ASCEND brings together space’s leading industry luminaries and thinkers, biggest companies, government leaders, top media outlets, educators and students, and serious enthusiasts. Join us this October to access inspiring sessions and premium content, develop valuable business leads, and make meaningful connections.
Meet the 2022 ASCEND speakers.
As Deputy Administrator, Melroy performs the duties and exercises the powers delegated by the Administrator, assists the Administrator in making final agency decisions, and acts for the Administrator in his absence by performing all necessary functions to govern NASA operations. Melroy is also responsible for laying the agency’s vision and representing NASA to the Executive Office of the President, Congress, heads of federal and other appropriate government agencies, international organizations, and external organizations and communities.
Melroy was commissioned through the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program in 1983. As a co-pilot, aircraft commander, instructor pilot, and test pilot, Melroy logged more than 6,000 flight hours in more than 50 different aircraft before retiring from the Air Force in 2007. She is a veteran of Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm and Operation Just Cause, with more than 200 combat and combat support hours.
Melroy was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in December 1994. Initially assigned to astronaut support duties for launch and landing, she also worked advanced projects for the Astronaut Office. She also performed Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) duties in mission control. In addition, she served on the Columbia Reconstruction Team as the lead for the crew module and served as Deputy Project Manager for the Columbia Crew Survival Investigation Team. In her final position, she served as Branch Chief for the Orion branch of the Astronaut Office.
One of only two women to command a space shuttle, Melroy logged more than 38 days (924 hours) in space. She served as pilot on two flights, STS-92 in 2000 and STS-112 in 2002, and was the mission commander on STS-120 in 2007. All three of her missions were assembly missions to build the International Space Station.
After serving more than two decades in the Air Force and as a NASA astronaut, Melroy took on a number of leadership roles, including at Lockheed Martin, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Nova Systems Pty, Australia, and as an advisor to the Australian Space Agency. She also served as an independent consultant and a member of the National Space Council’s Users Advisory Group.
Melroy holds a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy from Wellesley College and a master’s degree in Earth and Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Prior joining SpaceX, Shotwell spent more than ten years at the Aerospace Corporation, holding positions in Space Systems Engineering, Technology and Project Management. She was promoted to the role of Chief Engineer of an MLV-class satellite program, managed a landmark study for the Federal Aviation Administration on commercial space transportation, and completed an extensive analysis of space policy for NASA’s future investment in space transportation.
In addition to being included in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2020, Shotwell was awarded the 2020 Von Karmen Wings award. In 2018 Shotwell was named the Satellite Executive of the Year and she was awarded the AIAA Goddard Astronautics Awards as well as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Ralph Coats Roe Medal. Fortune Magazine placed Shotwell at #43 on their of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders in 2018 and Forbes named her #55 on their list of Power Women in 2019. Gwynne was inducted into the National Academy of Engineering in 2020 and in 2019 was appointed to the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group. In 2014, Shotwell was appointed to the United States Export Import Bank’s Advisory Committee and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Management Advisory Council. Shotwell was elected to the honorable grade of Fellow with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Through leadership in both corporate and external science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs, Shotwell has helped raise over $1.8 million for STEM programs reaching thousands of students nationwide.
Shotwell received, with honors, her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Northwestern University in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics, and serves on their Board. She has authored dozens of papers on a variety of space related subjects.
For more than 30 years, Debra has guided new and established companies through unprecedented industry change. Her leadership and strategic vision have enhanced business growth and fostered new paradigms for industry collaboration. A business leader and systems thinker, she is known for her ability to see opportunity in change and for developing proactive plans that anticipate and leverage evolving market landscapes. With an emphasis on teamwork, mentoring, diversity and inclusion, she brings people and ideas together to make a positive impact.
Through January 2020, Debra was Vice President and General Manager of Strategic Operations for Ball Aerospace, where she elevated the company’s profile across multiple stakeholder communities and expanded its strategic capabilities in defense, civil and commercial sectors. Debra represented Ball Aerospace as its senior executive in the Washington, DC area, where she led the company’s Washington Operations, Marketing & Communications, and Strategic Development portfolios. She transformed the strategic planning process and implemented an enterprise-wide integrated strategic plan, leading to tremendous and sustainable multi-sector growth.
Prior to joining Ball in January 2013, Debra served as the president of DFL Space LLC, an aerospace consulting firm focused on developing innovative business strategies for its clients. As an industry professor at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ, she also led its Masters of Engineering in Technical Leadership program, served as Director of Strategic Programs for the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) and was Principal Investigator on research sponsored by the U.S. Air Force.
