National Air & Space Museum has a new Director with a PHD

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The Museum previously was led by Dr. Martin Harwit with a PHD in physics from MIT with studies on theoretical astrophysics problems; the new Director has her Doctorate from Brown University in Geological Sciences and her thesis examined “Geology of coronae and domal structures on Venus and models of their origin.” She is the first woman to hold the leadership of the museum which, in addition to curating artifacts of aviation and aerospace, has a research mission.



The NASM announcement:

Welcoming Our New Director, Dr. Ellen Stofan

by: Christopher U. Browne, Interim Director, National Air and Space Museum





As the National Air and Space Museum’s interim director, I am pleased to introduce to all of you Dr. Ellen Stofan, the Museum’s new director and a leader who has the experience and passion to guide the Museum into the future.  The importance of a strong leader while an organization undergoes change cannot be over stated, and I am confident in Dr. Stofan’s ability to take us into a bold, transformative new chapter.

While we embark on our mission to reimagine Americas favorite museum, Ellen’s leadership skills, passion for science, and deep ties to the aerospace community will help make our vision a reality. From 2013 to 2016, Ellen was NASA’s Chief Scientist, where, among many other innovative projects, she helped develop a long-range plan to get humans to Mars. She supported NASA’s science programs in everything from astrophysics to Earth and planetary science and collaborated on science policy with the National Science and Technology Council and as President Barack Obama’s science advisor.

Before serving as Chief Scientist, Ellen was a post-doctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she was Chief Scientist for the New Millennium Program, leading the way on the development of new technology.

Over the course of her career, Ellen has earned unparalleled respect and recognition from the science community and beyond. She is the current co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Council on the Future of Space Technologies. She also received of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. She’ll bring with her not only knowledge of the industry, but her own strengths as a researcher focusing on the geology of Venus, Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan, and Earth. (For any planetary scientists reading this, her favorite mission was Cassini.)




One of the many impressive qualities that Ellen brings to the Museum is her lifelong advocacy for diversity and education in STEM. Her commitment to serving underrepresented groups in science will help the Museum further inform, educate, and inspire the next generation of innovators and explorers. Ellen’s passion for sharing STEM with others is close to her own upbringing. Her father was a NASA rocket scientist and her mother was an elementary school science teacher. And from the first rocket launch she attended at Cape Canaveral at age 11, she was hooked.

When Dr. Stofan begins her tenure at the Museum on April 30, it will also be a return to the place where her distinguished career in science began. While she was a sophomore geology student at the College of William & Mary, she completed an internship with the Museum’s planetary science team. I speak for all of us at the National Air and Space Museum when I say, welcome back.








Ellen Stofan is the daughter of Andrew Stofan, a rocket engineer who worked for NASA in a number of roles including director of the NASA Lewis Research Center and associate administrator for NASA’s Space Station Office.

Dr. Ellen Stofan was appointed NASA chief scientist on August 25, 2013, serving as principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency’s science programs and science-related strategic planning and investments. She resigned from NASA in December 2016.

Prior to her appointment, Stofan was vice president of Proxemy Research in Laytonsville, Md., and honorary professor in the department of Earth sciences at University College London in England. Her research has focused on the geology of Venus, Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan, and Earth. Stofan is an associate member of the Cassini Mission to Saturn Radar Team and a co-investigator on the Mars Express Mission’s MARSIS sounder.

She also was principal investigator on the Titan Mare Explorer, a proposed mission to send a floating lander to a sea on Titan. Her appointment as chief scientist marks a return to NASA for Dr. Stofan. From 1991 through 2000, she held a number of senior scientist positions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., including chief scientist for NASA’s New Millennium Program, deputy project scientist for the Magellan Mission to Venus, and experiment scientist for SIR-C, an instrument that provided radar images of Earth on two shuttle flights in 1994.

She has received many awards and honors, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Stofan has authored and published numerous professional papers, books and book chapters, and has chaired committees including the National Research Council Inner Planets Panel for the recent Planetary Science Decadal Survey and the Venus Exploration Analysis Group.

  • Stofan, Ellen doctoral thesis “Geology of coronae and domal structures on Venus and models of their origin.” 1989
  • Stofan, Ellen; Cravens, Thomas E.; Esposito, Larry W., eds. (2007). Exploring Venus as a Terrestrial Planet. American Geophysical Union.
  • Stofan, Ellen; Jones, Tom (2008). Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System. National Geographic. ISBN978-1-4262-0121-9.


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2 Comments on "National Air & Space Museum has a new Director with a PHD"

  1. I detect a Brown connection here. (Chris Browne went to Brown.) Very impressive credentials.

  2. Correcting myself. Chris is a Dartmouth man.

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