“A Zest for Life”: NPS Remembers Alan Poindexter

As Dean of Students, Alan Poindexter responds to a question in the King Auditorium on the campus of the Naval Postgraduate School. Photo Credit: US Navy/Javier Chagoya

The Naval Postgraduate School will today honour former astronaut Alan ‘Dex’ Poindexter, who lost his life in a tragic waterskiing accident on 1 July. At the time of his death, Poindexter was serving as the school’s Dean of Students and Executive Director of Programs. He had enjoyed a stellar naval career, lasting more than a quarter of a century, which saw him rise to the rank of Captain, fly as a fighter and test pilot and later serve aboard two of the most pivotal space missions in the late Shuttle era.

“Dex was not just the senior naval officer here at NPS,” said President Dan Oliver, in a statement published on the school’s website. “He was an accomplished man of extraordinary character, a devoted husband and father and a true professional. Our student body consists of countless men and women who all have one thing in common: the responsibility to lead in their respective services and communities. It takes a special kind of individual to command the respect of these students. Dex was that kind of man.”

A consummate leader and professional, Poindexter confers with his STS-131 pilot, Jim Dutton (right), during training in the Shuttle simulator. Dutton is due to deliver one of the eulogies at today’s NPS memorial ceremony. Photo Credit: NASA

Poindexter was a graduate of the school, based in Monterey, California, having earned a master’s degree in aeronautical engineering in 1995. The son of John Poindexter – a three-star admiral who was National Security Advisor to President Ronald Reagan – a naval career beckoned from a young age. “My dad was in the Navy,” he told a NASA interviewer in the weeks before his first Shuttle mission, STS-122, “and we grew up all over the United States. I got to see a lot of different cultures, I got to learn a lot of different aspects about the country we live in and our history and I just had a lot of fun doing it.”

Poindexter was commissioned into the Navy in 1986 and undertook flight training in Pensacola, Florida. As a naval aviator, Poindexter flew the F-14 Tomcat from the famed Naval Air Station Miramar in California and was deployed to the Persian Gulf during Operations Desert Storm and Southern Watch. Concurrent with his studies at NPS, Poindexter graduated as a test pilot at Patuxent River, Maryland, and was later involved in the development of the F-14’s digital flight control system. He logged the first catapult launch and carrier landing of the jet with these new controls.

Poindexter (upper left) and his STS-131 crewmates are pictured in the International Space Station’s cupola during their mission in April 2010. Photo Credit: NASA

Selected as an astronaut candidate in June 1998, Poindexter spent a dozen years with NASA and flew as pilot on STS-122 and commanded STS-131, before retiring from the corps in December 2010. His mark upon the Naval Postgraduate School, even during his relatively short tenure, was remarkable. “As Dean of Students,” noted the school’s website tribute, “Poindexter took quite personally the welfare of his students and the value of the education delivered to them. His well-known open-door policy brought students of every flavour into his office, where memoirs of an accomplished pilot and space traveller adorned every wall and nook.”

Commander Matt ‘Dutch’ Vandersluis, Poindexter’s deputy, currently serves as Acting Dean of Students. He described his predecessor as “uniquely impressive”, “impossible not to love” and a man imbued with “a zest for life that was contagious”. Today’s service will be held on the NPS’s Herrmann Hall East Lawn and eulogies are expected to be delivered by President Dan Oliver and by Poindexter’s former STS-131 crewmate, astronaut Jim Dutton. It has also been revealed that in response to the immense outpouring of sympathy in the aftermath of Poindexter’s death, a beneficial trust has been established for his severely autistic son, Samuel, who is also an epilepsy sufferer.

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