Her extensive business experience includes serving as president and an owner of AirLaunch LLC, a small business that won funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Air Force to develop an operationally responsive small launch vehicle. She served as vice president of Business Development and Strategic Planning for Kistler Aerospace Corporation, which raised over $600M in private capital to develop a reusable launch vehicle for commercial markets and laid the groundwork for commercial resupply of the International Space Station. Earlier in her career, she was chief of Moscow Operations for ANSER’s Center for International Aerospace Cooperation.
Debra is actively engaged as an advisor, mentor and board member in the aerospace community, with organizations such as the University of Michigan Industrial Advisory Board, Intelligence and National Security Association (INSA), American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), Future Space Leaders Foundation, Brooke Owens and Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Programs, Women in Aerospace (WIA), WIA Foundation and the International Women’s Forum. She is a fellow of AIAA and the American Astronautical Society (AAS) and an academician of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA).
Debra received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering, both from the University of Michigan, and is an alumna of the International Space University summer session program in Space Policy & Law in Strasbourg, France.
Before joining NASA in 1989, Wyche worked for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington D.C. A native of South Carolina, Wyche earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and Master of Science in Bioengineering from Clemson University. In recognition of her contributions to the engineering profession she was inducted into the Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Engineers and Scientists at Clemson University in 2019. Wyche is a passionate promoter of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and serves as a member of Clemson University’s College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences advisory board, the University of Houston’s C. T. Bauer College of Business advisory panel, the Houston Exponential board of directors, and is a past chair of the Space Center Houston board of directors. She is the recipient of two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals, two NASA Achievement Medals and is a current fellow of the International Women’s Forum. Wyche is married to George Wyche Jr. Esq, and has one son, George Wyche III.
Prior to his retirement from active duty in 2013, Lt. Gen. James was the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance at the Pentagon. He was responsible to the Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Air Force for policy formulation, planning, evaluation, oversight, and leadership of Air Force intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities and led more than 20,000 Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance officers, enlisted and civilians across the Air Force ISR Enterprise.
Lt. Gen. James received his Bachelor of Science in Astronautical Engineering (1978) from the US Air Force Academy (Distinguished Graduate) and his Master of Science in Aeronautics and Astronautics (1983) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, MA. He was also a Draper Fellow at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, MA.
As a renowned space environmentalist and astrodynamicist, Moriba brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in space object detection, tracking, identification, and characterization, as well as spacecraft navigation to the Privateer team, where he is developing the first highly accurate space traffic map that aggregates multi-source data on Earth orbiting space objects, as a means to power the new space economy and make space exploration safe and sustainable.
Moriba is also an associate professor of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics at The University of Texas at Austin where he is the holder of the Mrs. Pearlie Dashiell Henderson Centennial Fellowship in Engineering. At the University of Texas at Austin, he has worked with a team to develop ASTRIAGraph, an award-winning near-real-time map of where objects are predicted to be located in space.
He serves on many professional bodies and is a Fellow of multiple organizations including TED, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), American Astronautical Society (AAS), International Association for the Advancement of Space Safety (IAASS), Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). He has served on the US delegation to the United Nations Committee On Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (UN-COPUOS), is an elected Academician of the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and has testified to congress on his work as related to Space Situational Awareness and Space Traffic Management.
Moriba received his B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Prescott, Arizona, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering Sciences from the University of Colorado at Boulder, specializing in astrodynamics and statistical orbit determination.
Fun fact (if relevant): Moriba is an avid runner and has mastered the art of the post-run selfie.
Free is a formerly retired NASA civil servant who has spent the past few years in a variety of private sector roles including most recently chief operating officer and senior consultant for Lead Off the X. Prior to his work at Lead Off the X, he served as senior vice president of Aerospace Systems at Peerless Technologies.
He retired from NASA in 2017, most recently serving as the agency’s deputy associate administrator for technical for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. He was responsible for assisting the associate administrator in providing strategic direction for all aspects of NASA’s human spaceflight exploration mission. In that role, Free provided cross-agency support functions of space communications and rockets, including direction for the operation and use of the International Space Station, development of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, and direction for the commercial crew and cargo programs that provide logistics and crew transportation to the station.
Free began his NASA career in 1990 at the Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, as a propulsion engineer and later as a systems engineer on several spacecraft. He served in a variety of positions at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio. Free worked on various projects and programs spanning everything from the International Space Station, electric actuation technologies to the Orion and Prometheus spacecrafts.
He went on to serve as deputy director before his appointment as the Glenn director, where he was responsible for planning, organizing, and directing the activities required in accomplishing the missions assigned to the center.
A native of Northeast Ohio, Free earned his bachelor’s degree in aeronautics from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and his master’s degree in space systems engineering from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands.
Free is the recipient of the Presidential Rank Award, NASA Distinguished Service Medal, NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Exceptional Service Medal, NASA Significant Achievement Medal, and numerous other awards.
