by Lia Chang
Congratulations to Dr. Leroy Chiao, astronaut, entrepreneur, and special advisor to the Space Foundation, who received the 2015 Blue Cloud Award for outstanding leadership at the China Institute’s Blue Cloud Gala at Gotham Hall in New York City on May 29th.
China Institute (CI) Board Chairman Chien Chung Pei, the son of I.M. Pei, and Founder of Pei Partnership Architects, presented Dr. Chiao with his award.
More than 300 global leaders in business and culture, committed to building trust between China and the U.S. were in attendance at Gotham Hall to celebrate Dr. Chiao, The Hon. Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., chairman of the Atlantic Council Board of Directors, former U.S. Ambassador to China, and former Governor of Utah; and Shirley and Walter Wang, founder and CEO of Plastpro Inc., and chairman and CEO of JM Eagle (respectively). The four individuals received their awards at the Institute’s 89th anniversary.
The great poets of antiquity in China praised those who aspired to and achieved great heights as “soaring amid blue clouds.” The 2015 Blue Cloud Honorees exemplify all that China Institute holds of value: vision, ambition, integrity, great personal achievement, and a deeply informed understanding of China and its growing global importance. Jon Huntsman’s exceptional career in public service is marked not only by his role as Governor and U.S. Ambassador to China, but by his proactive advocacy for Chinese language studies. Shirley and Walter Wang’s trailblazing business achievements encompass an equivalent passion for philanthropic causes in China and the U.S. And Dr. Leroy Chiao has broken barriers, as an astronaut and commander, as well as at home.
2012 Blue Cloud Award recipient David Henry Hwang hosted the festivities. Hwang is a Tony Award winning playwright (M. Butterfly); the most-produced living opera librettist; a director of Columbia University’s School of the Arts’ M.F.A. program in playwriting; a screenwriter; and is currently a writer-producer for the Golden Globe-winning TV series “The Affair.”
Dr. Chiao attended the dinner with his wife Karen, who surprised her husband with a dress she had designed featuring a photograph he took from space of China and the Gobi Desert.
Watch Dr. Chiao’s acceptance speech below.
“I think the time is ripe to work with China, who is now planning their own space station, starting in 2018, and that we can start to work together, have astronaut exchanges, and again, having been aligned in a very visible civil space program, to help better relationships between our two countries. Now you might look at Russia today and say, well, gosh, relationships between Russia and the United States aren’t very good today because of the crisis in the Ukraine. I would say it would be a whole lot worse if we weren’t working on the International Space Station. So I’d like to thank everyone from the China Institute for this great honor. I’d like to thank you for all the hard work that you do. We’re all pulling together to try to better relations between China and the United States. I’d like to thank my lovely wife Karen here, who is wearing a picture that I shot from space. If you look beyond the Gobi, a little bit north in the Gobi, you’ll see the launch site at Jiuquan, which is where all China space missions launch from. That was a shot that I took from space, a little over 10 years ago. I’d like to thank you all for this great honor.”
Dr. Leroy Chiao is a former NASA astronaut and International Space Station commander. He holds academic appointments at Rice University and Baylor College of Medicine, and he is a Special Advisor for Human Spaceflight to the Space Foundation.
Dr. Chiao’s fascination with spaceflight began in 1969, when at the age of eight, he watched the Apollo spacecraft land on the moon on an old black and white television in his parents’ backyard in Danville, Calif. Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong made history when they took the first steps on the moon, fueling the young boy’s passion for flying.
His dream to become an astronaut stayed with him while he studied chemical engineering at U.C. Berkeley, and through graduate school at U.C. Santa Barbara. Chiao’s parents were both chemical engineers who immigrated to Milwaukee from Taiwan in the late 1950s for graduate school. They wanted their children to retain their Asian values, but also chose to assimilate their son and his two sisters into the American culture, urging them to be more assertive in society. Stressing a science education, his parents encouraged him to follow their lead and become an engineer.
