May 2004 
Volume 03, Issue 1 
Integrated Defense Systems

KUDOS for a smoke and fire guy

Astronaut Hall of Famer Dick Covey has succeeded by being a team player


left photo: the crew of Space Shuttle Mission STS-51-I; right photo: Dick CoveyDick Covey, Boeing Integrated Defense Systems vice president of Homeland Security and Services Support Operations, was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame on May 1.

Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in January 1978, Covey logged more than 646 hours in space and participated in missions that included the repair of the 15,000-pound SYNCOM IV-3 satellite, the first flight after the Challenger accident, and servicing and repair of the Hubble Space Telescope. In a recent interview, Covey discussed his career as an astronaut and how he has applied that experience as a Boeing executive.

Q: How does it feel to be inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame?

A: I have always felt extremely fortunate to be a member of America's astronaut corps. To be selected by my peers to join the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and those early astronauts who preceded me, is truly a privilege.

Q: You've been described as a "smoke and fire" guy. What does that mean?

A: My background is flying high-performance fighter aircraft. It is what I grew up wanting to do and did in my U.S. Air Force career. When I joined the astronauts it was specifically to fly the Space Shuttle.

The aspects of flying the shuttle that intrigued me were ascent, riding a rocket into space, and then accomplishing the reverse, taking all the energy out of a spacecraft by flying it through the atmosphere and bringing it to landing.

Both of those phases of flight are very much smoke and fire because of the rocket, extreme heat and energy of re-entry. I am characterized as a "smoke and fire" guy because those are the phases of flight that most interest me and I enjoyed the most.

Food for thought

Boeing Frontiers asked Boeing Integrated Defense Systems' Dick Covey, a new inductee into the Astronaut Hall of Fame, one question almost everyone wants to know about life in space: What's the food like?

"As a rule, dehydrated food is not very good. Generally it ends up looking like mush and tasting similarly," Covey said. However, he added, the Space Shuttle and International Space Station "have evolved to food systems that are much better than just rehydrated food. The result is very reasonable food. Some of it comes from meals ready to eat, developed for the armed forces. There has also been substantial improvement in rehydrated food."









Q: What was your favorite moment in space?

A: It is hard because space flight evokes a broad range of emotions and sensations. If I had to pick one, on my last mission we repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. After five days of space walk, which at that time was a record, after being really successful in all our activities, we finally repowered and redeployed the telescope. Seeing the telescope repaired with new instruments and greater capabilities than it had when it was launched was an especially satisfying moment for me.

Q: What do you think the future of human space flight should be?

A: I am a supporter of U.S. President George W. Bush's structured approach to taking men and women--beyond the Earth and the Earth's moon--to Mars. I believe it is achievable over a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable amount of funding. I am glad we are starting to look, as a nation, at a vision that will allow NASA to chart a path forward.

NASA is an implementer of the people's will and the president's guidance. Without clear guidance and a commitment from the people of the United States, it is hard for NASA to do its job. The vision has the fundamental ability to provide both elements, a mission provided by the president and supported by the people and the Congress of the United States.

Q: How did your years at NASA and as a shuttle commander affect your transition to Boeing executive?

A: When I first came to Boeing, I had a great deal of domain expertise relative to space flight, activities and craft. I did not have as much experience in running a business that fundamentally exists to bring value to shareholders. Fortunately, the skills I learned as an astronaut and in my military career to identify and depend upon talented people--as a team--allowed me to make that transition.

The thing that I brought with me that is the most value is the ability to work with people of various backgrounds and talents and help structure them into a team that delivered performance.

Q: What is Support Operations, and how does it fit into Homeland Security and Services?

Boeing employees who have travelled to spaceA: There are two aspects of Homeland Security and Services. Support Operations is the "and Services" part of HS&S. In Support Operations we operate, maintain and sustain our customers' systems and facilities.

To give examples, we operate the largest constellation of commercial satellites in the world, the Iridium satellite constellation. We operate classified government facilities for our government customers, internationally as well as in the United States. Support Operations was the core business of Space and Communications Services prior to the win of the EDS (Explosives Detection Systems) contract, which then catapulted IDS into the Homeland Security market, and we came along with it.

Q: In addition, you are currently co-chairing the Return to Flight Task Group. How is that going?

A: First, let me explain the Return to Flight Task Group. NASA asked Gen. Tom Stafford and me to co-chair a panel of distinguished executives to evaluate and provide an independent assessment of the actions being taken in response to the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report and recommendations. It is a federal advisory committee, which means we are subject to the laws of the U.S. Federal Advisory Act.

For almost seven months now, we have been meeting with NASA Space Shuttle program folks implementing technical changes and NASA leadership affecting the organizational changes recommended by the CAIB report. A lot of the work is well along its way.

The target date for the next launch is March 2005. The final assessment is not due until one month before flight, but we are paced by NASA's responses and how quickly they are able to implement the recommendations. As they do, we review the implementation plans, verify activities and provide a report to the administrator.

To date, we have issued an interim report and will issue at least one, if not two, more interim reports with the idea of a final report to the administrator early next year.

Q: What achievement are you most proud of?

A: I am most proud of being the husband of a successful businesswoman and the father of two outstanding young daughters. I don't know how to put personal achievement in anything in a more important light than to have helped them achieve what they have in their lives.


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