AUBURN — There was a time when the most pressing thing Ken Hodgkins had to worry about was whether the sheep were fed each morning.

These days, he’s responsible for negotiating the peaceful use of outer space, up to and including matters of the International Space Station, the Global Positioning Satellite system and the use of nuclear power sources.

Ken Hodgkins is a long way from the farm.

Hodgkins, who grew up farming sheep on Dillingham Hill in Auburn, lives in Alexandria, Virginia, where he serves as the director of the Office of Space and Advanced Technology in the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs in the U.S. State Department.

On Saturday, the former Edward Little High student will receive an honorary degree from his alma mater, the University of Maine.

Hodgkins has achieved literally out-of-this-world success, and in many ways, he says, it all began on that farm where drudgery brought him to the realization that he wanted to do more with his life.


“I discovered that, man, I’ve got to go to college,” Hodgkins said, “because this sucks.”

It sounds blunt, but for Hodgkins, farm work was part of his education. It was a time for great choices: Would he let spiritual gravity bind him to the farm? Or did he want to soar?

“Growing up where I did with the kids I grew up with, everybody worked,” Hodgkins said. “Everybody did hard work and everybody had kind of a vision of what they wanted to do: It could be, I want to be a sheep farmer; I want to be a mechanic; I want to be a professor; I want to be this or that. We weren’t stove-piped into certain things. That part of it really helped me in my career and also with dealing with people, here in the U.S. and around the world.

“The next thing I know,” Hodgkins said, “I’m making my living doing this outer space stuff.”

He lives near D.C. these days, but Hodgkins’ connections to Maine are many. He married a woman from Mechanic Falls, for one thing. He has friends made decades earlier as an EL kid. And he has a summer home near Wiscasset, a place he encourages his three daughters to visit as often as possible.

“You have to kind of appreciate what goes on outside of Washington,” Hodgkins said, “to see the lives other people are living and to get a different perspective on what’s really important and what really isn’t.”


Hodgkins will receive his honorary degree in a ceremony starting at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the University of Maine in Orono.

Ken Hodgkins

Spaceman Ken Hodgkins

Hodgkins is the director of the Office of Space and Advanced Technology in the Bureau of Oceans, International Environmental and Scientific Affairs in the U.S. State Department. 

He serves as the U.S. representative to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. He has been the representative on major presidential policy reviews on remote sensing, the Global Positioning Satellite system, orbital debris and the use of nuclear power sources in space.

Before coming to the State Department in 1987, he was the director of international affairs at the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service of the Department of Commerce.


Hodgkins received a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1978 and an MPA in 1980 from UMaine. He joined the federal government in 1980 as a Presidential Management Fellow.

In 2010 and 2017, respectively, he was the first and only Department of State recipient of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ International Cooperation Award and the American Astronautical Society’s award for Advancement of International Cooperation. He was also named by GPS World as a “GNSS Leader to Watch in 2009–2010.”

Hodgkins is a member-elect of the International Academy of Astronautics and the International Institute of Space Law.


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