When Dr. Chiao applied to NASA, he was told he needed to finish his doctorate and gain work experience. Getting his master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering from U.C. Santa Barbara, he worked as an engineer for almost two years, first at Hexel and then, at age 28, as a research scientist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The stars were in perfect alignment for Dr. Chiao the second time around. NASA was in the process of selecting a new class when he reapplied for the space program in 1989. Interviewing at NASA in January 1990, he was called to report in July and became an astronaut a year later. Dr. Chiao flew his first shuttle mission in 1994 (STS-65-Columbia). He became the first Asian American to perform a space walk on his second shuttle mission (STS-72-Endeavour) in 1996. His third shuttle mission (STS-92-Discovery) was in 2000.
In 2004, along with Dr. Ed Lu and Dan Tani, Chiao was one of three Asian Americans who were in the elite ranks of 160 American astronauts. They followed in the footsteps of career astronauts Dr. Franklin Chang-Diaz and Ellison Onizuka, who paved the way for Asian Americans in the space program. Onizuka lost his life in the January 28, 1986 space shuttle Challenger accident, along with six other crewmembers.
A veteran of four space missions, Dr. Chiao most recently served as Commander and NASA Science Officer of Expedition 10 aboard the International Space Station. He has logged over 229 days in space, over 36 hours of which were spent in Extra-Vehicular Activity (spacewalks). Dr. Chiao has worked extensively in government and commercial space programs, and he has held leadership positions in commercial ventures and at NASA. Dr. Chiao left NASA in December 2005 following a 15-year career with the agency. From June to September 2009, he served as a member of the White House appointed Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, and he currently serves on the NASA Advisory Council.
A native English speaker, Dr. Chiao also speaks Mandarin Chinese and Russian. He has flown space missions and worked closely with Russian, Japanese and European astronauts and their affiliated space agencies. As a Space Station Commander and Space Shuttle Mission Specialist, he was also a certified Co-Pilot of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. In September 2006, Dr. Chiao became the first American to visit the Astronaut Research and Training Center of China. There, he met the first two national Chinese astronauts, Yang Liwei and Fei Junlong. Dr. Chiao is a Fellow of the Explorers Club and member of the International Academy of Astronautics and the Committee of 100. Dr. Chiao also serves in various capacities to further space education in the U.S. and China.
He joined China Speakers Agency in 2015, the international speakers bureau with a China focus, to share his professional knowledge and unique insights with a broader range of audiences. Dr. Chiao earned a BS in Chemical Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MS and Doctorate in Philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
The gala benefits the China Institute’s programs in education, arts and culture, and business, and featured cocktails, dinner, a live auction, and a performance by celebrated Metropolitan Opera singer Hao Jiang Tian and his iSING! Festival singers.
Founded in 1926, China Institute is the preeminent center in the U.S. that advances a deeper understanding of China through programs in education, culture and business. With the rising importance of the relationship between China, the U.S. and the rest of the globe, the China Institute’s mission is more relevant – and necessary – than ever before.
China Institute (CI) Board Chairman Chien Chung Pei, the son of I.M. Pei, and Founder of Pei Partnership Architects, gave a preview of the Institute’s planned move to Lower Manhattan and the new state-of-the art facilities designed by his firm.
Opening in August 2015, China Institute’s expanded headquarters will meet its community’s growing needs for services and programs. The new facility, at 50,000 square feet (more than five times the size of its current facility), will have more gallery and classroom space, as well as the additions of an auditorium, multi-function room for performances, exhibits and films, tea house and gift shop. This expansion will enable the Institute to be an even more dynamic “gateway to China,” offering cultural and business programs that respond to a changing world and present the full diversity of China’s past, present and future to a new generation of global citizens.
Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon and Taxman. She has guest starred on “One Life to Live,” “As the World Turns,” and “New York Undercover.” She is profiled in Jade Magazine.
Photos: Dr. Leroy Chiao, The Hon. Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., Shirley and Walter Wang Honored at China Institute’s Blue Cloud Gala
Dr. Leroy Chiao & Wat Misaka to Receive 2010 OCA Pioneer Awards in Houston
Meet Astronaut Dr. Leroy Chiao at The Explorers Club Celebration of The International Year of Astronomy in New York
Leroy Chiao – 1st Asian American Commander of the International Space Station
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