Eric Burke receives NASA's prestigious Silver Snoopy award for his work keeping astronauts safe

When Eric Burke applied for a job at the Kennedy Space Center back in 2007, he didn’t expect anything would come of it.

“I didn't think I had a shot,” said Burke, a 1998 Naples graduate who at the time was just a few years out of graduate school. Yet he was already an accomplished research and development engineer, designing and building prototype systems for the U.S. Navy and earning national recognition for new, innovative techniques.

His accomplishments caught the eye of folks with the space program, launching Burke’s career that took off working on the space shuttle — and eventually landed him at NASA Langley Research Center, where he recently earned a prestigious award.

Burke was one of four researchers from NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to receive this year’s Silver Snoopy award. Given personally by NASA astronauts, the Silver Snoopy represents astronauts’ own recognition of technical excellence. Fewer than 1 percent of the agency’s employees receive the recognition each year.

“We’re doing some amazing things,” said astronaut Barry E. “Butch” Wilmore, who presented the awards. “We get there on the shoulders of people like you. They’re dotting every ‘I’ and crossing every ‘T,’ and they are the ones making it happen.”

Burke was recognized for his “sustained commitment to the safety of human space flight ... and development of numerous nondestructive inspection techniques.”

Burke said when his kids ask him what he does, he explains it as being "a spacecraft doctor."

“You look for cracks” and make sure the spacecraft is safe to fly, said Burke. In certifying the vehicles for safety it takes cutting-edge equipment and technologies, he explained. In searching for flaws, they look for things that are 100th the width of a human hair, he said.

“People drop wrenches, things get bumped ... spacecrafts can be hit by orbital debris,” added Burke, who coordinates with all NASA centers nationwide regarding safety and mission success.

Eric and his wife Emily, who is from Chicago, live in Yorktown, Virginia. They have three children, ages 10, 8, and 4. Family members, including Eric’s parents Ron and Linda Burke who live near Naples, were there for the presentation of the Silver Snoopy Award.

“Our recipients today should be very proud,” said Clayton Turner, NASA Langley Research Center director, who also happens to be familiar with the Finger Lakes region as a graduate of Rochester Institute of Technology. “These are truly very special distinctions,” Turner said.

The award depicts Snoopy, a character from the “Peanuts” comic strip created by Charles Schulz. The award package consists of a Silver Snoopy lapel pin made of sterling silver that was flown during a NASA mission, a commendation letter stating the mission the Silver Snoopy pin was flown on and a framed Silver Snoopy certificate signed by an astronaut.

Burke said his interest in aircrafts of all types began a long time ago, when he was growing up and going to school in Naples. From elementary school on, he had mentors who encouraged him. “I had a lot of great teachers,” he said. “They enabled me to work on stuff that interested me. Naples gave me a place to grow.”

He said the Silver Snoopy award helps raise awareness for the work going on at NASA. While at the Kennedy Space Center for three years, he got to work on the last 16 space shuttle missions before Atlantis was retired in 2011. It was an exciting time and a lot of exciting things keep happening at NASA, he said.

NASA Langley, founded in 1917, is the nation’s first civilian aeronautical research facility and NASA’s first field center. Langley is where NASA researches solutions to challenges ranging from global climate change and access to space, to air travel and future aviation vehicles.

In recent activity, on Oct. 31 the Expedition 61 crew harvested a space-grown crop aboard the International Space Station. Space agriculture aboard the orbiting laboratory has been ongoing for several years to learn how to provide fresh food to space crews, according to a NASA update of its developments.

On Oct. 18, NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir completed NASA's first all-woman spacewalk. During the 7-hour, 17-minute spacewalk, the pair replaced a failed power controller and completed several other tasks in preparation for future spacewalks.

NASA plans on adding to its existing robotic fleet at the Red Planet with the InSight Mars lander set to study the planet’s interior. The Mars 2020 rover will look for signs of past microbial life, gather samples for future return to Earth and investigate resources that could someday support astronauts.

In a nutshell, NASA says its “current and future Earth missions use the vantage point of space to understand and explore our home planet, improve lives and safeguard our future.”

Learn more about the Silver Snoopy award at https://go.nasa.gov/2NpXYck. For more information about the space program, go to https://www.nasa.gov.