During his almost four-decade career at NASA, Mr. Reuter has held several leadership positions, including: STMD deputy associate administrator, senior executive for technical integration at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, chair of the standing review board of the Exploration Systems Division at NASA Headquarters, deputy manager of the Space Shuttle Propulsion Office, and environmental control and life support manager for the International Space Station.
Mr. Reuter has received numerous NASA awards and honors, including a Presidential Rank Award, Distinguished Service Medal, Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, and NASA Exceptional Service Medal.
Ms. Munk has over 30 years of experience in orbital mechanics, trajectory simulation, flight hardware development, and technology management from four different NASA centers. Within STMD, she has been the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) Systems Capability Leader since 2017 and the Principal Technologist for EDL technologies since 2013. Munk is also currently the Principal Investigator for two Commercial Lunar Payload Services payloads. Her past work includes nine years as the Lead Engineer and Project Manager for the In-Space Propulsion Technology Aerocapture project, lead for the NASA TX9 Technology Roadmap, and Deputy Project Manager and subsystem lead for the Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent and Landing Instrumentation flight payload. During her early career, she supported human lunar and Mars architecture studies, starting with the Human Mars Design Reference Architecture 3.0.
Munk has a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from Virginia Tech, and she started her career as a cooperative education student at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. She is an AIAA Associate Fellow and has several publications and NASA group and individual achievement awards, including the Space Flight Awareness Award, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and the NASA Technology Achievement Medal.
Last Updated: Jun 3, 2022
Rob oversaw the steady growth of Blue Origin from 2003 to 2018, building the company from its founding into a more than 1500-person organization. Prior to joining Blue, Rob was a Senior Manager at Kistler Aerospace. Rob began his career as an aerodynamicist at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC).
Rob earned a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Houston. He is an AIAA Fellow, a Trustee of the Museum of Flight in Seattle and a member of the University of Michigan College of Engineering Leadership Advisory Board. Rob was awarded the Space Flight Award by the American Astronautical Society in 2017 for his accomplishments at Blue Origin.
Christensen is an internationally recognized expert on R&D processes, technology forecasting, and the space industry. She is currently a member of the National Research Council Space Technology Industry-Government-University Roundtable, which advises NASA. She has served on the World Economic Forum Global Future Council since 2018. She is a Senior Advisor to the annual US Air Force Schriever Wargame. She serves on the Advisory Council of the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy.
She guest lectures at universities internationally, has testified before Congress on space markets, and speaks regularly at events, including South by Southwest, the White House Frontiers Conference, and the Harvard Business School Dialogue. She publishes extensively and is often cited in publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, Fortune, and Le Temps. She has also appeared in space documentaries by The Financial Times and Bloomberg.
Christensen is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School, where she specialized in science and technology policy—and was classmates with Bryce CFO Mark Herzing and COO Ian Dickinson. She attended the London School of Economics and was a Douglass Scholar at Rutgers University. She is a Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Mr. Jurczyk was NASA’s associate administrator, the agency’s “chief operating officer” and highest-ranking civil servant, from May 2018 to May 2021. He also served as acting NASA administrator from January 20 to May 3, 2021.
Before that assignment, he had been the associate administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate since June 2015. In this position he formulated and executed the agency’s space technology programs, focusing on developing and demonstrating transformative technologies for human and robotic exploration of the solar system in partnership with industry and academia.
He previously was director of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Named to this position in May 2014, he headed NASA’s first field Center, which plays a critical role in NASA’s aeronautics research, exploration and science missions. Jurczyk served as Langley’s deputy center director from August 2006 until his appointment as director.
Jurczyk is a graduate of the University of Virginia, from which he received Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in Electrical Engineering in 1984 and 1986. He is an associate fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Previously, Professor Newman served as the Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and a Harvard–MIT Health, Sciences, and Technology faculty member. Her research in multidisciplinary aerospace biomedical engineering investigates human performance across the spectrum of gravity, including space suits, life support and astronaut performance. Newman has been the principal investigator on 4 spaceflight missions. Known for her second skin BioSuit™ planetary spacesuit, her inventions are now being applied to “soft suits” to enhance locomotion on Earth. Her BioSuit™ has been exhibited at the Venice Biennial, American Museum of Natural History, Victoria and Albert and Museum, and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her latest research with Gui Trotti includes Earth Speaks™ – an open source platform of curated space data that applies AI to help accelerate actions and solutions to help regenerate Earth’s oceans, land and climate. Newman is the author of Interactive Aerospace Engineering and Design and has >300 publications. Dr. Dava Newman served as NASA Deputy Administrator from 2015–2017, and was responsible for articulating the agency’s vision, providing leadership and policy direction, and representing NASA to the White House, Congress, international space agencies, and industry. Dr. Newman was the first female engineer and scientist to serve in this role and was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.
