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Meet the ASCEND Guiding Coalition

The ASCEND Guiding Coalition is an advisory board of technology, science, engineering, and business leaders selected to help maximize our year-round reach and impact, including the design and content of our centerpiece annual event.

From rockets and payloads to policy, administration, and advocacy, the 37 members of the 2024 ASCEND Guiding Coalition bring an accumulated wealth of experience — millions of miles and billions of dollars invested in space — to inform and inspire the ASCEND community.

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Julie Van Kleeck

ASCEND Executive Producer

Julie Van Kleeck is the Space Domain Lead and the ASCEND Executive Producer at AIAA. In 2019, she retired from Aerojet Rocketdyne as the vice president of the Space and Launch Propulsion Business Unit.

Julie joined Aerojet Rocketdyne in 1981 as a systems engineer. She specialized in system design and system architectures and was the Chief Systems Engineer on several first-generation missile defense systems such as the Advanced Liquid Axial Stage (ALAS) and Brilliant Pebbles. Many of the technologies pioneered on those systems are still in use in today’s missile defense systems. She was recognized at Aerojet, GenCorp, and the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) office for her contributions to first-generation missile defense systems.

Later, in the company’s Space business area, she played pivotal strategy, capture, and program management roles prior to moving into executive management. She worked on many satellite, spacecraft and launch vehicle propulsion programs, always working to advance the state of the art of propulsion technology while maintaining focus on mission success. Some of her key accomplishments include managing the Atlas V solid rocket motor program that developed and qualified the solid rockets that powered the Pluto New Horizons Mission; leading the Electric Propulsion Development Organization responsible for developing Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) electric propulsion that revolutionized satellite propulsion; and delivery of the nation’s next-generation human space propulsion systems such as the Orion and RS25 for SLS.

Throughout her career she worked with DoD, NASA, and commercial customers on efforts to advance launch and in-space propulsion and materials and manufacturing technologies. She is widely known in the aerospace community and has held leadership roles in numerous industry organizations, including AIAA, the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (CDSE), Powerhouse Science Center, and the SLS/Orion industry coalition. She also has been a champion throughout her career for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Women in Aerospace (WIA), being a leader—both internally through Women in Network (WIN) and externally—through numerous industry groups such as WIA and the California Assembly task force on STEM, as well as working with local junior high and high schools. She is an AIAA Fellow.

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Sirisha Bandla

Virgin Galactic

Sirisha Bandla currently works as the Vice President of Government Affairs at Virgin Galactic. In this role, Sirisha oversees legislative, regulatory, and government business priorities for the company.

Previously, Sirisha served as the Associate Director for the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry association of commercial spaceflight companies. At CSF, Sirisha worked on various policies with the aim to promote and enable the then emerging commercial space industry. Before CSF, she worked as an aerospace engineer designing components for advanced aircraft at L-3 Communications in Greenville, Texas. Sirisha serves on the Board of American Society for Gravitational and Space Research, American Astronautical Society, and the Future Space Leaders Foundation. She is also helps run the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship Program, a program for undergrad and graduate students to gain access to internships, mentorship, and a network in the commercial space industry.

Sirisha has a Bachelors of Science degree in aeronautical/astronautical engineering from Purdue and holds a Masters of Business Administration from the George Washington University.

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Kevin D. Bell

The Aerospace Corporation

Kevin D. Bell is the senior vice president of the Engineering and Technology Group (ETG) at The Aerospace Corporation. He assumed this position on October 1, 2023. In this role, he is responsible for leading the group which comprises the corporation’s technical and engineering teams that provide support to all national security and civil space programs in the areas of space and launch vehicles, electronics and sensors, computers and software, communications and networking, and systems engineering and architecting. ETG also includes the corporate physical sciences laboratories and the corporate research portfolio.

Previously, Bell was the senior vice president of the Space Systems Group, where he was responsible for the company’s support to all launch programs, ground networks, and satellite programs overseen by the U.S. Space Force Space Systems Command.

