Distinguished Alumni Awards
Joseph R. Tanner
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas
BS, 1973, Mechanical Engineering, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Being a mission specialist for NASA was the realization of a long-held dream for Joe Tanner. Inspired by Alan Shepard’s space travel, Tanner joined the Navy after graduating from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He earned his pilot wings, served as a light attack aircraft pilot, and finished his active service as an advanced jet instructor pilot. In 1984, he joined NASA Johnson Space Center as an aerospace engineer and research pilot to teach astronaut pilots space shuttle landing techniques. Tanner was selected for the astronaut program in 1992, and his career took off.
He was a mission specialist on the ATLAS 3 mission to carry out research on the earth’s atmosphere, solar effects, and the ozone layer. The data quantified the amount of the sun’s energy that actually reaches and is absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere. In 1997, he was one of four space-walking astronauts aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery to update and repair the Hubble Space Telescope. He performed more than 14 hours of work during two space walks. Data observed via the telescope have given scientists new insight into black holes, star formation, and many other extraterrestrial phenomena. On board Endeavor in 2000, the first shuttle mission to the newly inhabited International Space Station, he was the lead space walker working to install two giant solar panel arrays.
Tanner, who has logged more than 7,500 hours in military and NASA aircraft, has made significant contributions to the advancement of space exploration and to studies of the earth’s atmosphere. NASA honors include two Exceptional Service Medals, three Space Flight Medals, the Stuart M. Present Flight Achievement Award, and the JSC Super Achievement Award. In 1995, he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Alumni at the University of Illinois. The university also selected him for a 1996 Varsity “I” Award and a Top 100 Seniors Award. He was inducted into the Military Aviation Hall of Fame in Illinois in 2001.
A native of Danville, Illinois, Tanner speaks at local schools and civic groups and participates in community activities. He often credits his engineering education at the University of Illinois
Current as of 2002.