COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland will welcome former NASA Astronaut Kenneth S. Reightler, Jr. as its winter commencement speaker December 19.
As a young U.S. Naval Academy cadet watching the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing, he says "a lot of things in my head" clicked. The son and grandson of naval veterans, serving in the Navy came naturally to him. Reightler wasn’t as clear, though, about how to meld his interest in flight, the country’s burgeoning space program and his strengths in math and science.
“I started looking at résumes of people who were in the space program. What did they do? What did they study?,” says Reightler, the Robert A. Heinlein chair in the academy’s aerospace engineering department.
“A path started to take form for me.” After graduating in 1973, he entered the Navy’s aviator flight training program. Reightler later became a test pilot, studied aeronautical engineering in graduate school and then served as a the chief flight instructor at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.
In 1987, he joined the NASA astronaut program, piloting two shuttle missions before retiring from the Navy to work for Lockheed Martin as a senior executive. Reightler joined the academy this summer, sharing his expertise and experience with another generation.
“It provides me an opportunity to give back,” he says. “I can explain, ‘This is possible and this is how you do it.’ I have the operational knowledge in addition to the theoretical. I’ve built it, tested it and flown it.” Reightler, “a true son of Maryland,” was born in St. Mary’s County to parents whose families have been in the state for generations.
“I spent many summers on the Eastern Shore, learning the life of a waterman,” says Reightler. He and his wife, Maureen, have called Annapolis home for nearly 10 years. She has her own ties to Maryland, being a direct descendent of James McHenry, for whom Fort McHenry is named.
Being back at the academy, hoping to motivate and instruct future officers, brings him full circle. “There is truly an inspirational aspect to this job,” he says.
The University of Maryland Winter 2012 Commencement ceremony will take place on Wednesday December 19 at 7 pm. at the Comcast Center. Individual school and college ceremonies will take place on Thursday, December 20, 2012. Commencement will be streamed on the web (link provided on the umd.edu home page) and on UMTV in Prince George's and Montgomery Counties.