Ellen Stofan, NASA's Chief Scientist, Departs Space Agency

Ellen Stofan, NASA's Chief Scientist, Departs Space Agency

WASHINGTON — NASA's chief scientist is leaving the agency after more than three years on the job, as NASA refreshes the leadership of its science programs.

Ellen Stofan left NASA this month after serving as chief scientist since August 2013. Agency spokesman Dwayne Brown was not immediately able to provide an exact departure date, or plans to select a new chief scientist.

Stofan's departure was noted by NASA publicly only in an interview the agency posted on its Tumblr social media account Dec. 21. In the interview, NASA said Stofan was "departing for new adventures," but was not more specific.

Stofan, in a Dec. 5 talk at an astrobiology symposium held by the National Academies' Space Studies Board in Irvine, California, hinted that she was soon leaving the agency. "I am leaving in two weeks, so I guess that falling sign is some indication of that," she said when a placard with her name on it fell off a podium during her speech.

The chief scientist serves as the principal advisor to the NASA administrator on science issues, including strategic planning of NASA science programs and coordination with other government agencies and the scientific community, but is not directly involved in the management of the various programs of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

In the NASA interview, Stofan cited a range of "fun challenges" she worked on while chief scientist, including helping develop NASA's long-term strategy for human Mars exploration. That effort, she said, is a key part of a broader scientific theme of searching for evidence of life beyond Earth.

"People have long wondered if we are alone, and we are now actually going to answer that question in the next few decades. We are exploring Mars, where it is very likely that life evolved at around the same time life evolved here on Earth," she said. "It will likely take future Mars astronauts to find the best evidence of Mars life."

Institutionally, she said one of the achievements she was most proud of as chief scientist was getting the agency to voluntarily request demographic information in grant proposals submitted by scientists. That information, she said, is important to understanding any biases in how the agency awards those grants.

"Implicit or unconscious bias is all around us; we may act on deep-seated biases that we don't even know we have," she said. "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's departure coincides with NASA selecting a new deputy associate administrator for science. In a Dec. 20 internal memo, the agency said that Dennis Andrucyk will take the position effective Jan. 17. Andrucyk, currently the deputy associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate and acting chief technologist, will split his time between the science and space technology directorates until his formal start date.

"Dennis brings to this position a wealth of organizational and leadership experience within NASA," Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science, said in the memo. "His deep technical knowledge and innovative forward thinking will further enhance our ability to build successful and new missions that help answer some of the most fundamental science questions of our time, including the search for life beyond Earth."

Andrucyk succeeds Geoff Yoder, who announced in September that he was retiring from NASA at the end of the year. Yoder served as acting associate administrator for science for several months in 2016, after John Grunsfeld retired in April and until Zurbuchen took over in early October.


NASA's Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan Resigns - "Predicts Proof of Alien Life in 20 Years"

Ellen Stofan, NASA's chief scientist, has left the space agency for what she describes as other "adventures." Stofan is believed to have left her post before Christmas last month. Her expertise was focused on the geology of Venus, Mars, Saturn's moon Titan, and Earth. Stofan was an associate member of the Cassini Mission to Saturn Radar Team and was 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.

Stofan revealed that the most exciting endeavor that the space agency is on right now is the search for extraterrestrial life, which she expands on in the video below. She played a major role in the development of NASA's strategy for human Mars exploration.

“People have long wondered if we are alone, and we are now actually going to answer that question in the next few decades. We are exploring Mars, where it is very likely that life evolved at around the same time life evolved here on Earth,” she said. “It will likely take future Mars astronauts to find the best evidence of Mars life.”

Institutionally, she said one of the achievements she was most proud of as chief scientist was getting the agency to voluntarily request demographic information in grant proposals submitted by scientists. That information, she said, is important to understanding any biases in how the agency awards those grants.

“Implicit or unconscious bias is all around us; we may act on deep-seated biases that we don’t even know we have,” she said. “The first step in dealing with bias is seeing if you have a problem, and that is what the data collection will tell us.”

It appears that Ellen Stofan left her post around Dec. 20. NASA confirmed her resignation in an interview posted on Tumblr. In the interview, Stofan was asked what she will miss the most about working with the space agency replied that she will miss the people who continue to push back the frontiers of science and technology in order to achieve great things for the USA.

The space agency confirmed that Stofan was "departing for new adventures." She was appointed as NASA's chief scientist in Aug. 2013.There was no reason given for her resignation. There was also no indication on who will take over Stofan's place.

Space noted that one of her greatest achievements was in getting NASA to voluntarily request demographic information from scientists who submit grant proposals. She believes that the information can be used to identify and understand any biases in how the grants are awarded.


NASA’s chief scientist Ellen Stofan departs agency

NASA’s chief scientist has parted ways with the US space agency after three years, deciding to move on and seek “new adventures” on or around December 20 of last year, according to reports published late last week by the folks at SlashGear and Space.

Stofan first indicated she would be leaving NASA during a December 5 astrobiology symposium in California sponsored by the National Academies’ Space Studies Board. At the event, a placard with her name on it fell off of the podium, leading her to quick that she would be “leaving in two weeks, so I guess that falling sign is some indication of that.”

NASA also confirmed Stofan’s plans to move on in an interview with her posted to Tumblr, in which she said that she would miss “the people of NASA” the most. “Everyone I work with is so committed to the mission of this agency – pushing back the frontiers of science and technology to accomplish great things for the nation. NASA represents the best of this country.”
Agency spokesman Dwayne Brown verified to Space that Stofan, who was appointed chief scientist in August 2013, had parted ways with NASA. However, he was unable to give an exact date of departure, nor was he able to disclose the agency’s plans for choosing her successor.

Looking back at her distinguished career with the agency
Prior to her appointment to chief scientist, Stofan was the vice president of Proxemy Research in Maryland as well as an honorary professor in the University College London department of Earth sciences, according to her official NASA bio. She also previously worked in a number of science positions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) from 1991 through 2000.

While she most recently served as the principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency's science programs and science-related strategic planning and investments, Stofan has also worked as an associate member of the Cassini Mission to Saturn Radar Team, with the Mars Express Mission's MARSIS sounder team, and as deputy project scientist for the Magellan Mission to Venus. She earned a doctorate in geological sciences from Brown University.

During the Tumblr interview, she said that the most exciting part of her work was “the search for life beyond Earth. People have long wondered if we are alone, and we are now actually going to answer that question in the next few decades. We are exploring Mars, where it is very likely that life evolved at around the same time life evolved here on Earth.”

“We also are planning to explore the ocean worlds of the outer solar system, like Europa, where we might find life in subsurface oceans,” Stofan added. “Beyond our solar system, the thousands of planets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope have made me very optimistic that we are close to finding an Earth 2.0 – though that will take us a little longer.”

“At NASA, we gather the data to help answer the most fundamental and profound questions: Where did we come from? How does 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,” she concluded. “And in doing so, we push technology and engineering in ways that benefit us every day right here on Earth.”

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