Tech to award first honorary doctorate degrees to Tech alumni, astronauts

Astronauts Roger Crouch and Barry Wilmore are scheduled to receive honorary doctorate degrees at Tech’s May 5 commencement ceremonies.

Both Crouch and Wilmore will be the first recipients awarded honorary doctorate degrees by Tech since the Tennessee Board of Regents permitted their institutions authorization to award the degrees.

“We have been very careful in choosing the first ones,” President Bob Bell said. “We wanted them to be people who truly anywhere in the world, [who] people would say are worthy of an honorary doctoral degree.”

Crouch and Wilmore are both Tech alumni.

According to Bell, the awards do not have to be awarded to alumni, but Tech has decided to award two alumni who are distinguished in the world.

“We wanted someone who has truly represented the University well,” Bell said.

Crouch was Tech’s first astronaut and will be awarded an honorary doctorate degree in science.

Crouch said that he is flattered to receive the award.

“I am always a little embarrassed by things like this, in that I know I am not that different from so many others whom I think are equally worthy, just a little luckier I guess,” Crouch said, via email.

Crouch is retired, but occasionally gives speeches about his experiences as an astronaut as well as a variety of other technical topics.

“I wanted to be an explorer, to open new vistas to the public,” Crouch said. “Everywhere on Earth that I could think of had already been explored, but then I saw a movie, ‘Destination Moon,’ in the early ’50s. At the end of the movie, rather than saying ‘the end’, it said, ‘the end of the beginning.’

“Although it was before there were any space programs anywhere in the known world, I immediately knew that space was a frontier that would be explored during my lifetime. I wanted to be part of that exploration.

“Like so many things in life, persistence is one of the most important characteristics of astronauts. In my case, I couldn’t be a military pilot or a regular astronaut, because I am color blind. I started applying to be an astronaut when I got out of college, but it was over 35 years later when I was finally selected to fly.”

Wilmore will be receiving an honorary doctorate degree in engineering.

Wilmore’s next mission will be in 2014, where he will travel to the International Space Station. As pilot, he will navigate the shuttle to the space station. He is learning Russian and will fly on a Russian space craft, according to Bell.

Crouch will give the commencement speech at the 9:30 a.m. ceremony and Wilmore at the 2 p.m. ceremony.

Wilmore was unable to be reached for an interview.