Spaceflight Insider

NASA’s Chief Scientist leaves space agency

Former NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan photo credit Jason Rhian SpaceFlight Insider

NASA’s Chief Scientist, Ellen Stofan, has opted to leave the space agency. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

Having served as NASA’s Chief Scientist for more than three years, Ellen Stofan has opted to leave the space agency. The announcement was made via NASA’s Tumblr page on Dec. 21, 2016.

Other than to state that Stofan was “departing for new adventures”, no other reason for her departure has been issued. Stofan reflected on her time with the space agency in one of the questions posed to her during the Tumblr interview.

Stofan's doctoral thesis studied coronae and domal structures on the surface of Venus. Image Credit: JPL / NASA

Stofan’s doctoral thesis studied coronae and domal structures on the surface of Venus. Image Credit: JPL / NASA

“As Chief Scientist, I got to work on a lot of fun challenges, from our strategy on how to get humans to Mars, to learning about and promoting the research we do every day on the International Space Station. But one of the things that I am most proud of is that, working with my team, NASA now collects voluntary demographic data on all of our grant proposals. Implicit or unconscious bias is all around us; we may act on deep-seated biases that we don’t even know we have. The first step in dealing with bias is seeing if you have a problem, and that is what the data collection will tell us,” Stofan stated.

According to a report posted by Jeff Foust on Space News, Stofan served NASA by providing her advice on science issues to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Stofan’s responsibilities also involved coordinating with NASA’s partners in the U.S. government, the scientific community, and others (although, according to Space News, the role does not include the management of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate missions).

Stofan highlighted what she felt the role of NASA was and how this served for the betterment of all humanity in her Tumblr comments.

“At NASA, we gather the data to help answer the most fundamental and profound questions: Where did we come from? How [do] our planet and our universe work? What is the fate of our planet? It is only by exploring, by making measurements, by answering scientific questions that we can move forward as a society. And in doing so, we push technology and engineering in ways that benefit us every day right here on Earth,” Stofan said.

Before her time as NASA’s Chief Scientist, Stofan was the vice president of Proxemy Research in Laytonsville, Maryland.

She received her Bachelor’s of Science from the College of William & Mary in 1983 before completing her masters and doctorate degrees from Brown University. Her doctoral thesis, earned in 1989, would serve as a sign of things to come – “Geology of coronae and domal structures on Venus and models of their origin“.

In her thesis, Stofan reviewed the geology of terrestrial worlds such as Venus, Earth, Mars, as well as moons in the outer Solar System such as Saturn’s moon Titan. Titan is of particular interest to the scientist as she is an associate member of the radar team working on the Cassini mission.

Efforts to explore the Red Planet also fall under Stofan’s resume with her serving as a co-investigator on the Mars Express Mission’s MARSIS sounder.

From 1991 through 2000, Stofan worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory located in Pasadena, California. Adding to her wealth of experience with the space agency, Stofan worked as the chief scientist on NASA’s New Millenium Program, as a deputy project scientist on the Magellan mission to Venus, as well as an experiment scientist for Spaceborne Imaging Radar-C (SIR-C) on two shuttle missions (STS-59 and STS-68) flown in 1994.



Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

Indeed fighting bias is more important to mankinds space research than the EM drive. Sad to see such genius go.

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