INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – When Barry Wilmore came to Tennessee Technological University, he was just a walk-on for the Golden Eagle football team. Earning his way to a scholarship, he proved himself to be a capable linebacker before his career finished.
A bright student with lofty aspirations, it appeared the sky was the limit for Wilmore. Of course, in Wilmore’s case, that’s probably an understatement.
The former astronaut will now see another honor bestowed upon him in January as he was selected as the latest recipient of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Theodore Roosevelt Award, the group’s highest honor given to an individual.
The award is named for the former president who helped oversee the organization’s creation in 1906. It is given to a graduate from an NCAA member institution who earned a varsity letter in college for participation in intercollegiate athletics, and who ultimately became a distinguished citizen of national reputation based on outstanding life accomplishment.
And if you look at the names previously awarded “The Teddy,” there’s no question it’s an elite list – four former U.S. presidents, former professional athletic league commissioners, actors, astronauts, elected officials and so on.
A native of Mt. Juliet, Wilmore joined the Golden Eagles in 1982 as a walk-on for head coach Don Wade, starting the final three games of the season at defensive end.
But 1983 saw a knee injury, sidelining him in Gary Darnell’s first season as Tech’s head coach. He came back as a backup strong safety in 1984.
In May 1985, Wilmore earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, becoming one of the first graduate student-athletes in Tech history, then, in the following season, switched to outside linebacker.
In his final season with the Golden Eagles, he prospered. He recorded 143 tackles, the third highest single-season total in program history. He made 21 tackles against Austin Peay, which stood as the second-most in a game at Tech.
In addition to that, Wilmore was selected to the College Sports Information Directors of America’s Academic All-District team as well as the Super Squad Defensive Team by the Leonard’s Losers football publication. He was also selected as the season’s Robert Hill Johnson Award recipient, the Tech football team’s highest honor. Wilmore also earned a Scholar-Athlete Award from the National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame.
Wilmore later received his master’s degree in both electrical engineering from Tech and aviation systems from Tennessee in 1994.
Following his Tech career, Wilmore became a naval officer and pilot, logging 6,200 hours of flight time and 663 aircraft carrier landings as he completed four deployments from the USS Forrestal, USS John F. Kennedy, USS Enterprise and USS Dwight D. Eisenhower as he flew A-7Es and F/A-18s. He flew support missions during Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm and Southern Watch and also flew 21 combat missions during Operation Desert Storm.
He later became a test pilot, participating in the development of the T-45 jet trainer and was a systems and fixed wing flight test instructor for the United States Naval Test Pilot School and was a flight test instructor at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base.
In July 2000, Wilmore was selected as a pilot by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Following two years of training and evaluation, Wilmore was assigned technical duties on all propulsion system issues including the space shuttle main engines, solid rocket motor and external tank, and served on the astronaut support team that traveled to Kennedy Space Center in support of launch and landing operations.
Wilmore made two space flights aboard space shuttle Atlantis twice for STS-129 – serving as the pilot — and STS-135 – the final flight of the space shuttle program as the designated capsule communicator.
From September 2014 until March 2015, Wilmore returned to space as a member of the Soyuz TMA-14M crew to the International Space Station for Expedition 41/42 for a 167-day mission. During the mission, humans manufactured off-world for the first time as the ISS’ 3-D printer made a tool with a design file sent from the ground to the printer. The tool was a ratchet wrench needed by Wilmore, who otherwise would have had to wait until the next supply mission.
Wilmore has received numerous medals and honors, including the Navy Meritorious Service Medal, five Air Medals – including three with the Combat ‘V’ designation, six Navy Commendation Medals – with the ‘V’ designation. He was awarded the Aviation Officer Candidate School’s Distinguished Naval Graduate Award and was on the initial Naval Flight Training “Commodore’s List With Distinction.” He was honored twice by the U.S. Atlantic Fleet as the Light Attack Wing One – Pilot of the Year in 1991 and the Strike Fighter Aviator of the Year in 1999. In 1998, Wilmore was the recipient of the Strike Fighter Wing Atlantic’s Scott Speicher Award for Weapons Employment Excellence.
In 2003, Wilmore was inducted into the Tennessee Tech Sports Hall of Fame, and, in 2010, was named an Engineer of Distinction by the Tech College of Engineering, and was conferred an honorary doctorate in 2012.
Wilmore currently serves as a member of the Tennessee Tech Board of Trustees and will hold that role until his term expires in 2021.
Former winners of the Theodore Roosevelt Award include: Dwight D. Eisenhower (1967), Gerald Ford (1975), Sally Ride (2005), and John Glenn (2008).