PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Ellen Stofan, former chief scientist at NASA and a Brown University Ph.D. graduate, will become the first woman to lead the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
As the John and Adrienne Mars Director, Stofan will take the helm of one of the world’s most popular museums with more than 8 million visitors annually. She’ll assume the post on April 30.
“Ellen’s scientific background, leadership skills, communication acumen and strategic thinking have positioned her superbly to lead the National Air and Space Museum,” Smithsonian Secretary David Skorton said in announcing Stofan’s appointment on April 5. “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 has more than 25 years of experience in space-related organizations, including her tenure as NASA chief scientist from 2013 to 2016. In that role, she served as chief advisor to the NASA administrator on science programs and science-related strategic planning and investments.
As a Ph.D. student in planetary geosciences at Brown, Stofan developed several key insights into the geology of Venus, working with scientists from the Soviet Union to analyze data from the Soviet Venera missions. After earning her doctorate from Brown in 1989, she went straight to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There, she served as deputy project scientist for the Magellan mission, which successfully mapped 98 percent of the Venusian surface.
“Ellen was an inspiration to have as a graduate student,” said Jim Head, a professor in Brown’s Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences and Stofan’s Ph.D. advisor. “She helped pioneer interaction with Soviet scientists in the difficult early days of U.S.-Soviet interaction. When Ellen became NASA chief scientist, I can confidently say I slept very soundly at night, knowing that science at NASA was in very good hands. I can’t think of anyone better to lead the National Air and Space Museum.”
The National Air and Space Museum maintains more than 60,000 objects, making it the world’s largest collection of artifacts, archival materials and works of art related to aviation, spaceflight and the study of the universe. Exhibits are housed on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.