Dr. Laurie Leshin, director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since May 2022, is a distinguished geochemist and space scientist with extensive leadership experience in academia and government, including senior NASA positions.
Leshin was president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute from 2014 to 2022 and previously served as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute School of Science dean. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center from 2005 to 2008, she served as director of science, then deputy director for science and technology, leading strategy, planning, and implementation of more than 50 Earth and space flight projects. In 2010, Leshin became deputy associate administrator of the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, overseeing future human spaceflight.
Her numerous honors include NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal and Distinguished Public Service Medal, and the Meteoritical Society’s Nier Prize for outstanding research by a scientist under the age of 35. The International Astronomical Union named asteroid 4922 Leshin to honor her planetary science contributions. Leshin advised President George W. Bush on space policy, and Barack Obama appointed her to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum advisory board. Leshin holds a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Arizona State University, and master’s and doctoral degrees in geochemistry from Caltech.
Leshin is the first woman to serve as JPL director, a role that also includes serving as Vice President at Caltech, which manages JPL for NASA. Leshin is also a Bren Professor of Geochemistry and Planetary Science at Caltech and will continue as co-investigator for two instruments on NASA's Mars Curiosity rover.
Katherine L. (Katie) Bouman is an assistant professor in the Computing and Mathematical Sciences, Electrical Engineering, and Astronomy Departments at the California Institute of Technology. Before joining Caltech, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She received her Ph.D. in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) at MIT in EECS, and her bachelor's degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan. She is a Rosenberg Scholar, Heritage Medical Research Institute Investigator, recipient of the Royal Photographic Society Progress Medal, and co-recipient of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics. As part of the Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, she is co-lead of the Imaging Working Group and acted as coordinator for papers concerning the first imaging of the M87* and Sagittarius A* black holes.
Dr. Rachel Klima is the Director of the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium and a principal staff scientist in the Planetary Exploration Group at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Dr. Klima’s research focuses on integrating laboratory analysis of lunar, meteoritic, synthetic, and terrestrial rocks and minerals with near through mid-infrared spectral measurements of solid bodies in the solar system to understand such topics as the thermal/magmatic evolution of the Moon, distribution of minerals, water, and hydroxyl on the lunar surface, and the composition of Mercury’s crust. Research honors include the NASA/SSERVI Susan Maher Niebur Early Career Award (2018), the NASA Carl Sagan Early Career Award (2012), and Asteroid 9287 Klima (2014).
Dr. Klima has been involved with numerous missions to bodies throughout the solar system, beginning in graduate school with the Dawn Mission to the asteroids Vesta and Ceres, and the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, a hyperspectral imaging spectrometer flown on Chandrayaan-1. At APL, she has worked on the MESSENGER mission to Mercury, Europa Clipper, and the Lunar Vertex mission. She currently serves as the Deputy PI of the Lunar Trailblazer Mission and is a participating scientist on the Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter.
In her role as the Director of the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC), she and her team have worked to build a diverse community of over 2000 participants from academia, industry, non-profits, and government to understand the technical gaps and development needed to establish a sustained presence on the Moon. For that effort, she and the team were awarded a NASA 2020 Headquarters Honor Award for Excellence in Innovation.
Dr. Carolyn Mercer is the Chief Technologist for NASA's Science Mission Directorate where she champions the development of innovative technologies to enable exciting new capabilities for astrophysics, heliophysics, Earth and planetary science, and fundamental physics on the International Space Station. Prior to joining the Science Mission Directorate's leadership team, Dr. Mercer held several NASA Headquarters positions. She was the founding leader of the Planetary Exploration Science Technology Office where she created innovative approaches to promote technology infusion including the development of communities of practice to promote knowledge exchange. She was the Lead Program Executive for the SIMPLEx rideshare program for planetary science, where she substantially changed the program to focus on leveraging unused launch capacity to provide excellent science. She also served as a senior policy analyst for astrophysics.
Dr. Mercer has managed a broad portfolio of space-related technology development projects, including technologies to explore icy moons, advanced scientific instruments, flexible solar arrays, energy storage systems, and adaptive engine technologies. She began her career as a research engineer developing optical techniques to measure fluid properties in propulsion facilities at the Glenn Research Center and supervised a highly skilled group of scientists and engineers developing similar technologies. She holds two patents in optical instrumentation and has received numerous awards including the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement, NASA Glenn Outstanding Leadership Award, and NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal.
Dr. Mercer earned her Ph.D. in Optical Sciences from the University of Arizona, an MS in Physics from Cleveland State University, and a BS in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from the Ohio State University.
Victoria Da Poian is a data scientist at the Planetary Environment Laboratory (PEL) at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Her research focuses on developing machine learning (ML) and data science tools for planetary science instruments (such as mass spectrometers) in order to develop science autonomy for space missions. She mainly works on the MOMA instrument (Mars Organic Molecule Analyzer), DraMS (Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer), and other ocean worlds research projects. Victoria is a key part of the MOMA operations team planning how to employ the instrument on the surface of Mars. Victoria Da Poian has organized open science ML challenges in order to investigate the use of transfer learning techniques applied to the SAM (Sample Analysis at Mars) instrument onboard Curiosity rover. On her spare time, she takes part to mentoring events for primary schools, middle schools, and high schools to share about her studies and work for planetary missions.
