NASA’s JPL appoints its first female director

Deepak Gupta
Deepak Gupta January 29, 2022
Updated 2022/01/29 at 6:29 PM

NASA isn’t just interested in getting more women into space. The agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has appointed Dr. Laurie Leshin of Worcester Polytechnic Institute as its first director. She will take office on May 16, replacing former Director Michael Watkins (who retired in August 2021) and acting Director Lieutenant General Larry James. She will also serve as vice president of Caltech, which manages JPL.

Leshin has a wealth of experience, both in science and in breaking new ground. She has held senior roles at NASA, including a key director role at the Goddard Space Flight Center. As deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate, she laid some of the groundwork for commercial spaceflight and Artemis. She was dean of science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and has served as the WPI’s first female president since 2014.

JPL’s new director also pursued her own science. She has been a proponent and contributor to sample return missions to Mars and has helped study data from the Curiosity rover. The appointment is also something of a comeback for Leshin, as she earned her graduate degrees at Caltech.

Caltech said Leshin was a prime candidate to lead JPL thanks to his “strategic approach” to science and technology, recognition of NASA’s leadership role in science, navigation of complex institutions and ability to “inspire the next generation” of scientists. and engineers. In other words, it can be a good fit for an organization where long-term planning is absolutely necessary.

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