NASA scientist will be first woman to head Air and Space Museum

Ellen Stofan will assume leadership of the Air and Space Museum April 30.


Portrait of Stofan

Ellen Stofan (Photo by Callie Broadus)

Currently consulting senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, Stofan comes to the position with more than 25 years’ experience in space-related organizations and a deep research background in planetary geology. She is the first woman to hold this position.

Stofan was chief scientist at NASA (2013–2016), serving as the principal advisor to former Administrator Charles Bolden on NASA’s strategic planning and programs. She helped guide the development of a long-range plan to get humans to Mars, and worked on strategies for NASA to support commercial activity in low Earth orbit as it transitions from the International Space Station (ISS) to sending humans to the moon and Mars in the mid-2020s. She supported NASA’s overall science programs in heliophysics, Earth science, planetary science and astrophysics. While at NASA, she worked with President Barack Obama’s science advisor and the National Science and Technology Council on science policy.

An accomplished public speaker, Stofan has addressed the World Economic Forum’s Council on the Future of Space Technologies at Davos and continues to serve as co-chair of the council. She has spoken at the World Science Festival, SciFest Africa and numerous universities and schools around the world, engaging audiences in the excitement and inspiration of space exploration, diversity and the inclusion of underrepresented groups in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Ellen Stofan on stage

Ellen Stofan, NASA’s Chief Scientist, speaks at NASA’s Earth Day event, Friday, April 22, 2016 at Union Station in Washington, DC. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Stofan grew up outside of Cleveland and was surrounded by science from an early age. Her father was, literally, a rocket scientist for NASA, and her mother was an elementary-school science teacher and school administrator. At age 4, she attended her first rocket launch at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and by age 11, she was tagging along on her mother’s geology-class fieldtrips, peppering the instructor with questions about rocks.

She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in geology at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and her master’s and doctoral degrees at Brown University, both in geological sciences. While finishing her doctoral degree, Stofan joined the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) as a post-doctoral fellow and became the deputy project scientist for the Magellan Mission to Venus.

In 1994, Stofan became JPL’s chief scientist for the New Millennium Program where she managed a team of about 100 scientists working on new technologies. The following year, Stofan moved to London while continuing to work at JPL and was, and continues to be, an honorary professor at the University College London, where she conducted her own research and advised doctoral students. She returned to the U.S. in 2000.

For 13 years (2000–2013), Stofan was vice president and senior scientist at Proxemy Research, a consulting firm in the Washington area specializing in planetary research.

She was on the board of the College of William & Mary Foundation for 10 years, serving as board chair and co-chair of the development committee as it planned a $1 billion fundraising campaign.

Stofan’s research focuses on the geology of Venus, Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan and Earth. Her favorite mission was Cassini, primarily because of her interest in Titan.

She has published extensively and received many awards and honors, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, and was named one of “CNN’s Extraordinary People of 2014.” She is co-author of the books Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System and Next Earth: What Our World Can Teach Us About Other Planets, both published by National Geographic.

Stofan succeeds Gen. J.R. “Jack” Dailey who retired in January after serving 18 years as director.

Meet Dr. Stofan in this video profile 


Posted: 5 April 2018
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