NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced Wednesday Jim Free’s promotion to associate administrator for the agency at NASA Headquarters in Washington, effective when his predecessor Bob Cabana retires on Sunday, Dec. 31. Since September 2021, Free has served as the associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate (ESDMD).
Nelson also announced Free’s deputy, Catherine Koerner, will succeed him as the next head of the mission directorate.
“So many of us in the NASA family have worked with Jim and have been inspired by his character and intellect. Pam, Bob, and I strongly believe that his wealth of experience and expertise will bring exceptional guidance and perspective to our leadership team in his new role as associate administrator, enhancing our collective efforts toward achieving bold goals for the benefit of all humanity,” said Administrator Nelson. “Cathy’s experience as the ESDMD deputy associate administrator – including her leadership in establishing and defining future space exploration architectures while overseeing the development of our deep space transportation systems – has prepared her for this new role as associate administrator for ESDMD. Cathy’s leadership will help NASA continue to extend humanity’s reach in the cosmos. Congratulations, Jim and Cathy!”
As associate administrator, Free will become NASA’s third highest-ranking executive, as well as highest-ranking civil servant. This role serves as a senior advisor to Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. When he assumes his role, Free also will lead the agency’s 10 center directors, and five mission directorate associate administrators at NASA Headquarters. He will act as the agency’s chief operating officer for more than 18,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $25 billion.
Before his appointment to associate administrator of Exploration Systems Development in 2021, Free spent several years in various private sector roles. He left NASA in 2017 after serving as the agency’s deputy associate administrator for technical in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
Prior to joining NASA Headquarters, he worked his way up to center director at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio, where he was responsible for planning, organizing, and directing the activities required in accomplishing the missions assigned to the center. Free has served a variety of roles at NASA centers since beginning his career in 1990 at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
A native of Northeast Ohio, Free earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautics from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and his master’s degree in space systems engineering from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
Free is the recipient of the Presidential Rank Award, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Exceptional Service Medal, NASA Significant Achievement Medal, and numerous other awards.
In her new role as the associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, Koerner will assume responsibility for the development of NASA’s Moon to Mars architecture, defining and managing the systems development for Artemis missions, and planning for integrated deep space exploration approach.
As deputy associate administrator for the mission directorate, Koerner provides leadership and management of human spaceflight development and operations related to NASA’s Moon and Mars exploration goals. She currently is responsible for establishing and defining future space exploration architectures while overseeing development of new space transportation systems and supporting capabilities that are critical for human-led deep space exploration and scientific research.
Prior to her positions at NASA Headquarters, Koerner was NASA’s Orion Program manager at NASA Johnson, where she was responsible for oversight of design, development, and testing of the Orion spacecraft. Before leading the Orion Program, Koerner served as the director of Human Health and Performance Directorate, focusing on enhancing crew health and performance and mitigating risks associated with human spaceflight.
As a former NASA flight director, Koerner led teams in NASA’s mission control during space shuttle and International Space Station missions. She also previously held several leadership positions within the space station program during its assembly phase and managed NASA’s cargo resupply services contracts for it, helping foster a commercial space industry in low Earth orbit. Before Johnson, she worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.
Koerner earned her Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has received numerous awards including a Presidential Rank Award in 2019, two Outstanding Leadership Medals (2006, 2013), NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal (2007), Johnson’s Center Director Commendation (2017) and numerous Group Achievement Awards.
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Unlocking the Next Frontier: Odysseus Lunar Lander’s Historic Mission
“Odysseus lunar lander aims to make history with first U.S. spacecraft touchdown on moon in 50 years. A testament to human ambition and innovation.”
In the vast expanse of space, where dreams of exploration meet the harsh realities of technology and finance, Thursday marks a potential landmark moment in the annals of space exploration. The Odysseus lunar lander, a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance, stands on the precipice of making history as it aims to achieve what no U.S.-made spacecraft has done in five decades: a controlled touchdown on the lunar surface.
After a breathtaking lift-off from Florida, Odysseus embarked on its journey towards the moon, capturing awe-inspiring images of our planet Earth along the way. Now, as it hurtles closer to its destination, the anticipation mounts for what could be the most perilous test yet – a soft landing on the moon’s surface.
Intuitive Machines, the pioneering force behind Odysseus, dares to tread where no private company has ventured before. If successful, this endeavor would mark the resurgence of American-made spacecraft landing on the moon since the final Apollo mission in 1972.
However, the road to lunar exploration is fraught with challenges, both technical and financial. While the Apollo program once commanded a budget exceeding 4% of all U.S. government spending, today’s NASA operates on a fraction of that, a mere 0.4%. To stretch resources further, NASA has turned to outsourcing robotic lunar landings to commercial entities like Intuitive Machines, aiming to achieve ambitious goals like the Artemis program’s lunar return with reduced costs.
But cost isn’t the only hurdle. The technical feat of landing a spacecraft precisely on a celestial body a quarter of a million miles away is akin to hitting a golf ball from New York to Los Angeles and landing it in a specific hole – a daunting task even with today’s advanced technology. Compounding the challenge is the time delay of roughly three seconds for signals to travel between Earth and the moon, leaving little room for error during critical maneuvers.
