Richard O. Covey
When the folks at NASA need a problem solver, they know just who to call: Col. Richard O. Covey. In 1988, Covey piloted space shuttle Discovery on the first shuttle mission since the 1986 Challenger disaster. Five years later, he commanded shuttle flight STS-61 to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, a mission still regarded as one of the shuttle program's most complex. In 2003, Covey was named cochair (along with former Boy Scout and astronaut Thomas Stafford) of the Stafford-Covey Return to Flight Task Group, charged with assessing NASA's implementation of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's safety recommendations.
The retired astronaut is typically self-effacing about his problem-solving abilities. "There is always room for volunteers in difficult situations," he noted dryly. Covey is just as self-effacing about receiving the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award at the BSA National Annual Meeting in May. "This is an honor that I never expected and am not sure I deserve," he said. "It is a wonderful recognition that I will try my best to be worthy of."
Read Covey's resume, however, and you quickly realize just how worthy he is. After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Purdue University, Covey served in southeast Asia, where he flew 339 combat missions. He logged 5,700 hours as a high-performance aircraft pilot, flew on four shuttle missions, and received five Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Defense Distinguished Service Medals, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. For the past 10 years, he has worked in the aerospace industry, where he currently serves as vice president of support operations for Boeing Homeland Security and Services.
Covey's life and career have been powered by jet fuel -- and by lessons learned in Scouting. "It was a big part of our lives, particularly for those of us who were military family dependents living on base," he said. That base was Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, where his father, Charles D. Covey, was stationed. The younger Covey participated in both Boy Scouting and Exploring on the base, earning his Eagle Scout badge in 1960.
"Growing up in rural northwest Florida allowed a lot of time for young men to participate in Scouting," Covey said. "Federal land, known as the Eglin Reservation, was freely available for camping and other Scouting activities, and we lived in the middle of it."
The activities were fun, he said, but the values were fundamental.
"The underlying base provided by the principles of the Scout Oath and Scout Law has served me well all my life," Covey said. "My father was an Eagle Scout, and I learned these principles at home as well as from other Scout leaders."
Among the most important of those principles was the concept of citizenship. Covey said, "I have always drawn on the fundamentals of citizenship that I learned as a Scout. Duty to God and country, respect for authority, treating people fairly, taking care of one's self -- all fit into modern leadership."
The other key principle was the idea of doing one's best. "To me, the most important words of the Scout Oath are 'I will do my best,'" he said. "They apply to everything I do and have done: being a student, a fighter pilot, a test pilot, an astronaut, and a business executive -- and more importantly, in being a loving and supportive husband and father."
In that last role, Covey had a good example to follow. "My father is my personal 'distinguished Eagle Scout,'" he said. "He influenced many young men's lives as a Scout leader, including mine. He would be very proud!"
Covey and his wife, Kathy, have been married for 33 years and have two grown daughters and one granddaughter. Living in a household of women meant that Covey never had much opportunity to participate in Scouting as an adult, something he called "one of my deepest regrets." Still, there is no doubt that he has passed on the values he learned in Scouting to another generation.