In 1985, Astronaut James van Hoften became the first human being to launch a satellite by hand, having spun and pushed a repaired communications satellite away from the orbiting space shuttle Discovery during a space walk. Twenty-eight years later, Dr. van Hoften has become the newest member of Cianbro's Board of Directors, joining the company after being apprised of the opportunity by fellow board member and former NASA colleague, retired Astronaut Rick Hauck.
"I'm pretty excited about it," said Dr. van Hoften, who prefers to be called by his NASA nickname "Ox," earned by virtue of his large frame. "I think Cianbro looks like a company that's got a very healthy and robust history. And I look forward to being able to contribute what I can from the background that I have."
van Hoften's impressive credentials include 60 combat missions as a Navy F-4 Phantom carrier pilot during the Vietnam War, after which he accepted an assistant professorship of Civil Engineering at the University of Houston. He served in that role until being selected by NASA for the Space Shuttle program in 1978. He served as a mission specialist on Challenger in 1984 and on Discovery in 1985. At the conclusion of his NASA tenure, Dr. van Hoften joined the Bechtel Corporation where he helped to establish the new defense and space business as a key component of the company.
"When I started at Bechtel, it was a company that already obviously had been very large, but it had difficulties," said van Hoften. "The nuclear program was disappearing quickly -- this was in 1986 -- and they had gone from 50-thousand people down to 14-thousand. I was brought in to help diversify the company and develop new business lines. And we managed to do that. We managed to bring the company back. It's now 55-thousand people and does $35 billion a year worth of revenue. It wasn't all me, of course. But it was valuable experience just to be a part of a group that grew out of that. And it's helpful just to have another set of eyes looking at Cianbro. It's valuable to be able to assess some of the opportunities that are out there and discuss it at a board level and decide whether certain opportunities are something we might want to do or not."
Cianbro Chairman & CEO Pete Vigue says the company is undertaking many initiatives that are new to Cianbro but that might not be new to some of the experiences that Dr. van Hoften has had over his illustrious career.
"We all know that this is not a perfect world," said Pete, "and we all have life experiences, some good and some not so good. We can capture that knowledge, that experience and that awareness as we go forward and learn from those activities and experiences that Ox and others on the board have had over the years. On top of that, we can utilize the relationships to help this company grow. I believe the advice that we might get, and the awareness and the knowledge through the experiences he's had can make us a better company."