Prior to that, Bell was the vice president of Space Program Operations; in that role, he worked directly with the Air Force, government, and industry partners to develop military satellites and to advance national security space systems. Bell oversaw five major mission areas: communications, surveillance, weather, navigation, and space superiority; assisted with the development of system requirements; supported acquisition and development; and solved technical problems to ensure successful operations of space systems.

Bell joined Aerospace in 1992 as a member of the technical staff in the Vehicle Systems Division in ETG. Previously, Bell was general manager of the Imagery Programs Division, National Systems Group, and prior to that he was general manager of ETG’s Systems Engineering Division.

Bell has also supported the Air Force, NASA, commercial ventures, Missile Defense Agency, and the National Reconnaissance Organization customers, serving as systems director of the Space and Directed Energy Technology Directorate; principal director of the Missile Defense Division, Systems and Technology Subdivision; and principal director of Advanced Research and Engineering, Advanced Technology Division, among other increasingly responsible positions within the corporation’s National Systems Group. Prior to joining Aerospace, Bell held positions in industry, academia, and at the NASA Ames Research Center.


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Tejpaul Bhatia


With 25 years of startup and strategic leadership experience at some of the world’s biggest companies and three investor-backed, high-growth startups, Tejpaul Bhatia leads revenue generation and future monetization strategy for the commercial development of space as Chief Revenue Officer at Axiom Space. Prior to joining Axiom, he led External Strategic Narrative for the Office of the CIO at Google, where he met with C-suite executives at Fortune 100 corporations to discuss the future of work, supporting over $4B in sales pipeline. Tej first joined Google as the Startup Ecosystem Manager in New York to establish and grow Google Cloud’s presence with startup founders, venture capital firms, and family offices; he previously was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Citi Ventures.

As a startup founder for 10 years prior, Tej served as Chief Operating Officer for an educational technology company, Explain Everything, CEO of video chatting platform Chatwala, and CEO of Kaptur, an app that enables users to instantly aggregate all photos taken at any event in seconds. Before founding Kaptur, Tej was Senior Manager of Product and International Strategy for ESPN, where he launched ESPN3 in the US, Mexico, Brazil, and Europe. Tej holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Columbia University. He has served in non-profit leadership and board positions at the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Startup Leadership Program.

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Robert D. Braun

Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

Dr. Robert D. Braun is head of the Space Exploration Sector at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), with responsibilities that span all civil and national security space activities at the Lab. He has contributed to the formulation, development, and operation of multiple spaceflight missions and is a recognized authority in hypersonics technology and the development of entry, descent, and landing systems. Dr. Braun previously served in executive positions at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Colorado Boulder (CU Boulder), and NASA, and has served as a tenured professor at Georgia Tech, CU Boulder, and Caltech. He earned a B.S. in aerospace engineering from Pennsylvania State University, an M.S. in astronautics from George Washington University, and a Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the American Astronomical Society, and the author or coauthor of over 300 technical publications.

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Sandy Brown


Sandra “Sandy” Brown is vice president of Mission Solutions & Payloads (MSP) within Raytheon’s Air & Space Defense Systems (ASDS) strategic business unit. She leads a business responsible for a broad portfolio including Raytheon’s advanced space ground systems enterprise and space payloads, that provides defense, civil and commercial space solutions for domestic U.S. and international markets.

In this role Brown leads the development and deployment of innovative space solutions focused on strategic and tactical space command and control, space protection, tracking and object identification, missile warning and defense, cyber and software solutions, and earth observation and scientific systems.

Since joining the company in 2000, Brown has held numerous positions in program management, engineering, business transformation, and operations management. She led RGNext, a majority-owned joint venture with General Dynamics Information Technology, and has served on the Corporate

Program Management Excellence team. She was also director of the Combat Training Center and Support Mission program area of the Global Training & Logistics (GTL) Mission area within the former Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services (IIS) business.

Brown was recognized in 2015 with the Raytheon Corporate Program Leadership Award and the IIS Leadership Award. For her career contributions, she was also formally recognized by the White House, First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and former First Lady Michelle Obama, as part of the Joining Forces initiative.

