Lesa Roe is NASA Acting Deputy Administrator, Erik Noble Acting Chief of Staff

Lesa Roe is NASA Acting Deputy Administrator, Erik Noble Acting Chief of Staff

NASA has named Lesa Roe as Acting Deputy Administrator and Erik Noble as Acting Chief of Staff.  The information appears on NASA’s website, but the agency made no public announcement about either appointment.  In addition, Lester Lyles has been named the new Chair of the NASA Advisory Council, also without public announcement.

Keith Cowing, editor of NASAWatch, first reported the story on February 25 under the title “Did NASA Use Wikipedia to Announce Lesa Roe is Acting Deputy Administrator?”  

The Roe and Noble positions are shown on NASA’s “about” website under “organization” and Lyles’ position is on the NAC website.  If one knows where to look, the information is publicly available, but one might have expected a formal announcement at least of the Acting Deputy Administrator appointment. 

Robert Lightfoot has been NASA’s Acting Administrator since the Trump Administration took office.  The Administrator and Deputy Administrator positions are political appointments, so Charlie Bolden and Dava Newman left on January 20 at noon when President Obama’s term ended.  Lightfoot’s usual job is NASA Associate Administrator, the third highest level position in the agency and the top civil servant.  Typically that person serves as Acting Administrator until a new political appointee is named.  A mechanical engineer, Lightfoot is a former Director of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and has a long career at the agency working on propulsion, especially for the space shuttle program.

NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot.  Photo credit: NASA

An electrical engineer, Roe’s usual job is Deputy Associate Administrator, teamed with Lightfoot.  Before moving to NASA Headquarters in 2014 to take that job, she was Director of NASA’s Langley Research Center.  Previously she was manager of the International Space Station Research Program at Johnson Space Center and served in several capacities at Kennedy Space Center, including as a manager and systems engineer for 38 space shuttle flights.  The date of her appointment as Acting Deputy Administrator is not posted on the NASA website.

NASA Acting Deputy Administrator Lesa Roe.  Photo credit:  NASA

Erik Noble previously had been identified as White House Senior Advisor at NASA.  It is not clear when he became Acting Chief of Staff.  He is an atmospheric scientist who worked at NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York from 2007-2013 and served as a political data analyst for the Trump campaign’s data and voter outreach team according to his LinkedIn page.

NASA Acting Chief of Staff Erik Noble.  Photo credit:  Erik Noble’s LinkedIn page.

NAC provides advice to the NASA Administrator and its members and chair are chosen by the Administrator.  Ken Bowersox served as Acting Chair after Steve Squyres stepped down in April 2016.   It is not clear when Lyles was named to replace Bowersox, who, according to the NAC website, continues to be a member of NAC.

NASA Advisory Council Chair Gen. Lester Lyles (USAF, Ret.).  Photo credit:  Air Force website

A retired Air Force General, Lyles had been an ex officio member of NAC because he chaired the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB) at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  The chairs of ASEB and the Academies’ Space Studies Board (SSB) historically serve as ex officio members of NAC in a coordination role since ASEB and SSB also provide advice to NASA.  The Academies provide outside, strategic advice to the agency as compared with the internal, tactical advice provided by NAC.

Lyles’s term as chair of ASEB ended on December 31.  He was succeeded by Alan Epstein, vice president of technology and development at Pratt & Whitney.   At the same time, Fiona Harrison succeeded David Spergel as chair of SSB.  Harrison is the Benjamin M. Rosen professor of physics and the Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of the Division of Physics and Mathematics at the California Institute of Technology.   Epstein and Harrison are currently listed as members, not ex officio members, of NAC and their affiliations with ASEB and SSB are omitted, but presumably that is an oversight.

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