ON THIS DAY IN TOM STAFFORD HISTORY: January 19, 1993. General Tom Stafford is presented the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in the White House by Vice President Dan Quayle, in the absence of President George H. Bush.
This prestigious award is the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress to individuals who have made great contributions in the field of space exploration. General Stafford is one of only a few living astronauts to receive such honor.
Most people know that Tom Stafford had an extraordinary astronaut career, flying four space missions, including one to the moon, as well as carrying the title of “Chief Astronaut.” But what many don't know is that no figure in the history has done more, for as long, to evolve America’s space program and create international cooperation in space as General Stafford. He has served as a close advisor to every NASA Administrator for the last half century, as well as to many Congressional committees and U.S. representatives on matters dealing with NASA and the nation’s future in space.
In 1989, President Bush called upon Stafford to chart a long-term path to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars. He assembled an accomplished team of approximately 50 scientists and engineers called the “Synthesis Group” of which Stafford served as Chairman. After two years of intensive work, the result was a detailed plan of action entitled “America at the Threshold” that was so visionary and detailed that parts are still being used today to help chart our future course into space. We only have to look at the recent Artemis 1 launch to witness some of Stafford’s vision.
Additionally, Stafford was asked by several NASA Administrators to form and lead numerous critical committees to find and verify solutions to difficult challenges faced by NASA over the last four decades. When the Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990, a committee lead by Stafford would develop a critical repair to the Hubble Space Telescope after being launched into orbit with a crippling manufacturing flaw in its mirror. Stafford’s team worked out a solution and the pioneering methods to repair the telescope. Hubble went on to revolutionize the science of astronomy, and completely change our concept of the universe. None of the more than 2-million mind-boggling images sent back to Earth from the Hubble would have ever existed without the leadership of General Tom Stafford!
In the late 1990’s, Stafford would use his unique knowledge gained with forging working relationships with the Russian space program during his Apollo-Soyuz mission. Stafford would lead a committee that would orchestrate an important working relationship with the Russians that led to U.S. astronauts living aboard the Russian MIR space station for long durations, forging a new alliance with the Russians in space. This led to both nations coming together to spend over 20 years designing, building and operating the International Space Station (ISS). Today, the ISS has evolved into an orbiting United Nations as astronauts from 18 countries have lived and worked together aboard the station conducting ground breaking scientific and engineering work that will bring positive impact to every nation on Earth.
After the fateful loss of the Space Shuttle “Columbia” and her crew in 2003, Stafford would lead the committee that would review all of the engineering and procedural changes that had to be made, before the Shuttle ever flew again, to assure its safety.
Long past the time most people would have retired, Tom Stafford has continued to play major roles in the development of space and military technology as a consultant to numerous aerospace corporations. Today, nearly 50 years after his last space mission, Stafford still chairs NASA’s critical oversight committee on Space Station Safety and Readiness.
General Thomas P. Stafford is the only person who can say that his work has spanned the nearly seven-decade history of manned spaceflight, and even more amazingly, it continues to this day. He is a true American hero, and a perfect example of what the “Congressional Space Medal of Honor” represents.
You can see this unique artifact prominently displayed in the Stafford Gallery at the Stafford Air & Space Museum in Weatherford, OK.