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2011 Distinguished Graduate Award

William S. McArthur Jr. '73

Colonel William S. McArthur, Jr. has served our nation and alma mater with extraordinary and unique distinction. He has been a central figure in not only American exploration of space, but also international programs focused on operating in and understanding the fourth operational dimension. However, his leading role in our nation’s space program has, throughout, been complemented by his omnipresence as a representative of the United States Army and ambassador for West Point. Bill has been an unsurpassed role model inspiring our nation’s youth to make their dreams come true through hard work and perseverance. Colonel Bill McArthur’s service has been truly unique within the history of our institution.

Commissioned as an Armor officer, Bill McArthur attended flight training at the US Army Aviation School, finishing as the distinguished graduate of his class. He subsequently served as an aero scout team leader and brigade aviation section commander with the 2nd Infantry Division on the demilitarized zone in the Republic of Korea. In 1978, he was assigned to the 24th Combat Aviation Battalion in Savannah, Georgia. There he served as platoon leader, operations officer, and aviation company commander for eighteen months. Captain McArthur subsequently obtained a masters degree in Aerospace Engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, prior to assignment in 1983 to the Department of Mechanical Engineering at West Point, where he inspired cadets in the practical applications of mechanical engineering and maintained his flight status by operating West Point’s fixed wing aircraft and instructing cadets in basic aviation.

In 1987, Bill graduated from the US Naval Test Pilot School and was designated an experimental test pilot, beginning a formative assignment as a Space Shuttle vehicle integration test engineer at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Johnson Space Center. There, he was engineering liaison for Space Shuttle launch and landing operations at the Kennedy Space Center and played a key role in the test of orbiter flight control systems following the Challenger accident. He also served as a member of the Emergency Escape and Rescue Working Group. In 1990, NASA selected then-Lieutenant Colonel McArthur for entry into the astronaut program.

Bill McArthur flew three Space Shuttle missions over the next ten years. The first, aboard Columbia in 1993, was a fourteen-day mission in which Lieutenant Colonel McArthur and crew performed intricate medical experiments related to human and animal physiology on Earth and in space.

In 1995, Bill was aboard NASA’s second Space Shuttle mission to rendezvous and dock with the Russian Space Station Mir. During the eight-day flight, now-Colonel McArthur and the crew successfully attached a permanent docking module to Mir, conducted multiple payload experiments with the Russians, and transferred supplies between Atlantis and Mir. This flight marked the beginning of McArthur’s involvement in international space cooperation and the development of close relationships with international astronauts. In Bill’s third shuttle flight, a thirteen-day mission aboard Discovery in 2000, he made two long and intricate space walks, critical steps in the early phases of construction of the International Space Station (ISS).

Following his last Space Shuttle mission, Colonel McArthur was assigned as Director of Operations in Russia to serve as the senior NASA official at Star City. In this position, Bill was responsible for the training, security, housing, and logistics for all NASA astronauts preparing for missions onboard the ISS. Fluent in Russian, he served as the primary interface with Russian Air Force and Space Agency officials.

In 2005, Colonel McArthur began a challenging six-month mission aboard the ISS. Launching from Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft and docking with the ISS, McArthur served as Expedition 12 Commander and Space Station Science Officer. During their six-month spaceflight, the crew conducted two spacewalks in Russian and US spacesuits and relocated their Soyuz spacecraft twice. The crew also conducted multiple complex US and Russian science experiments.

In 2006, Bill McArthur became NASA’s Manager of Safety and Mission Assurance for the Space Shuttle program, NASA’s primary expert to solve problems during Shuttle launch and flight operations. A veteran of four space flights consisting of 224 days in space, and 24 hours in four space walks, Bill was selected in 2008 to lead the Space Shuttle Orbiter Project, responsible for preflight processing of the reusable space ships and their flight operations.

Despite the demands of his profession, Bill McArthur has served as president of the West Point Society of Greater Houston and a member of the West Point Association of Graduates Advisory Council. He frequently returns to West Point to guest-lecture or participate in special events with cadets, and he is a regular at West Point Society events encouraging young Americans to consider attending West Point.

Today, Colonel McArthur continues to build on his four decades of service to our nation, our Army, and the Long Gray Line. Accordingly, the West Point Association of Graduates takes great pride in presenting the 2011 Distinguished Graduate Award to William S. McArthur, Jr., Class of 1973.