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Tory Bruno

United Launch Alliance

Tory is the president and CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA). Under his leadership, ULA has transformed into a competitive powerhouse that is shaping the future of space launch by making it more affordable, accessible and introducing revolutionary new capabilities to meet the challenges of the future.

Over the past 35 years, Tory has developed and fielded dozens of critical defense and space launch systems that form the backbone of America’s national security and the nation‘s efforts in space exploration. He has a deep history in missile defense, strategic deterrence, and space launch. Tory is also an expert in several rocketry and hypersonic technologies and holds multiple related patents.

Tory is a tireless advocate for the industry, sharing his passion for space technology and his vision of a self-sustaining human presence beyond Earth. Tory is also a strong communicator on space. His social media presence is legendary worldwide and is an inspiration to many.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, California, and has completed graduate courses and management programs at Harvard University, Santa Clara University, the Wye River Institute, San Jose State University and the Defense Acquisition University.

Tory is an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Honorary Fellow, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a former member of the Defense Innovation Board Space Advisory Committee, and serves as a member of the National Space Council Users’ Advisory Group. Tory is also a recipient of the Air Force Association John R. Alison Award, the 2021 American Astronautical Society Space Flight Award recipient, an awardee of the Von Braun Trophy, a holder of the von Karman Medal, and a member of the Space & Satellite Professionals International Hall of Fame.

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Steven J. Butow

Defense Innovation Unit (DIU)

Steve “Bucky” Butow is the Director of the Space Portfolio at the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU). He is a plank-owner & co-founder of the Defense Innovation Unit.  As a researcher with the SETI Institute, he worked on instrument concepts for Mars surface soil analysis at NASA Ames Research Center, and was Co-PI on two NASA / USAF airborne science campaigns.  He was recognized for outstanding achievement by the Space Science Division in 1999, and received an Ames Honor Award as a member of the first astrobiology mission in 2000. He holds a B.A. in Physics & Astronomy from San Jose State University, M.S. in Air & Space Strategic Studies from the University of Maryland.  In his military (reserve) status, he is a brigadier general and commander of the California Air National Guard with more than 3,500 flying hours in Air Force aircraft.


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Johnathon Caldwell

Lockheed Martin

Johnathon Caldwell is the Vice President & Deputy General Manager for National Security Space, a newly formed, expansive multi-billion-dollar portfolio with over 8,300 employees who deliver integrated end-to-end solutions, high-performance systems, critical space architectures and innovative concepts to help customers successfully execute vital national security missions. With nearly 30 years in industry, he has held numerous technical and leadership roles, including leading the heritage Military Space organization, modernizing the nation’s strategic communications and missile warning, developing commercial space systems, producing and fielding next generation Global Positioning Systems, and leading the digital modernization of Lockheed Martin Space.

He serves on the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Board of Trustees, and the University of Colorado Engineering Advisory Council, and he was recently invited into the AIAA Associate Fellows Class of 2024. Johnathon is a graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder, and he lives in the Denver Metro Area with his wife and three children.


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Ahsan Choudhuri

University of Texas at El Paso

Dr. Ahsan Choudhuri is Associate Vice President for Aerospace Center and Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). He is the founding Director of UTEP NASA MIRO Center for Space Exploration and Technology Research (cSETR) and holds the endowed Mr. and Mrs. MacIntosh Murchison Chair II in Engineering. Dr. Ahsan Choudhuri’s academic career has evolved within the paradigm of UTEP’s access and excellence mission. He is a part of UTEP’s strategic vision to create abundant educational opportunities to ensure social mobility for the residents of the Paso Del Norte region.

Dr. Ahsan Choudhuri is an internationally renowned expert in aerospace and defense systems. Dr. Choudhuri led the growth of UTEP’s aerospace and defense and energy education and research program from infancy to a nationally recognized program. He has formed strategic collaborations and partnerships with NASA, DOE, DOD, and aerospace and defense industries. Dr. Choudhuri is a key institutional leader for developing and managing the partnership with Lockheed Martin and NASA. Dr. Choudhuri is a member of the Executive Committee of the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC), which supports NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. Dr. Choudhuri serves as the chair of Texas Urban Air Mobility Advisory Committee.

