Space Heroes and Legends Award

About the Award

The Space Heroes and Legends Award (formerly known as the Debus Award) was created by the National Space Club Florida Committee (NSCFL) to recognize significant achievements and contributions made in Florida to American aerospace efforts.

The award was conceived and first bestowed in 1990 as an adjunct to the Robert J. Goddard award given each year by the National Space Club and Foundation in Washington, D.C. to an individual who stood out in the aerospace field on a national level. The Space Heroes and Legends Award focuses on efforts in Florida and honors individuals associated with launch vehicles, spacecraft operations, ground support services, range activities, space education or spaceport research and development.

Nomination Criteria

The nominee must have made significant contributions to the space industry in Florida through either technical achievement, education, or the management of aerospace related activities.

The nominee must have been either actively engaged in their working career or have retired from it since March 31, 2023.

The nominee must be recognized for having been actively engaged in community service as an advocate and supporter of space.

Individuals who have previously received a Lifetime Achievement Award are not eligible.

Florida residency is not required to receive the award, but the achievements being recognized must have been made while employed in Florida.

This Year’s Award Recipient (2023)

Jim Chilton

The National Space Club, Florida Committee (NSCFL) honor James “Jim” Chilton with the organization’s 2023 Kurt W. Debus award. Mr. Chilton is the Senior Vice President of Space and Launch at Boeing’s Defense, Space, and Security division.

Serving in this role since April 2018, Mr. Chilton has provided leadership for Boeing’s support to the International Space Station, NASA’s Space Launch System, the CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle, and Boeing’s participation in United Launch Alliance (ULA). His portfolio also includes Boeing’s government and commercial satellite systems, Millennium Space Systems, Spectrolab.

Named for Kennedy Space Center’s first director, the Debus award is bestowed annually to an individual who has made significant contributions in Florida to American aerospace efforts. This year’s award was presented to Mr. Chilton at NSCFL’s annual Debus Award Banquet, a black-tie event held on March 25 at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex.

2023 Debus Award Ceremony Pictures

2022 Debus Award Winner Janet Petro

Janet E. Petro was named the 11th director of NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 30, 2021. She had been serving as acting director since May 2021 following NASA Administrator Sen. Bill Nelson’s announcement that Robert D. Cabana, previous Kennedy director, would assume the role of NASA’s associate administrator.

Prior to being named director, Petro served as Kennedy’s deputy director since April 2007, where she shared responsibility with the center director in managing the Kennedy team of civil service and contractor employees, determining and implementing center policy and managing and executing Kennedy missions and agency program responsibilities.

During her tenure as deputy director, Petro helped Kennedy transition into a multi-user spaceport, leading cross-agency initiatives with the Federal Aviation Administration and U.S. Air Force to streamline government processes and support commercial space operations to increase government efficiency and limit redundancy. She served a 12-month appointment at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. as the deputy associate administrator and acting director for the Office of Evaluation. From 2017 through January 2020, she served as the Program Executive leading the agency-wide initiative for a phased implementation to restructure all mission enabling functions to ensure efficient and effective support of NASA’s missions. Her assignment to the Mission Support Future Architecture Program (MAP) concluded in January 2020.

2022 Debus Award Ceremony Pictures

2020-21 Tony Taliancich

Tony Taliancich is the director and general manager of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Launch Operations and leads approximately 700 employees integrating and launching ULA’s launch vehicles, Atlas V and the Delta IV Heavy, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Prior to this assignment Tony was director, ULA East Coast Launch Operations after having previously served as director of ULA’s Customer Program Office.

2020 Debus Award Ceremony Pictures (Ceremony took place in 2021)

Past Debus Award Recipients

2019 Darlene Koenig

Vice President of Business Development of Delaware North at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Her passion for space and educating the public about the NASA story has shown in everything she’s done from being an associate, to ensuring the guests received the optimum experience, to being in charge of the entire operation.

2018 Larry Ostarly

Senior Vice President of Operations and Program Manager of AECOM’s Institutional Services Contract (ISC) at Kennedy Space Center, Larry has spent more than forty years in the aerospace industry and sets an example for leadership in the new space age, all while supporting the Space Coast community through both non-profit and extracurricular activities.

Recap of the dinner event and pictures is coming soon.

2017 Andrew Allen

Vice president and general manager of the Jacobs Test and Operations Support Contract at Kennedy Space Center, where the three-time Space Shuttle astronaut is among the key officials leading the teams readying the multi-user spaceport for its continuing role in the exploration and utilization of space.

Look here for a complete recap of the dinner event, including the printed program, video and pictures.

2016 Frank DiBello

President and CEO of Space Florida, where he has led the Florida’s aerospace-related economic development activities since May 2009. His job is to direct programs designed to attract, retain and grow aerospace business across the state.

2015 Amanda Mitskevich

Program manager of the Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center, where she is responsible for overseeing NASA’s provision and management of domestic expendable launch services for robotic missions.

2014 Charlie Floyd

Deputy Program Manager for the Engineering Services contract at KSC, leading the team that is helping NASA modernize its systems and infrastructure in order to meet the next phase of human exploration. Charlie began his career in 1964 working for NASA.

