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NASA veteran to become JPL’s first woman director

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A Caltech alumna and NASA veteran will turn into the brand new director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

Laurie Leshin, the president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, will assume the function of director in Could, officers introduced Thursday. She’s going to succeed Michael Watkins, who retired in August, and Lt. Gen. Larry James, who at the moment serves on the interim director.

Leshin might be JPL’s first girl director. She may even turn into a vice chairman of Caltech, which manages the lab for NASA.

Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum stated Leshin was chosen for her observe report main advanced organizations, her strategic pondering, her dedication to individuals and “her skill to encourage the subsequent era of scientists and engineers.”

Leshin stated innovation, expertise and exploration might be amongst her high priorities. These embrace the hassle to collect samples of Martian soil and return them to Earth to search for proof of previous life on the pink planet, in addition to a mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa to see whether or not it’s appropriate for all times.

The lab may even proceed with its Earth-centric missions supposed to know and mitigate the consequences of local weather change.

“L.A. is a land of inspiration, and JPL’s missions encourage individuals every single day,” she stated in an interview Friday, noting that Southern California is a cradle of space exploration, rocketry and the aerospace trade. “California is the place to be if you wish to be an area explorer — particularly Southern California.”

This received’t be her first stint with NASA. She beforehand held two senior positions on the house company’s Goddard House Flight Middle in Greenbelt, Md., the place she labored on greater than 50 initiatives. She additionally hung out at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., the place her portfolio included human spaceflight and discovering methods to ship astronauts deeper into the photo voltaic system.

Laurie Leshin, second from left, celebrates the landing of the Curiosity rover with members of the science teams at JPL.

Laurie Leshin, second from left, celebrates the touchdown of NASA’s Curiosity rover in 2012, with different members of the science groups at JPL. Leshin is a co-investigator on two of the rover’s devices.

(NASA / JPL-Caltech)

Leshin stated the whole thing of her profession helped put together her to guide JPL, together with her expertise with NASA missions that didn’t succeed, such because the Mars Polar Lander mission in 1999. Then as a cosmochemist at Arizona State College, she was poised to seek for water and ice with a stationary precursor to right this moment’s Mars rovers, however the lander by no means made contact and most likely crashed upon arrival.

“All of these issues have taught me nice classes,” she stated.

Leshin has deep ties to the realm, having earned her grasp’s and doctoral levels in geochemistry from Caltech after which finishing a postdoctoral fellowship at UCLA.

After working at ASU and NASA, she joined Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., as dean of the varsity of science in 2011, then grew to become president at WPI in 2014. She additionally held two White Home appointments.

“Dr. Laurie Leshin has a observe report of scholarship and management wanted to function director of JPL and cement the middle’s standing as a world chief within the twenty first century,” stated NASA Administrator Invoice Nelson.

For Leshin, the return to JPL — and to Southern California — appears like a homecoming.

A self-described “Rose Parade nerd,” she stated she and her husband, astrophysicist Jon Morse, will seemingly land in Pasadena with their Corgi and tabby cat. An Arizona native, she stated she seems to be ahead to buying and selling Massachusetts snow for views of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Being the primary girl to guide the lab “simply makes the consideration even higher,” she stated, noting that she obtained “many heartfelt reactions” from ladies at JPL after the announcement was made. Some even made her a congratulatory Spotify playlist that includes songs corresponding to Beyonce’s “Run the World (Ladies).”

“Illustration issues,” Leshin stated. “I’m going to do my greatest to make JPL a spot the place everybody can thrive. We’d like all of the brains to resolve the actually arduous challenges of house exploration and get to a spot the place everybody can contribute to that daring mission.”

About 31% of JPL’s staff are ladies, in keeping with their 2020 annual report.

Leshin listed Sally Ride, the primary American girl to fly in house, as each a good friend and hero, and stated she retains a LEGO version of Ride on her desk.

She additionally recalled attending conferences of the Nationwide Group for Ladies along with her mom within the Seventies. On the time, the group was working to move the Equal Rights Modification.

“There have been all these ladies standing on their chairs and making a variety of noise about increasing the function of ladies in management and in society,” Leshin stated. “On the time, I used to be too small to know why these ladies had been doing that. However they had been doing that in order that I might do that. And that connection to the shoulders I stand on is one which I take very significantly.”