Moreover, the legacy of Apollo-era expertise has waned over the decades, leaving a gap that new technology alone cannot bridge. As Dr. Scott Pace of George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute aptly notes, “These are people doing it for the first time, and there’s no substitute for that experience.”
Yet, amidst these challenges, there’s an undeniable sense of optimism and determination. As Lisa Altemus of Intuitive Machines emphasizes, success in lunar exploration requires collective resilience, collaboration, and a willingness to learn from failures. It heralds not just a scientific achievement but the dawn of a new era – an emerging lunar economy where the moon’s resources could unlock boundless opportunities for humanity.
If Odysseus achieves its mission, it will not only mark the first U.S. spacecraft landing on the moon in half a century but also pave the way for future lunar endeavors, including the exploration of the moon’s south pole, a region rich in potential resources like ice and water.
As we stand on the brink of this historic moment, let us marvel at the audacity of human ambition, the tenacity of scientific endeavor, and the boundless possibilities that lie beyond Earth’s confines. The journey to the moon may be fraught with challenges, but with each step, we inch closer to unlocking the mysteries of our celestial neighbor and forging a new chapter in the saga of space exploration.
NASA Astronaut Available for Interviews Prior to Space Station Mission
NASA astronaut Tracy C. Dyson is available in limited opportunities to discuss her mission beginning at 8 a.m. EST on Monday, Feb. 26. The interviews will take place ahead of Dyson launching to the International Space Station in March.
Interested media must submit a request to speak with Dyson no later than 12 p.m. Friday, Feb. 23, to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston newsroom at 281-483-5111 or email@example.com.
Dyson is scheduled to launch aboard the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft Thursday, March 21, and will spend approximately six months aboard the space station. She will travel to the station with Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy and spaceflight participant Marina Vasilevskaya of Belarus, both of whom will spend approximately 12 days aboard the orbital complex.
During her expedition, Dyson will conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations that help prepare humans for future space missions and benefit people on Earth. Among some of the hundreds of experiments ongoing during her mission, Dyson will continue to study how fire spreads and behaves in space with the Combustion Integrated Rack, as well as contribute to the long-running Crew Earth Observations study by photographing Earth to better understand how our planet is changing over time.
After completing her expedition, Dyson will return to Earth this fall with Roscosmos cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub on the Soyuz MS-25 spacecraft.
Learn more about International Space Station research and operations at:
New NASA Mission will Study Ultraviolet Sky, Stars, Stellar Explosions
WASHINGTON /PRNewswire/ — As NASA explores the unknown in air and space, a new mission to survey ultraviolet light across the entire sky will provide the agency with more insight into how galaxies and stars evolve. The space telescope, called UVEX (UltraViolet EXplorer), is targeted to launch in 2030 as NASA’s next Astrophysics Medium-Class Explorer mission.
In addition to conducting a highly sensitive all-sky survey, UVEX will be able to quickly point toward sources of ultraviolet light in the universe. This will enable it to capture the explosions that follow bursts of gravitational waves caused by merging neutron stars. The telescope also will carry an ultraviolet spectrograph to study stellar explosions and massive stars.
“NASA’s UVEX will help us better understand the nature of both nearby and distant galaxies, as well as follow up on dynamic events in our changing universe,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator, Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “This mission will bring key capabilities in near-and far-ultraviolet light to our fleet of space telescopes, delivering a wealth of survey data that will open new avenues in exploring the secrets of the cosmos.”
The telescope’s ultraviolet survey will complement data from other missions conducting wide surveys in this decade, including the Euclid mission led by ESA (European Space Agency) with NASA contributions, and NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, set to launch by May 2027. Together, these missions will help create a modern, multi-wavelength map of our universe.
“With the innovative new UVEX mission joining our portfolio, we will gain an important legacy archive of data that will be of lasting value to the science community,” said Mark Clampin, director of the Astrophysics Division at NASA Headquarters. “This new telescope will contribute to our understanding of the universe across multiple wavelengths and address one of the major priorities in Astrophysics today: studying fleeting changes in the cosmos.”
NASA selected the UVEX Medium-Class Explorer concept to continue into development after detailed review of two Medium-Class Explorer and two Mission of Opportunity concept proposals by a panel of scientists and engineers, and after evaluation based on NASA’s current astrophysics portfolio coupled with available resources. The UVEX mission was selected for a two-year mission and will cost approximately $300 million, not including launch costs.
The mission’s principal investigator is Fiona Harrison at Caltech in Pasadena, California. Other institutions involved in the mission include University of California at Berkeley, Northrop Grumman, and Space Dynamics Laboratory.
The Explorers Program is the oldest continuous NASA program. The program is designed to provide frequent, low-cost access to space using principal investigator-led space science investigations relevant to the agency’s astrophysics and heliophysics programs.
Since the launch of Explorer 1 in 1958, which discovered the Earth’s radiation belts, the Explorers Program has launched more than 90 missions, including the Uhuru and Cosmic Background Explorer missions that led to Nobel prizes for their investigators.
The program is managed by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center for the Science Mission Directorate, which conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system, and the universe.
For more information about the Explorers Program, visit:
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