Three Honored with President’s and Trustees’ Distinguished Achievement Awards

Award winners, left to right, Pete Phillips, Akhil Gujral, and David Caldwell. (Photo illustration: Stuart Araki)

Three individuals received The Aerospace Corporation’s highest honors on Wednesday, Sept. 14, when they were awarded the 2016 President’s and Trustees’ Distinguished Achievement Awards. The annual awards recognize an individual or team for their commitment to excellence, demonstrated by the highest level of achievement in the areas of science, technology, engineering, analysis, systems engineering, program and business management, or administration.

The Trustees’ Distinguished Achievement Award was awarded to Akhil Gujral, while David J. Caldwell and Peter W. Phillips each received the President’s Achievement Award.

Dr. Wanda Austin hosted the ceremony, her last one as president and CEO. After Justin McNeil, Jr. sang an inspiring rendition of the national anthem, Austin addressed the crowd in Titan IVA and IVB referencing the old saying: “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.”

“I can’t think of words that are more fitting for today’s award recipients than these,” Austin said. “Today’s honorees understand the importance of our mission, the tremendous expectations of our customers, and that the end result of their work is far more significant than any individual award or citation they might receive. They do not seek the spotlight, simply because they are too busy devoting their time to developing innovative technical solutions in service of our nation.”

Award winners receive a stylized crystal eagle-wing statuette – which was displayed alongside the podium – and their names will be added to the corporate display in the A1 lobby. Each individual president’s award winner received $12,500 and the trustees’ award winner received $25,000.

Trustees’ Distinguished Achievement Award: Akhil Gujral

Retired Air Force Gen. William Shelton, chair of the awards subcommittee of the board of trustees, presented the Trustees’ Distinguished Achievement Award to Gujral, principal director for Space Systems Group’s Alternative Launch Vehicles, for “exemplary leadership and exceptional technical assessment during the Falcon 9 launch system certification.”

Gujral has led a comprehensive cross-organizational effort since 2010 that resulted in the May 2015 Air Force certification of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle. As the primary architect of the certification plan, he provided the customer with strategic guidance and detailed technical input while building trusted relationships within the highest levels of the Space and Missile Systems Center and SpaceX. In the process, he expanded the Aerospace team from three STEs to 100, assembling a full program office from the ground up.

As a result of the work of Gujral and his team, the Falcon 9 launch system is now certified to compete for national security space missions, setting the stage for introduction of a new launch system for the first time in 20 years. Additionally, the first competitive launch award in more than a decade was awarded to the Falcon 9 this year.

In his comments Gujral thanked the Alternative Launch Vehicles team. “The key is to empower the right folks, stay flexible, stay objective and allow people to be innovative,” he said. He also thanked some of the other key players as well as his family, who were in attendance.

President’s Achievement Award: David J. Caldwell

Caldwell, senior engineering specialist for the Engineering and Technology Group’s Electronics Engineering Subdivision, was recognized for his “outstanding technical leadership, enabling the return to intercept and fielding of the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle.” His contributions influenced a return to the test and fielding of the Ground-Based Midcourse Interceptor (GBI) on behalf of a national security client.

In 2010, there were two flight test failures of the GBI missile deterrent system. In 2013, an additional flight test, which employed an Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV), also failed. As a result, production of the interceptor was halted and a failure investigation was launched. Caldwell served as the Aerospace representative on the failure review board and his work was instrumental in devising unique technical tools to process limited, critical data. His subsequent analyses were key to the client’s decision to pursue additional design mitigations, despite test success.

After Caldwell’s recommendations were adopted—and less than a year after the 2013 failure—the EKV successfully intercepted its target as part of a new flight test. The program is now on schedule to meet a congressional commitment to field 44 interceptors by the end of 2017.

“When I took on this project, I knew it was going to be particularly challenging,” Caldwell recalled. “But I was confident because I’ve always had great people behind me.” He also shared his personal motto of “Don’t sell out and don’t oversell” and said the key to success was perseverance and staying true to our processes.

President’s Achievement Award: Peter W. Phillips

Phillips, Vaeros Systems Director for NASA and other civil space programs, received his award for “outstanding leadership in program execution on several high-priority NASA programs.”

According to NASA, Phillips was the “go-to person” when several of their most prestigious programs, including Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (the precursor to JPSS-1 and -2), Landsat 8, and GOES-R,  had serious technical and schedule issues during assembly, test, launch, and operations. Phillips’ efforts enabled these critical national programs to recover mission performance and launch schedule. He designed recovery plans and led diverse government and contractor teams that implemented his plans, resulting in restoration of mission technical performance and overall launch schedule.

Phillips’ contributions were recognized with several prestigious NASA awards: the 2012 NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal—the highest award NASA can give to a non-civil servant, the 2015 Robert Goddard Exceptional Achievement for Customer Service Award, and the 2014 GOES-R Program Esprit de Corps Award.

“The proudest part of my career has been to help move these missions forward,” Phillips said. “I try to remember that the reason we do this is to make a better world for the next generation.” That generation includes Phillips’ four children, who he thanked along with his wife, a multitude of Aerospace team members, clients, and contractors.

Following the ceremony, a reception was held in front of building A1.

—Wendy O'Dea