Previously, Nygren was general manager of the Corporate Chief Engineer’s Office (CCEO) and corporate chief engineer at Aerospace. In this role, he was responsible for leading efforts within the corporation and externally to advance mission assurance practices, identify improvements in engineering developments and practices, engage with industry and senior customers, and accelerate the growth of new architectures and capabilities in the national security space enterprise with a special focus on integrating the space enterprise. In addition to his role as the corporate chief engineer, Nygren established the corporation’s inaugural support to the portfolio architect as part of the Space and Missile Systems Center 2.0 initiative, with key goals of establishing integrated architectures that can outpace the threat.
Nygren joined Aerospace as a summer hire in 1985 and, then, as a member of the technical staff in 1987. He held positions of varying responsibility in the MILSATCOM Division, culminating in 2002 as principal director, EHF Systems, where he oversaw the program definition and eventual development of the AEHF space, ground control, and mission planning elements; the Enhanced Polar Systems; and sustainment of the legacy Milstar system. Nygren then served as general manager in the Systems Engineering Division and the Development Planning and Architecture Division.
Prior to Smith’s current position, she served as the operations manager for the Ground Enterprise Systems Operating Unit, responsible for supporting program execution, day-to-day operations, and strategic planning across a portfolio of 13 programs. She led the COVID-19 Case Response Team for the business unit and was chair of the company’s first-ever Systems and Software Engineering Symposium.
Smith has served in multiple, diverse air and space roles across her career at Northrop Grumman. She was the mechanical test engineering manager for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and also served on the JWST integration and test senior staff as the lead for non-explosive actuators and deployments. As a program manager in Resilience and Rapid Prototyping, NG Next, and Advanced Unmanned Systems, Smith has executed numerous programs and contributed to several strategic captures.
Previous to joining Northrop Grumman, Smith worked at NASA Glenn Research Center in the Simulated Lunar Operations Lab. She also conducted her thesis work at Glenn, specializing in mechanisms and robotics. This work contributed to being named one of Aviation Week’s Twenty20s.
Smith currently serves on both the Space Foundation and Case Alumni Association board of directors, as well as the industry advisory board for Case Western Reserve University’s mechanical and aerospace engineering department. She has held numerous leadership roles on the Space Generation Advisory Council, co-founded the nonprofit Caroline’s Project to send girls to STEM summer camps, and was recognized as a Future Space Leader Grant winner. Smith is an industry thought leader and frequent participant in panels, keynotes and interviews globally.
Smith holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, and a minor in political science from Case Western Reserve University.
Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.
Before joining the AIAA staff in January 2018, Dumbacher was a Professor of Engineering Practice in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University, where he taught courses in systems thinking, systems engineering, and space policy.
Prior to Purdue, Dumbacher served as the Deputy Associate Administrator, Exploration Systems Development Division, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. In that capacity, he provided leadership and management as the Program Director for Exploration Systems Development, which included: the Space Launch System, Orion, and Ground Systems Development and Operations development and integration efforts. He led a national team of over 5,000, spanning all NASA centers and industry, and was responsible for a $3 billion annual budget.
During his career, he has received numerous awards and honors including the coveted Silver Snoopy Award and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal. In 2015, Purdue recognized him with the Gustafson Teaching Award.
Dumbacher earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. He has also completed the Senior Managers in Government program at Harvard University.
Dumbacher is a native of Indianapolis, Indiana. He and his wife Lee have three grown children.
Rush is a member of the NASA Advisory Council and serves as Chairman of its Regulatory and Policy Committee. Rush also serves on the Physics Advisory Group at the University of North Florida.
Previously, Rush served as president and CEO of Made In Space, leading its growth and eventual acquisition by Redwire. Prior to his time at Made In Space, Rush was a partner in a boutique patent law firm.
During her time at SpaceX, Laura was also a part of the early F9 Recovery, Dragon Recovery, and Dragon operations teams. She was responsible for crew and ground operator flight training, flight software test, CONOPs development and simulator design. Over the years, Laura authored, tested and executed hundreds of procedures for both the ground operations teams and the crew onboard Dragon.
Laura began her career at Northrop Grumman working various programs for DARPA and other DoD customers, including a 4 year operations assignment in North Yorkshire, England. She has a Bachelors in Astronautical Engineering and a Masters in Systems Architecture, both from the University of Southern California.
Laura wants to continue to revolutionize the space industry, beginning with operational tools. She has seen how great tools and training can transform an operation, and she is excited to be able to develop tools for space and aviation companies. She’s thrilled to be in another startup environment after eleven years at SpaceX.
Laura is the proud mom of two young boys, and feels passionate about women in STEM. She encourages children to chase their dreams in science, technology, the arts, or any other passion. She also enjoys long runs with her dog and cycling up the biggest hills she can find.