Dr. Choudhuri leads the university’s partnership with the County of El Paso, the City of El Paso, and the City of Horizon City to expand UTEP academic, research, and economic development expansions in the eastern region of El Paso County, the fastest growing and most underserved region of the County. He is currently overseeing Technology Research and Innovation Acceleration Park in Fabens, Unmanned Aerial Systems Flight Test Range in Tornillo, Aerospace and Defense Small Business Accelerator in Horizon City, and Defense Talent Development Hub in Central El Paso.

The focus of Dr. Choudhuri’s activities is to catalyze a regional talent and technology development ecosystem by providing strategic capabilities in Aerospace and Defense Technologies and Advanced Manufacturing. He has been at the forefront in creating a “real” Launch-Pad of innovation cluster for the economic development of the greater Southwest Border Region by connecting the area’s engineering talents, UTEP’s excellent research and development facilities and capabilities, and regional economic development funds. Dr. Choudhuri was nominated for the “2019 El Pasoan of the Year Award” for his work with regional economic development stakeholders. Under his direction, cSETR performs frontier research in aerospace and energy engineering while developing regional talents. cSETR is particularly known for its technology development success in Liquid Methane/Liquid Oxygen and AF-M315E green propulsion and oxy-combustion systems. Since its inception in 2009, cSETR has supported 400+ students. More than 85% of these students are from El Paso zip codes. These students have been aggressively recruited to the job market, obtaining positions within academia, federal agencies, and aerospace and defense industries.

Dr. Choudhuri also led the development of cSETR’s outreach arm NASA MUREP Aerospace Academy Southwest (MAA Southwest) [supported by 2 NASA Education Grants] for rolling out aerospace themed extensive K-12 programs to inspire and engage students from every school district of our region. The MAA Southwest has successfully engaged and prepared more than 8000 direct participant K-12 students and 400 in-service teachers.

Additionally, it has engaged thousands more non-direct participants, including both adults and students literally, at educational and community outreach events.

Dr. Choudhuri has secured more than $40 million of external grants, contracts, and infrastructure development projects as principal and co-principal investigators. Dr. Choudhuri has mentored 7 Research Assistant Professors, been the research supervisor of 27 Ph.D. and 86 M.S. graduates, and co-authored more than 160 technical publications with his students. cSETR currently supports an average of 100 undergraduate and graduate students. Eighty percent (80%) of cSETR sponsored students from underrepresented groups in STEM, and thirty percent (30%) are women.

As a Department Chair from 2010 to 2018, Dr. Choudhuri led the transformation of the Mechanical Engineering Department to a nationally preeminent education and research program. Under his leadership, the enrollment in mechanical engineering graduate and undergraduate programs grew from 482 to 1426 students. During this time, the department also became the top producer of extramural research funding within the university. Dr. Choudhuri led the development of the mechanical engineering doctoral program.

Dr. Choudhuri has received numerous awards and recognitions, including recognition for Faculty Award for Research Innovation from NASA, multiple Best Paper Awards from the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), and Millionaire Research Awards, Outstanding Leadership Award, and Outstanding Performance for Securing Extramural Funding Award from UTEP.

Dr. Choudhuri is a proud alumnus of Khulna University of Engineering and Technology, where he received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering. He received his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.


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Carissa Christensen


Carissa Bryce Christensen is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of BryceTech companies in the US and the UK. She previously co-founded defense contractor The Tauri Group, acquired by LMI in 2019, and quantum computing software firm QxBranch, acquired by Rigetti Computing in 2019. She is an active tech investor and has served on several early-stage boards.

Ms. Christensen is an internationally recognized expert on the satellite and space industry, known for rigorous analysis and innovative, data-driven strategy. She co-chairs the World Economic Forum Global Future Council on Space, chairs the US board of the UN-affiliated Space Generation Advisory Council, and serves on the Advisory Council of the Aerospace Corporation Center for Space Policy and Strategy. She is a founding member of the Future Space Leaders Foundation and currently serves as Chair of the Advisory Board. She is a Senior Advisor to the annual US Space Force Schriever Wargame. Ms. Christensen previously served on the National Research Council Space Technology Industry-Government-University Roundtable, which advises NASA, and the Space Committee of the Defense Innovation Board.