2013 Robert D. Cabana

The tenth director of the Kennedy Space Center and veteran astronaut of four Space Shuttle missions is leading the team that is transforming KSC into a 21st Century spaceport capable of hosting multiple launch providers, as well as NASA’s new Space Launch System.

2012 Patty Stratton

Associate Program Manager for Ground Operations at Kennedy Space Center with United Space Alliance and principally recognized for her successful managing of the wind-down of Space Shuttle operations at KSC. She continues to remain active as a contractor program manager at KSC.

2011 Jerry A. Jamison

Vice President of Launch Operations for United Launch Alliance leading a team of more than 1,000 employees at Cape Canaveral AFS and Vandenberg AFB in support of Atlas and Delta launch operations, including payload support for military, government and commercial spacecraft.

2010 Roy C. Tharpe

Growing up on Merritt Island, Tharpe began work with NASA in 1963 on Project Gemini and went on to be part of the Apollo and Skylab launch teams. He helped transform KSC to handle Space Shuttle operations and retired from NASA in 1996 to begin a second career as a senior contractor executive.

2009 John R. (Dick) Lyon

Vice President leading an ASRC Aerospace team of 600 supporting design and development of KSC’s ground checkout and servicing systems for future programs. This work follows a NASA engineering career stretching back to 1964 working on Apollo spacecraft.

2008 Brig. Gen. Susan J. Helms

Commander of the U.S. Air Force 45th Space Wing and the Director of the Eastern Range at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. She is a four-time Shuttle astronaut who also served a stint as a member of the Expedition 2 crew on the International Space Station.

2007 Bruce Melnick

A two-time Space Shuttle astronaut recognized for his outstanding personal and professional efforts in supporting the U.S. space program throughout his career, especially as a key contractor manager supporting operations at the Kennedy Space Center.

2006 Jim Kennedy

The eighth director of Kennedy Space Center, Jim began his NASA career in 1968 as a college intern at both KSC and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. He continues to be an active space flight advocate.

2005 Richard Beagley

Vice President of Safety, Quality, and Mission Assurance for United Space Alliance, he began his career at Kennedy Space Center during Apollo and worked safety, quality and organizational management related programs for USBI, Rockwell and USA for the Space Shuttle and International Space Station.

2004 John “Tip” Talone

NASA’s director of space station payload operations at the Kennedy Space Center, he managed the processing of International Space Station components, science experiments and cargo before the hardware was launched into Earth orbit during a critical year of station assembly.

2003 Adrian Laffitte

Director of Atlas launch operations for Lockheed Martin at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, he oversaw the destruction and rebuilding of complex 41, leading to the successful launch of the Atlas 5, the first Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle to fly.

2002 Rick Abramson

President and chief operating officer of Delaware North Parks Services of Spaceport, Inc., he managed the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex for NASA, responsible for educating and inspiring millions of guests each year.

2001 Roy Bridges

A retired Air Force officer, former astronaut who flew in 1985 and later commanded what is now called the 45th Space Wing, and former director of the Kennedy Space Center.

2000 Ernie Briel

President of BRPH Architect and Engineering Co., with a long history of designing and building space launch facilities at Cape Canaveral dating back to Project Mercury.

1999 Edward A. O’Connor, Jr.

First Executive Director of the Spaceport Florida Authority – now Space Florida – who as an Air Force officer led the shuttle Challenger debris recovery effort and later managed commercial Titan launch operations at Cape Canaveral.

1998 JoAnn Morgan

An associate director of Kennedy Space Center and NASA’s first female engineer working at Cape Canaveral.

1997 Dr. Maxwell King

As president of Brevard Community College on Florida’s Space Coast, long time community leader and supporter of education programs to benefit the aerospace and technology sectors.

1996 Lee Solid

Vice President and General Manager of Rockwell Florida Operations, responsible for supporting shuttle operations at the Kennedy Space Center following a lengthy career associated with rocket engines used during Mercury, Gemini and Apollo.

1995 George Faenza

Vice President and General Manager of McDonnell Douglas Space and Defense Systems at the Kennedy Space Center responsible for preparing shuttle payloads and cargo for launch. He died in 1999.

1994 Robert B. Sieck

Veteran NASA manager who was shuttle launch director at the Kennedy Space Center during the return to flight period following the 1986 Challenger disaster and then was director of all shuttle launch processing and operations before he retired.

1993 Bill Nelson

A longtime U.S. Congressman for Florida’s Space Coast who flew aboard shuttle Columbia during January 1986.

1992 Forrest McCartney

A retired three-star Air Force general was director of the Kennedy Space Center during the critical return to flight period following the 1986 Challenger disaster. He died in 2012.

1991 Lyle J. Holloway

Longtime director of launch operations for McDonnell Douglas Space Systems Co.’s workhorse Delta rocket program at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

1990 George F. Page

Launch director for the first space shuttle mission in 1981, Page retired as a deputy director of the Kennedy Space Center after a long career in launch operations during the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. He died in 2002.