Photo of David W. Thompson

David W. Thompson

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Aerospace

For their invention, development, and production of the Pegasus rocket, the world’s first privately developed space launch vehicle, that has opened the door to greater commercial, scientific and defense uses.

Fascinated with rockets as a child, David W. Thompson recalled watching the Soviet Union’s first Sputnik satellite float across the night sky. As a college student, he worked on the first Mars landing missions at Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and on Space Shuttle projects at NASA’s Langley Research Center and Johnson Space Center.

Decades later, Orbital Sciences Corporation – the business Thompson co-founded with his Harvard Business School classmates – perfected a method for launching rockets off airplanes to place small satellites into orbit. On April 5, 1990, the company successfully lifted off with the first private space launch vehicle, the Pegasus rocket.

“Today’s Pegasus launch is an important milestone for America’s space program and, I think, it’s a triumph for our country’s commercial space industry,” Thompson said that day. Since then, the Pegasus program has transported more than 80 satellites, providing a low-cost option to launch the communications equipment that powers our world.