Ms. Christensen guest lectures at universities internationally, including Harvard Business School and the Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy. She has testified before Congress and Parliament committees on space markets. She publishes extensively, is often cited by major media outlets, and has appeared in commercial space documentaries by The Financial Times and Bloomberg.

Ms. Christensen is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School, where she specialized in science and technology policy. 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 and of the Royal Aeronautical Society. Ms. Christensen was named 2023 Executive of the Year (Up to $75M) at the Greater Washington GovCon Awards.

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Laura Crabtree


Laura Crabtree was one of the Crew Operations & Resource Engineers (CORE) who helped put the United States back in the human Space Flight business. Among the initial members of the operations team for SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft, she was also on console for the first Dragon mission in 2010, the first mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2012, and part of the commercial crew contract over the next decade—including the mission that delivered astronauts to the ISS in 2020. During that mission, Laura was the lead trainer for the crew and one of the CORE operators who communicated to and advocated for the crew during free flight. Laura’s proudest moments were receiving a call on her personal cell phone from Astronaut Doug Hurley when he was orbiting above the earth, and operating both the first commercial cargo and crew vehicles in free flight.

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.


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Kara Cunzeman

The Aerospace Corporation

Kara Cunzeman is the director of strategic foresight within the Center for Space Policy and Strategy at The Aerospace Corporation. Cunzeman championed and founded the Strategic Foresight directorate at Aerospace and serves as its first director. In her role, Cunzeman leads an “A” team of incredible thinkers who are focused on cultivating a formalized approach to futures thinking through the discipline of strategic foresight, helping the enterprise adequately prepare its organizations and capabilities to proactively shape the future through innovative approaches across strategy, acquisition, science, technology portfolio management, policy, and operations. Cunzeman is an experienced professional who is a recognized, trusted advisor and transformative thought leader for executive leadership across government, academia, and industry. Cunzeman is a declared “mad scientist” by the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), a member of the Federal Foresight Community of Interest, and a frequent guest speaker.

Cunzeman joined Aerospace in 2015, and served five years with Aerospace’s Project West Wing, providing thought leadership and strategic insight into critical issues for the nation spanning global space advancements, technology development, and threat futures to a broad range of customers across Department of Defense, intelligence community, and civil sectors.

Prior to working at Aerospace, Cunzeman held roles in space systems engineering, vehicle operations, and space sensor development at Raytheon and General Atomics. Before that, she was at Packer Engineering, where her contributions were key to winning Phase II funding via a NASA Small Business in Innovation Research (SBIR) award for extracting oxygen from lunar soil.

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Dan Dumbacher


Dan Dumbacher is the CEO of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

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.

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Ariel Ekblaw, PhD

Aurelia Institute

Ariel Ekblaw is the founder and CEO of Aurelia Institute, where she strives to bring humanity’s space exploration future to life. Through architecture R&D, education and outreach, and policy thought leadership, she is building a remarkable team and a novel FRO (Focused Research Organization) to expand humanity’s horizons and scale life in space.

Aurelia Institute is spun out of the MIT Space Exploration Initiative (SEI)—a team of over 50 graduate students, staff, and faculty actively prototyping the artifacts of our sci-fi space future—of which Ariel is also the founder and Director. Ariel drives SEI’s space-related research across science, engineering, art, and design, and leads an annually recurring cadence of parabolic flights, sub-orbital launches, and missions to the International Space Station.

Ariel is the author/editor of Into the Anthropocosmos: A Whole Space Catalog from the MIT Space Exploration Initiative (MIT Press 2021). She serves on the NASA Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC) Executive Committee, guiding and shaping the coming decade of burgeoning activity on the moon. Ariel has had the rare honor and pleasure of working directly on space hardware that now operates on the surface of Mars and is leading MIT’s To the Moon To Stay mission.

