Ellen Stofan, currently consulting senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, has been named the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, effective April 30. 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.
“Ellen’s scientific background, leadership skills, communication acumen and strategic thinking have positioned her superbly to lead the National Air and Space Museum,” said Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton. “Her passion for science coupled with her love of education will ensure that the museum will continue to be a global treasure and world leader through its extensive programming, exhibitions and scholarship.”
“It is an incredible honor to join the National Air and Space Museum family at this important point in the museum’s history,” Stofan said. “Space and aviation inspire our next generation of explorers, and there is no better place to experience this than at our museums on the Mall and at the Udvar-Hazy Center.”
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.
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 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.
About the National Air and Space Museum
The National Air and Space Museum is one of the world’s most popular museums, with more than 8 million visitors each year. Its mission is to commemorate, educate and inspire visitors by preserving and displaying aeronautical and spaceflight artifacts. The museum maintains more than 60,000 objects, making it the world’s largest collection of artifacts, archival materials and works of art related to aviation, spaceflight and the study of the universe.
The museum opened July 1, 1976, as part of America’s bicentennial celebration. Within six months of opening, the museum had welcomed its 5 millionth visitor. In 2003, two days before the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ historic 1903 flight, the museum opened the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles airport in Chantilly, Virginia. The two public display hangars allow the museum to display artifacts that are too big for the museum on the National Mall.
At the museum in Washington, D.C., many icons of flight are on display, including the 1903 Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and the Mercury Friendship 7. In 2016, in celebration of its 40th anniversary, the museum opened the Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall exhibition after an extensive redesign.
The Udvar-Hazy Center currently houses over 300 aircraft and spacecraft, including icons like the Enola Gay, Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird and a Concorde. In 2012, the museum welcomed the space shuttle Discovery, the longest serving orbiter, into the collection. Its arrival, following a fly-over of Washington, was one of the most popular—and most photographed—events in Smithsonian history.
The museum remains the preeminent American institution for memorializing flight and for collecting, preserving and presenting aviation and space technology. It also plays a pivotal role in planetary research. Today the museum’s Center for Earth and Planetary Studies has team members on all active missions to Mars (the Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Express spacecraft), Mercury (MESSENGER spacecraft) and the moon (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter).
The museum currently has 347 full-time employees and an operating budget of $48 million; approximately 70 percent of the museum’s funding comes from federal appropriations. The remainder is primarily provided through private donations.
About the Search Committee
A search committee was established to fill the position of the John and Adrienne Mars Director of the National Air and Space Museum. The committee was led by Smithsonian Provost John Davis. Other committee members were Deborah Barnhart, CEO and director of the U.S. Space and Rocket Center; Marion Blakey, a NASM board member; Lonnie Bunch, director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture; Peter Jakab, chief curator at NASM; David Joyce, NASM board member emeritus; Richard Kurin, Smithsonian distinguished scholar and ambassador-at-large; Adrienne Mars, a member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents’ Advancement Committee; John Plueger, NASM board chair; Kathy Sullivan, former NASM Lindbergh fellow and former astronaut and NOAA administrator; and Christine Udvar-Hazy, a member of the Smithsonian Board of Regents’ Advancement Committee.
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