Astronaut Joe Allen returns to alma mater Thursday

Monday, May 7, 2012
Joe Allen shows off DePauw pennant he took aboard Space Shuttle Columbia.

Joseph P. Allen IV, a 1959 graduate of DePauw University who has flown on two space shuttle flights and is a member of the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, will return to his alma mater Thursday to offer "Reflections from the Edge of Earth."

Allen's speech is part of DePauw's 175th Anniversary Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series. The program, which will begin at 8 p.m. in Meharry Hall of historic East College, is free and open to the public.

Born in Crawfordsville in 1937, Allen earned a bachelor of arts degree in mathematics and physics from DePauw and a master's and doctoral degrees in physics from Yale University.

He was a nuclear physics research associate at the University of Washington when NASA selected him as one of 11 scientist-astronauts in 1967. After serving in several administrative positions with NASA, including four years at headquarters, he returned in 1981 to Johnson Space Center where he helped support the first space shuttle flight.

After four test flights, Columbia was ready for operational duty, blasting off in 1982 with Allen and three crewmates to deliver the first satellites to orbit for paying customers.

Nine hours after liftoff, Allen and William Lenoir conducted a countdown and sent a Satellite Business Systems communications satellite spinning out of the cargo bay. They repeated the feat the next day with a Canadian satellite. Allen and Lenoir were to have made the first shuttle space walk, but technical problems with the space suits canceled this plan.

History's first space salvage mission began when Allen and four other astronauts blazed into orbit aboard Discovery in 1984. Their main goal was to retrieve two communications satellites which had been stranded in useless orbits after deployment from an earlier shuttle.

Early in flight, the crew released a pair of satellites and then set out to round up their first target, Palapa. Once they caught up with it, Allen and Dale Gardner, wearing space suits, glided outside, with Allen moving untethered over to Palapa, propelled by a Buck Rogers-like jet pack. He latched onto it and moved it into position to be grabbed by the ship's robot arm.

For 90 minutes, one circuit of the globe, Allen held aloft the 1,200-pound satellite while work was done on it before it was manually lowered into the cargo bay. Allen and Gardner used similar procedures two days later to retrieve and stow Westar. Back on earth, the two satellites were repaired for return to orbit.

Allen left NASA in 1985. He served as chief executive officer of Space Industries International, Washington, D.C., and later was chairman of Veridian Corp., until he retired in 2004.

He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on April 30, 2005. A wrestler at DePauw, he is a life trustee of the university, a member of the DPU Athletic Hall of Fame, and received the Old Gold Goblet from DePauw in 1985.

The astronaut's father, Joseph Percival "Perk" Allen III, was a member of DePauw's economics faculty from 1957 until his retirement in 1975.

Allen will be introduced by his 1959 classmate and retired Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Robert Godwin. Following his remarks, Allen will take part in a conversation moderated by Howard Brooks, DPU professor of Physics and Astronomy. A reception for Allen will be held immediately following the event at Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

Vernon E. Jordan Jr., a 1957 alumnus, delivered the inaugural remarks in February for DePauw's 175th Anniversary Distinguished Alumni Lecture Series: A Yearlong DePauw Discourse. The series will continue through June 2013.

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