Ariel graduated with a B.S. in Physics, Mathematics and Philosophy from Yale University and designed a novel space architecture habitat for her MIT PhD in autonomously self-assembling space structures. Her research work and the lab she leads builds towards future habitats and space stations in orbit around the Earth, Moon, and Mars. Ariel and her work have been featured in WIRED, MIT Technology Review, Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC, CNN, NPR, PRI’s Science Friday, IEEE and AIAA proceedings, and more.

Equally comfortable in a boardroom, a machine shop, or free-floating in the middle of a zero-gravity parabola, Ariel drives innovation, entrepreneurship, and research at the forefront of space exploration. As the daughter of two US Air Force Pilots, Ariel developed a deep commitment to the service model of leadership at a young age, and followed in her mother’s glass-ceiling breaking footsteps (Maj. Ekblaw was one of the country’s first female instructor pilots). With a deep family history of extreme environment exploration, including the Ekblaw Glacier in the Arctic and Mt. Ekblaw in Antarctica named after her great-grandfather, Ariel looks forward to galvanizing exploration at the vanguard of humanity’s horizons—from Low Earth Orbit to other celestial bodies.



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Carol Erikson

Northrop Grumman Space Systems

Carol Erikson is vice president, Digital Transformation for Northrop Grumman’s Space Systems sector, a premier provider of space, ground
and launch systems with end-to-end capabilities in national security, civil and commercial systems.

In this role, Erikson is responsible for leading digital transformation initiatives across the sector that will enable the Space Systems team to leverage transformational capabilities to ensure effective execution across the full program life cycle from concept through sustainment.

Most recently, Erikson served as vice president and enterprise program manager for the Sentinel (GBSD) program, where she established and led the nationwide team responsible for capturing, and executing, the Technical Maturation and Risk Reduction program and for developing innovative engineering and digital environment solutions critical to capturing and preparing for the Engineering, Manufacturing, and
Development program.

Erikson joined Northrop Grumman in 1987 as a systems engineer and has technical, supply chain, functional management and program management experience in space systems. She served as the director for Mission 1 system enhancement and captures, deputy program manager for program
integration on the Advanced Missions Programs portfolio and project manager for payloads for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System. In 2013, Erikson was appointed vice president of Engineering for the heritage Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems sector’s Space Systems Division, where she led engineering efforts across the Space Systems portfolio, including restricted space, the James Webb Space Telescope, and the Advanced Extremely High Frequency programs.

Erikson earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering and computer science from Stonehill College and a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Notre Dame. She also earned a Master of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California and completed the Executive Management Program at the University of California Los Angeles.


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Debra Facktor

Airbus U.S. Space and Defense

Debra Facktor is the Head of U.S. Space Systems for Airbus U.S. Space & Defense, Inc. She leads the Airbus U.S. Space line of business consisting of National Security Space (small satellites) and Space Exploration. Debra serves on the board of Airbus OneWeb Satellites, a joint venture between Airbus and OneWeb operating a high-volume, high-speed satellite manufacturing facility in Florida.

Prior to joining Airbus U.S., Debra was Vice President and General Manager of Strategic Operations for Ball Aerospace, leading the company’s Washington D.C. operations, strategic development, and marketing and communications. Her extensive business experience includes serving as President and Owner of AirLaunch LLC, and as Vice President of Business Development and Strategic Planning for Kistler Aerospace Corporation. She also served as an industry professor at Steven Institute of Technology School of Systems and Enterprises and as Director of Strategic Programs for the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC). Earlier in her career, Debra was Chief of Moscow Operations for ANSER’s Center for International Aerospace Cooperation.

Debra is actively engaged as an advisor and mentor in the aerospace community and is a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). She sits on the University of Michigan Aerospace Engineering Industrial Advisory Board and is Chair of SSPI-WISE (Space & Satellite Professionals International – Women in Space Engagement), former chair of the Board of Women in Aerospace (WIA), and former treasurer of the Future Space Leaders Foundation. She is also a fellow of the American Astronautical Society (AAS), an academician vof the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA), and a member of Chief.

Debra received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan and is an alumna of the International Space University summer session program in Strasbourg, France.

