LUMBERTON — A Lumberton native who passed away in December received an out-of-this world honor recently.
United Launch Alliance, where Larry Richardson had worked as a business development manager, dedicated the launch of OSIRIS-REx in his memory as the spacecraft took off from Cape Canaveral on Sept. 8 with a mission of bringing asteroid samples back to Earth.
After lifting off from Cape Canaveral aboard a ULA rocket bearing the words “In memory of our colleague and friend Larry Richardson,” OSIRIS-REx is on its way to a near-Earth asteroid named Bennu. Richardson’s family was invited for a private tour of Cape Canaveral and to view the launch.
“We are very excited and very thrilled that Larry’s name is stenciled on this rocket,” said his older sister, Jackie Gaddy. “The family is very proud of Larry and all of his accomplishments.”
Son of the late Lawyer Richardson and Hazel Rozier Richardson, he was a 1977 graduate of Lumberton High School. He attended North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, where he earned a bachelor of science in Mechanical Engineering in 1982. After graduating from college, he went to work for McDonnell Douglas, an aerospace manufacturing corporation that later merged with Boeing.
There, Richardson did project design engineering for the Tomahawk and Harpoon missile programs, was business development manager for the missile defense program, worked on the Delta and Atlas launch vehicle programs and served as manager of the International Space Station flight program and commercialization. He also worked with former New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici through a congressional fellowship program, working directly with the U.S. government and NASA.
Richardson’s 33-year career came to a close when he retired from Denver-based United Launch Alliance in 2015. He died unexpectedly on Dec. 27 at the age of 56.
“Larry’s disarming personality charmed customers and co-workers alike, and everyone enjoyed working with him,” said the dedication that was read at the launch. “He was a leader, a mentor and best of all a friend. His passing is a great loss to his family and the ULA team.”
Although her brother didn’t show an interest in space as a child, Gaddy said the family wasn’t surprised he went into mechanical engineering — or that he was so successful at it. According to Gaddy, Richardson earned numerous awards and was a member of The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Astronomical Society.
“He was very ambitious, had excellent work ethic and was very dedicated to whatever he put his mind to,” Gaddy said.
An estimated 8,000 people gathered at Cape Canaveral for the launch of OSIRIS-REx — which stands for Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer. On Thursday afternoon, it was about 2 million miles from Earth, traveling at about 12,300 mph.
The spacecraft will travel for two years before spending a year collecting data a few miles above the surface of Bennu, which is about the size of five football fields. According to NASA, it will then collect about 2 ounces of material, return to Earth in 2023 and help scientists study asteroids in order to “mitigate possible Earth impacts from celestial objects.”
In addition to Richardson, the Sept. 8 launch was also dedicated in memory of planetary scientist Michael Drake.
Follow the spacecraft’s progress at nasa.gov/osiris-rex.