Spaceflight Insider

Former astronaut Janet Kavandi named new director of NASA Glenn

Astronaut Janet Kavandi at Johnson Space Center NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider - Copy

Janet Kavandi. Photo Credit: NASA

Former astronaut Janet Kavandi has been named the new Director of the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio; her appointment was announced on Monday, March 14. Kavandi was currently serving as the center’s deputy director, a post she was named to in February of 2015. 

Kavandi succeeds James Free, who was named deputy associate administrator for technical in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington. Free had served as NASA Glenn’s director since January of 2013. Both appointments were made effective today.

“Janet has demonstrated extraordinary leadership throughout her NASA career, from her spaceflights to her continued dedication to our mission at the Johnson Space Center and Glenn,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, in announcing the appointments. “I know she will bring that same excellence to bear on Glenn’s critical role in our journey to Mars. I also thank Jim for his important service as the head of this important center and look forward to his contributions in human space exploration.”

Kavandi is a veteran of three spaceflights. Following her selection as an astronaut in December 1994, she served as mission specialist on STS-91 in 1998, STS-99 in 2000, and STS-104 in 2001. STS-91 was carried out on Shuttle Discovery and the final Space Shuttle mission to the Russian space station Mir. Meanwhile, STS-99 used Endeavour to carry out the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission and was the last flight of Endeavour before its duties became exclusively devoted to the ISS. Kavandi’s final flight to orbit, STS-104, was  on board Atlantis and installed the Quest Joint Airlock on the ISS. Her three shuttle missions provided Kavandi with a total of 33 days in space.

“Charlie Bolden called me about three weeks ago and asked me to take this position,” Dr. Kavandi told SpaceFlight Insider. “Jim was offered a position at headquarters which is a really nice opportunity for him, to work in the HEOMD as a deputy there. Jim had told me all along he was training me to take over for him someday. I guess it came sooner than later.”

Sts-104-patch NASA image posted on SpaceFlight Insider - Copy

STS-104 Mission Patch. Image Credit: NASA

While at the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center, she supported space station payload integration, capsule communications, robotics, and served as deputy chief of the Astronaut Office. She later served as deputy director of the Health and Human Performance Directorate, with responsibility for the flight surgeons and human research investigations on the ISS. Kavandi also served as director of Flight Crew Operations, overseeing the Astronaut Corps and aircraft operations at Ellington Field near Johnson.

A native of Springfield, Missouri, Kavandi earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Missouri Southern State College in Joplin, a Master’s in chemistry from the University of Missouri in Rolla, and a doctorate in analytical chemistry from the University of Washington in Seattle. She has received numerous leadership and exceptional service awards from NASA throughout her career.

Kavandi takes over the leadership of a NASA center with more than 3,200 civil service and contract employees and an annual budget of more than $580 million.

Among NASA Glenn’s major research and development efforts are those tasked with creating higher powered solar electric propulsion, integrated radio and optical communication technologies, and the development of CubeSats. Also, NASA Glenn’s sister facility, the Plum Brook Station testing facility in Sandusky, Ohio, is responsible for the extensive campaign of launch stress and space environment testing on the space agency’s new Orion spacecraft.

NASA Glenn is involved in a staggering variety of research in both space and aeronautical technologies. SpaceFlight Insider asked Dr. Kavandi what she thinks are her biggest priorities ahead on the space side as the new leader of the center.

“Some of the most difficult work we’re doing is the testing for Orion out at Plum Brook,” she replied, referring to NASA Glenn’s sister facility, Plum Brook Station, in Sandusky, Ohio. “The agency is depending on us heavily to ensure that our equipment out there is working, and that that testing gets done on time. And we’re monitoring ESA and their subcontractors to ensure that those folks are going to deliver their product in good fashion, and that it’s working well and reliable, and that we’ll be able to integrate that into the Orion spacecraft. That’s one that I feel a lot of responsibility for, and pressure to make sure that we get that done in a timely manner and to the satisfaction of the program.”

The space veteran went on to highlight one effort in particular that could be critical in terms of deep space exploration efforts.

“Also, we are the leader for the agency in electric propulsion. We are heavily involved in anything related to that. Another is IROC (Integrated Radio and Optical Communication) the laser communication.  That’s another major emphasis for the center,” Kavandi told SpaceFlight Insider. “And all sorts of other things. It’s a research center. It’s pretty exciting.”

Glenn Research Center Lewis Field NASA photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: NASA


Michael Cole is a life-long space flight enthusiast and author of some 36 educational books on space flight and astronomy for Enslow Publishers. He lives in Findlay, Ohio, not far from Neil Armstrong’s birthplace of Wapakoneta. His interest in space, and his background in journalism and public relations suit him for his focus on research and development activities at NASA Glenn Research Center, and its Plum Brook Station testing facility, both in northeastern Ohio. Cole reached out to SpaceFlight Insider and asked to join SFI as the first member of the organization’s “Team Glenn.”

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