Victoria Da Poian obtained her master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from ISAE-Supaero (Toulouse, France) in 2019, and performed several international internships (supporting robotics projects to support astronauts for future lunar missions at the European Space Agency in Germany, and developing ML algorithms for the safety team at the Centre Spatial Guyanais (CSG), the European spaceport in French Guiana). She is currently a PhD candidate at the Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Lukas Mandrake is the Group Lead for the Machine Learning (ML) and Instrument Autonomy group at JPL, bringing ML techniques to bear against a wide range of applied problems in space, science, and mission operations. He is also an enthusiastic and award-winning speaker & educator focused on bringing the promise of ML to new fields and applications as well as science education in general, and passionately works to educate children in science literacy and critical thinking. He co-leads the Science Understanding through Data Science (SUDS) initiative to form a collaborative community of physical and data scientists to produce new insights from our vast remote sensing datasets, as well as champions Onboard Science Instrument Autonomy (OSIA) to help summarize and prioritize science observations to empower mission science teams to overcome the bandwidth barrier.
Prior to joining the MLIA group at JPL, Dr. Mandrake worked for 5 years in ionospheric modeling using GPS signals, built models of rental income vs. apartment amenities for real estate, coded and wrote dialog for several major computer games, and constructed a unique plasma simulator for auroral investigations. He holds a PhD in Computational Plasma Physics from UCLA, 2002 after entering college at the age of 13.
Florence Tan is the Deputy Chief Technologist for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) at NASA Headquarters. She works with the SMD’s Chief Technologist to survey and assess technology needs for NASA’s science divisions and serves as a liaison to the NASA Office of the Chief Technologist, other NASA mission directorates, as well as NASA centers. Florence Tan is also the Chair of the Small Spacecraft Coordination Group (SSCG) at NASA Headquarters. In her role as SSCG Chair, she leads the SSCG to coordinate and develop NASA’s strategy and vision for small spacecraft in science, exploration missions, and technology activities and provide advice to the Associate Administrators of the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), ESDMD and SOMD and SMD. Previously, Florence was at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) for 32 years as a lead electrical engineer, cognizant engineer, designer, technical manager, and instrument operator for NASA spaceflight projects. She has built and launched seven mass spectrometers to destinations including Mars, Saturn, Titan, and the Moon. Ms. Tan received her Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering from University of Maryland and a master’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from The John Hopkins University.
Bethany Ehlmann is a professor of planetary science at Caltech. She is also Associate Director of Caltech’s Keck Institute for Space Studies. Her research focuses on the mineralogy and chemistry of planetary surfaces, remote sensing techniques and instruments, astrobiology, and science policy and outreach. Her primary focus is unraveling Mars' environmental history and understanding water in the solar system.
Prof. Ehlmann is Principal Investigator of Lunar Trailblazer, a NASA smallsat mission with a goal to map the form, distribution, and abundance of water on the Moon and understand the lunar water cycle. She is a Deputy PI of the CRISM imaging spectrometer on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Participating Scientist on the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, Co-I on the Mastcam-Z and SHERLOC teams for the Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, and Co-I on the EMIT space station-based imaging spectrometer to explore Earth's dust source regions. She was also a member of the science team for the Mars Exploration Rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) and an Affiliate of the Dawn orbiter team during its exploration of the largest asteroid and dwarf planet Ceres. Prof. Ehlmann is working to propose instrument and mission concepts for Europa, Enceladus, Venus, the Moon, and asteroids.
In addition to her scientific research Prof. Ehlmann is active in policy and outreach. She presently serves as a member of the National Academies Committee on Astrobiology and Planetary Science and the Planetary Science and Astrobiology Decadal Survey 2023-2032 (Steering Committee member and Mars Panel vice-chair). She is President of the Planetary Society, the world’s largest non-profit focused on fostering space exploration, the search for life, and the protection of Earth from asteroid impacts. In 2018, she authored a children's book on solar system exploration with Jennifer Swanson and National Geographic Kids, Dr. E's Super Stellar Solar System.
Ehlmann is an American Geophysical Union fellow, 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer, a former Mineralogical Society of America Distinguished Lecturer, and a recipient of the AGU’s Macelwane medal, the American Astronomical Society Planetary Science Division Urey prize, and COSPAR’s Zeldovich medal, as well as NASA Group Achievement Awards.
Prior to her appointment at Caltech, Prof. Ehlmann was a European Union Marie Curie Fellow at the Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay, France. Originally from Tallahassee, FL, she earned her undergraduate degree at Washington University in St. Louis, earned M.Sc. degrees from the University of Oxford in Environmental Change and Management and in Geography as a Rhodes Scholar, and earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in Geological Sciences as a National Science Foundation graduate fellow at Brown University.
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