2022 John Glenn Public Service Award Goes to Bill Nelson

2022 John Glenn Public Service Award Goes to Bill Nelson

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson was presented with the 2022 John Glenn Excellence in Public Service Award this evening by Ohio State University’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs. Nelson is the second NASA Administrator to win the award, joining Charlie Bolden who received it in 2012.

Trevor Brown, Dean, John Glenn College of Public Affairs, Ohio State University and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, June 8, 2022. Photo: M. Smith

The award is for individuals who devote their careers to public service, not for anything specifically connected to the space program. Marcia Fudge, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was last year’s recipient. Others include Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden (2020), Sen. Susan Collins (2019), then former-Vice President Joe Biden (2018), and then-Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis (2017).

Tonight, Trevor Brown, dean of Glenn College, in particular praised Nelson’s commitment to education, a cause also championed by Glenn, but he also likened Nelson to Glenn as two men who served in the military, flew in space, and spent decades in Congress representing the people of Florida and Ohio, respectively.

Glenn was in the Marines, Nelson in the Army Reserve. Glenn was in the Senate (1975-1999), Nelson in the House (1979-1991) and the Senate (2001-2019). Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth in 1962 as a NASA astronaut, and flew again in 1998 at age 77 on the space shuttle in 1998 as a Senator. Nelson flew on the space shuttle in 1986 as a Congressman.

The college is in a year-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of Glenn’s birth on July 18, 1921. He died in December 2016. This year is also the 60th anniversary of his first spaceflight, Friendship 7 (Mercury-Atlas 6) on February 20, 1962.

Nelson, who eschewed any comparison to Glenn, recounted Glenn’s harrowing trip for the audience primarily of students — what turned out to be a faulty sensor indicated the spacecraft’s heat shield had detached and it wasn’t clear until the end if Glenn would survive — and other heroic moments.

He called Glenn “a personal hero, and a personal friend” who figured out how to work with Senate colleagues in a way to “disagree without being disagreeable. Oh, don’t you wish that was the case today.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Jackie Bolden, former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, June 8, 2022.  Photo: M. Smith

Bolden and his wife Jackie joined the celebration at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Bolden also spent his career in public service, as a Marine, as a NASA astronaut, and as NASA Administrator during the eight years of the Obama presidency. Glenn himself presented the award on that occasion, saying Bolden “had inspired a generation of future astronauts, researchers and innovators who are using what we learn in space to improve life here on Earth.”

Bolden and Nelson are close friends who first got to know each other when Bolden was pilot of the January 1986 space shuttle Columbia mission on which Nelson flew. The next flight, 10 days after they landed, was the Challenger tragedy.

Nelson ended by praising Glenn’s service not just to spaceflight, but to public service and extolled the students to follow his example.

“We all need in our lives heroes and we need people that we can look up to and that we can draw inspiration from. We need them because we need to have them remind us of what we can be and what this country can be.

So 60 years after John propelled us toward the heavens, he’d tell you that Friendship 7 carried more than an astronaut, it carried the greatest ambitions of America.  And so, John showed the world that … as a public servant [and] as a genuine American hero, that the world can come together and that we can together explore in the pursuit of the unknown.

And John knew that those lessons transcendened space exploration. They imply public service and that’s why you continue to honor him. I believe that what John exemplified is the best of public service, he showed that a public office is a public trust. He showed that as a servant leader.

I’m glad we’re joined today by the students. Your generation will push the envelope of humanity’s potential and you must lead it with the integrity shown by John. …

Let’s do this by finding inspiration in the words of John Glenn. ‘We are more fulfilled when we are involved in something larger than ourselves.'”

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