Astronaut Crippen on campus to award scholarship


On Friday, Sept. 3, Captain Robert Crippen, US Navy, Rt., and pilot of the first orbital flight of the Space Shuttle, presented one of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation’s (ASF) $10,000 scholarships to Joy Buolamwini, a third-year CS major, for her academic and research work in computer science.

A crowd of about 50 students and faculty gathered in the Klaus Atrium to watch the Dean of the College of Computing Zvi Galil introduce Crippen and present the scholarship.

“The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, a group that I have been associated with for quite some time and am very proud of, have given, with this check I am presenting today, over $200,000 in scholarships here at Georgia Tech,” Crippen said.

Following an informational video on the ASF, hosted by Gemini and Apollo astronaut Captain James Lovell, US Navy, Rt., Crippen and Galil both presented the $10,000 scholarship to Buolamwini.

“Receiving this award is truly an honor, and I never imagined being an astronaut scholar,” Buolamwini said.

Buolamwini, a twenty year old student, has maintained a 4.0 GPA for two years, has earned Tech’s Tower Award among others and maintains an active athletic and student organization life.

Buolamwini has a penchant for web design and started developing sites for student organizations on a trial-and-error self-education basis.

She legitimized her career prospects by starting a business Jovial Designs, which has earned her the contracts for creating the website for Ethopia’s embassy in Côte D’Ivoire, several small businesses and Tech organizations.

She also maintains the website of the College of Computing’s newsletter The FIREwall and her blog ( – a collection of her essays, activities and a few helpful resources for fellow web designers.

“[Buolamwini] is truly an impressive young lady…and continues to be interested in research in many different ways,” Crippen said.

Crippen earned his bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas, Austin in 1960. By his sophomore year, he was determined to make his way into astronautics, and after graduation, he earned his commission from the Navy’s Aviation Officer Program. He then spent nearly three decades as a pilot in and out of the atmosphere.

An astronaut by 1969, but not in space until 1981, Crippen completed 565 hours of space flight by the end of his NASA flying career.

“I got drawn away from flying when I made a recommendation that [NASA] needed someone new with operational experience in management for the Shuttle program,” said Crippen, “So I hung up my flying boots and got into management trying to get the shuttle back flying again.”

Crippen moved on to Director of Shuttle Operations and Director of the Kennedy Space Center, presiding over nearly every facet of the Space Shuttle program and launches. Taking his leave from NASA, he served in top administrative positions with Lockheed Martin and Thiokol Propulsion Group. He has since retired and makes speaking and scholarship appearances by request through the ASF.

The ASF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization created in 1984 by the six surviving Mercury Seven astronauts and several others and began handing out its awards two years later.

Now, 71 astronauts actively participate in the organization and appear at scholarship award ceremonies, speaking opportunities and autograph signings, arranged through the ASF.

To be eligible for the scholarship, a faculty member nominates a junior or senior undergraduate or master’s degree candidate who demonstrates outstanding work in his or her major.

The ASF then selects one recipient from each school. Funding, which has increased to allow the scholarship to grow from $1000 to $10,000 each, stems from astronaut appearances, contributions and other events.