PITTSFIELD, Maine — Retired NASA astronaut Frederick “Rick” Hauck has seen and done things most people can only imagine, experiences that taught him the value of thinking big and taking risks.
“Think back to your youth when you rode a bicycle for the first time,” said Hauck, describing what it’s like to orbit the planet. “There’s this tremendous feeling of liberation and even a sense of wonder about how that experience expands your universe. It’s like becoming a child again.”
Cianbro Chairman and CEO Peter Vigue said Hauck’s adventurous attitude, as well as his experiences, are what led him to ask the astronaut to join the Maine-based construction firm’s board of directors. The board voted to accept Hauck as a member earlier this month.
“He brings whole new dimensions to our organization,” said Vigue on Thursday. “He has a great deal of knowledge and relationships in many industries on not just the national level, but on the global level.”
Hauck met the late Bud Cianchette, one of Cianbro’s four founding brothers, when they were neighbors in Falmouth after the Haucks moved to Maine last year to be close to their grandchildren. Both men marveled at each others’ careers, said Hauck.
“It was just a wonderful story of a company that was founded on the ethics and ideals of an immigrant family that grew up to do such amazing things,” said Hauck. “Before they’d even asked I thought I’d love to have a relationship with this company because I was so impressed with it.”
Cianchette, who died last November, arranged for Hauck to tour Cianbro’s Eastern Manufacturing Facility in Brewer, where the company has built oil refinery modules and shipped them to Texas for assembly. Hauck said he was “enthralled” with the company’s capabilities.
“Pete called shortly after Bud’s death” asking Hauck to join the board, he said. “Without hesitation I said yes.”
Hauck earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Tufts University and a master’s in nuclear engineering from MIT in 1966. After 12 years as a Navy combat and test pilot through the Vietnam War, Hauck joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1978. His first flight was as a co-pilot aboard the Challenger in 1983. A year later Hauck and four others performed history’s first space salvage mission — retrieving two ailing communications satellites — aboard the shuttle Discovery.
After another trip to space in 1988 — the first mission after the Challenger catastrophe — Hauck left NASA in 1989. In 1990, he became president of AXA Space, which sells insurance for communications satellites being sent into orbit. He retired in 2005.
Among Hauck’s many private and nonprofit posts was on the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations’ Advisory Council. The council, based in Atlanta, evaluates and accredits every nuclear power plant in the United States every three years.
“There may be some new nuclear power plants built in the next 30 years,” said Hauck. “One aspect being considered is building large components and assembling them, just as has been done in shipbuilding and oil refineries.”
Hauck said his membership on Cianbro’s board doesn’t guarantee the company will be involved in building power plants.
“My being on the board doesn’t directly gain any business for Cianbro but it’s a way to facilitate discussions,” he said. “I was able to make some introductions.”
Vigue said Cianbro is exploring numerous new directions in which to expand the company and Hauck’s experience will help.
“We’re looking at a number of things and expect that we’ll continue our tradition of growth and success,” said Vigue. “We need people like Rick on our board who will bring those unique experiences he’s had to our company.”
Cianbro, a 100 percent employee-owned company, employs some 2,500 people and has annual contracts that average $450 million. The company appointed Norbert W. Young Jr., who brought 40 years of experience in international construction industries, to its board of directors in December. Vigue said one seat on the board remains open.