Ellen Stofan Selected as New Director of National Air and Space Museum

Ellen Stofan Selected as New Director of National Air and Space Museum

Former NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan has been selected by the Smithsonian Institution to be the new Director of the National Air and Space Museum (NASM).  She succeeds Jack Dailey, who led the museum for 18 years and retired in January.  Stofan will take over the reins on April 30.

Ellen Stofan, former NASA Chief Scientist and incoming Director of the National Air and Space Museum. Photo credit: Callie Broadus.

Stofan is a planetary geologist.  She earned her bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary and master’s and doctorate from Brown University.   She was deputy project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for the Magellan mission to Venus and later chief scientist for NASA’s New Millennium program.  From 2000-2013, she was Vice President and senior scientist at Proxemy Research, a consulting firm in the Washington area specializing in planetary research.

She then became NASA’s Chief Scientist, a position she held until 2016. Since leaving NASA, she has been a consulting senior scientist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab and very active on the speaking circuit, particularly on STEM education.  She is co-author of two National Geographic books:  Planetology: Unlocking the Secrets of the Solar System, and Next Earth: What Our World Can Teach Us About Other Planets.

NASM opened its doors on July 1, 1976 and is one the most visited museums in the world, with 8 million visitors a year.   It has an annual operating budget of $48 million (70 percent from the federal government and the remainder from private donations), and 347 full time employees.

Stofan is the museum’s seventh director and the first woman.

Former NASA astronaut and Apollo 11 Command Module Pilot Mike Collins was the first, followed by former NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science Noel Hinners (1979-1982), former Air Force aviator Walter Boyne (1983-1986), former Cornell professor and astronomer Martin Harwit (1987-1995), former naval aviator and FAA Administrator Donald Engen (1996-1999), and Dailey (2000-2018), a former Marine aviator who joined NASM after serving as NASA’s Acting Associate Deputy Administrator for seven years.

Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton said Stofan was chosen because  of her “scientific background, leadership skills, communication acumen and strategic thinking….  Her passion for science coupled with her love of education will ensure that the museum will continue to be a global treasure and world leader through its extensive programming, exhibitions and scholarship.”

Stofan said it was “an incredible honor” to join the Smithsonian family.  “Space and aviation inspire our next generation of explorers, and there is no better place to experience this than at our museums on the Mall and at the Udvar-Hazy Center.”


Editor’s Note:  Stofan’s father, Andy, is also well known in the space business. He worked at NASA for 30 years including as Director of Lewis (now Glenn) Research Center in Cleveland, OH and twice in high-level positions at NASA HQ (as deputy associate administrator for space science, and as associate administrator for space station).  After retiring from NASA in 1988, he worked for Martin Marietta, Analex Corp, and Lockheed.




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