Shuttle Contractor's 'Soft Mark' on History: Pins Honor Space Shuttle Team

United Space Alliance's Space Shuttle Mission Pin Collection
— United Space Alliance's framed space shuttle mission pin collection, as presented to Space Center Houston on June 18, 2014. (Image credit: Z. Pearlman)

HOUSTON — United Space Alliance is putting a pin in its role in space shuttle history.

In fact, it has put in 135 pins.

The company, which served as NASA's primary contractor for the space shuttle during the second half of the 30-year program, presented a lapel pin collection to Space Center Houston on Wednesday (June 18). The plaque, which also included a flown-in-space U.S. flag, featured one-inch pins for each of the shuttle's 135 missions. [The Most Memorable Space Shuttle Missions]

Scott Hartwig, United Space Alliance (USA) president and chief executive officer, said he hopes the display will be a point of pride for the entire shuttle team.

"It is USA's way of reaching out and leaving a soft mark in history in recognition of the team members and the team's accomplishments on this great program that is now behind us," Hartwig told collectSPACE in an interview. "So when future generations come to the visitor center, their parents and aunts and uncles and grandparents can say, 'Look at that plaque there. You know, I worked on that program. I worked on that mission. That pin represents the mission I worked on.'"

The plaque presented to Space Center Houston, which is the official visitor center for Johnson Space Center, is one of several such displays that USA has gifted to date.

"It's an opportunity to pay tribute to Space Center Houston and the other visitor centers around the country," Hartwig said. "We began [these pin presentations] with the Space Foundation in Colorado Springs. We also did this at NASA Kennedy Space Center's visitor center [in Florida]."

Another of the displays will be given to the U.S. Space & Rocket Center at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama in July.

"I do like that people in the community can come and see this, not only now, but also well into the future, and realize that they themselves or their relatives are represented on this presentation and their work lives on as part of it," said Ellen Ochoa, director of the Johnson Space Center and a former space shuttle astronaut.

The framed pin set with its STS-108 flown flag will soon be displayed in Space Center Houston's Astronaut Gallery for USA's shuttle team members and all to see.

"We accept this fantastic commemorative of the shuttle program and it will always have a place of prominence in the building," Richard Allen, president and CEO of Space Center Houston, said. "It's a great artifact and it does help tell a great history."

Space Center Houston is working towards the March 2015 opening of another tribute to the space shuttle, the public display of NASA's Shuttle Carrier Aircraft topped by a full-scale, walk-through mockup of an orbiter.

USA was founded in 1996, bringing Boeing and Lockheed Martin together to consolidate many of the contracts that supported the shuttle program. For 15 years, the company served as NASA's primary industry partner for the day-to-day management of the space shuttle fleet, as well as the planning, training and operations for 55 missions.

With the shuttle's retirement in 2011, USA is now reaching its own end.

— Scott Hartwig, president and CEO of United Space Alliance (USA), speaks at his company's space shuttle pin presentation ceremony as Ellen Ochoa, NASA Johnson Space Center director, and Richard Allen, Space Center Houston president and CEO, look on, June 18, 2014 (Image credit: Z. Pearlman)

"We are down to our last two contracts — and they will be finished at the end of September of this year," Hartwig told "It effectively brings USA to a closure point."

"USA was created for a specific purpose, that being the shuttle program. Along the way we have had the pleasure of supporting other programs, like the space station, Orion and Space Launch System," he concluded. "Now, we find ourselves in a position to transition our skilled personnel and experience forward to help the next programs."

Click through to for more photos from United Space Alliance’s (USA) space shuttle pins presentation ceremony.

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.