASA Public Service Medal.
Legion of Merit.
NASA Space Flight Medal.
Vice President and Deputy Launch Site Director.
Purdue University Astronaut Engineering Alumnus Award.
Piloted the Atlantis to launch the spacecraft Galileo on its six-year journey to Jupiter.
NASA astronaut corps.
U.S. Navy (retired at rank of captain).

BSMet '70, MSMetE '70, Purdue; Lockheed Executive Institute