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Gary Payton

Bernard Schriever Chair

Department of Astronautics

Gary Payton
Contact Information

(719) 333-2689



Professor Gary Payton serves as a Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Schriever Chair in Astronautics at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Prior to becoming the Schriever Chair, he was the Deputy Undersecretary of the Air Force for Space Programs, Washington, D.C. He provided guidance, direction and oversight for all Air Force space and space-related acquisition plans, and strategies for research, development, test, evaluation and space-related industrial base issues.

Prof. Payton earned his Bachelor of Science degree in astronautics from the U.S. Air Force Academy and his Master of Science degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue University. As an Air Force officer, he served as a pilot, instructor pilot, spacecraft operations director and space technology manager. In 1985, he flew as a Payload Specialist on STS-51C Discovery (January 24-27, 1985) which launched from and returned to the Kennedy Space Center. STS-51C, the 15th space shuttle flight, was the first dedicated Department of Defense mission. After his flight on Discovery, he served in the Pentagon in a series of increasingly more responsible positions in the Air Force and the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization. He retired from the Air Force with the rank of Colonel after more than 23 years of service.

Mr. Payton has also served as NASA's Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Transportation Technology where he initiated, planned, and led the X-33, X-34, X-37 and DC-XA flight test projects. His responsibilities included program formulation, budget preparation, and program advocacy with Congress, the White House, the Department of Defense, and the media.


Distinguished Graduate, Bachelor of Science in astronautics, U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado (1971)

Master of Science in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, Purdue University, W. Lafayette, Indiana (1972)

Honors & Awards

USAF Outstanding Career Service Award

NRO Gold Medal for Distinguished Service Defense Superior Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster

Meritorious Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters

Joint Service Commendation Medal

Air Force Commendation Medal

National Defense Service Medal

Vietnam Service Medal

1989 Purdue Astronaut Engineering Alumnus Award

1997 NASA Creative Management Award

1999 Purdue Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Award

2004 Presidential Rank Award, Meritorious Executive

2008 Associate Fellow AIAA

2010 Purdue Distinguished Engineering Alumni

2012 Inducted into Sigma Gamma Tau

2012 Inducted into Tau Beta Pi

2014 Purdue Griffin Award

2014 USAF Academy Outstanding Academy Educator

2017 USAF Academy Association of Graduates Distinguished Graduate