On a night when David Thompson was three, he and his Dad stood in the backyard and spotted in the sky the satellite Sputnik 2. “Ever since,” he says, “I’ve been fascinated by spacecraft and rockets.”
As a child, Thompson built amateur rockets. His Dad helped him test the motors, and his Mom sewed the parachutes on her Singer sewing machine.“My parents were completely involved in all my science projects and really encouraged me,” says Thompson, who recently gave MIT $125,000 to honor his parents by establishing the Robert H. and Nancy W. Thompson Scholarship Fund, which will support students in aeronautics and astronautics. Thompson, his wife, Catherine, and sister, Carol, who in 1982 earned a master’s from MIT in aeronautics and astronautics, wanted to thank Thompson’s parents — neither of whom graduated from college but who encouraged both their children to attend MIT.
Thompson earned an MIT degree in aeronautics and astronautics in 1976, a master’s in aeronautics in 1977 from California Institute of Technology, and an MBA from Harvard in 1981. He worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, then joined NASA, where he was an aerospace engineer and later worked to get the space shuttle propulsion system ready for flight. In 1982, he co-founded Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, an industry leader in developing and manufacturing small, affordable rockets and satellites, a firm of 2,500 where he is now chairman and CEO.
“The people who had the biggest impact on me were my Mom and Dad,” he says. “If I look back over my life, the major influences that shaped it are my parents and MIT. This gift is a way to say thanks to both for all they gave to my sister and me. We hope the scholarship will inspire MIT kids to do great things for the space industry and the country.”