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Nicola Fox


As the Associate Administrator (AA) for the Science Mission Directorate, Dr. Nicola Fox directs ~100 NASA missions to explore the secrets of the universe–missions that use the view from space to assess questions as practical as hurricane formation, as enticing as the prospect of lunar resources, as amazing as behavior in weightlessness, and as profound as the origin of the universe. She is responsible for fostering an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere and supporting a diverse team of space scientists and engineers around the country. As the AA, Dr. Fox creates a balanced portfolio of carefully chosen missions and research goals to enable a deep scientific understanding of Earth, other planets, the Sun, and the universe. These efforts lay the intellectual foundation for the robotic and human expeditions of the future, while meeting today’s needs for scientific information to address national concerns.

Dr. Fox joined NASA in 2018 as SMD’s Director of the Heliophysics Division, where she led a world-class team in understanding Earth’s most important and life-sustaining star. She oversaw NASA’s work to study key space phenomena and improve situational awareness of the very space our astronauts, satellites, and robotic missions travel through as they explore the solar system and beyond. Her portfolio also included NASA’s robust space weather research to help the U.S. government better predict space weather, which can interfere with radio communications, affect GPS accuracy, and even–when extreme–affect electrical grids on the ground.

Dr. Fox has authored numerous scientific articles and papers, in addition to delivering science presentations worldwide. She is known for her keen ability to make science accessible to a broad range of audiences, as well as her stellar leadership, creating a sense of purpose and belonging in her teams. In 2021 she was awarded the American Astronautical Society’s Carl Sagan Memorial Award for her demonstrated leadership in the field of heliophysics. In 2020 she was awarded NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal.

Prior to August 2018, Dr. Fox worked at the Applied Physics Lab at the Johns Hopkins University, where she was the chief scientist for heliophysics, as well as the project scientist for NASA’s Parker Solar Probe–humanity’s first mission to a star. Dr. Fox’s extensive project, program, and supervisory experience included serving as the Deputy Project Scientist for the Van Allen Probes and the operations scientist for the International Solar Terrestrial Physics program.

Dr. Fox graduated from The Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine in London with a B.S. in Physics. She received an M.S. in Telematics and Satellite Communications from the University of Surrey. She then returned to Imperial College to complete a Ph.D. in Space and Atmospheric Physics.


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James Free


James Free is NASA’s associate administrator, its third highest-ranking executive and highest-ranking civil servant. He is the senior advisor to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson and Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy. In his role, Free leads the agency’s 10 center directors as well as the mission directorate associate administrators at NASA Headquarters in Washington. He acts as the agency’s chief operating officer for more than 18,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $25 billion.

Previously, Free was associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. In that role, Free was responsible for the development of NASA’s Moon to Mars architecture, defining and managing the systems development for NASA’s Artemis missions and planning for NASA’s integrated deep space exploration approach.

Prior to his selection as head of Exploration Systems Development, Free spent several years in various private sector roles after he left NASA in 2017. In his previous role at NASA, he served as the agency’s deputy associate administrator for technical in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

Prior to joining NASA Headquarters, he worked his way up to center director at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, where he was responsible for planning, organizing, and directing the activities required to accomplish the missions assigned to the center.  Free has served a variety of roles at NASA centers since beginning his career in 1990 at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

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.

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Mike Gazarik

Ball Aerospace

Mike Gazarik joined Ball Aerospace in March of 2015 from NASA where he was the Associate Administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters. As the vice president of engineering, he provides overall strategic and operational leadership of engineering, program execution, and technology. Prior to this position, he served as Technical Director where he worked to align Ball’s technology development with business development and growth strategies. He has over 25 years’ experience in the design, development, and deployment of spaceflight systems. He has contributed to the development of technology with application to NASA’s exploration, space operations and science missions. In standing up the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters, he led NASA’s rapid development and incorporation of transformative technologies that enable the Agency’s missions, and address the Nation’s aerospace community’s most difficult challenges.

Earlier in his career, Gazarik served as deputy director for programs at NASA’s Langley Research Center in the Engineering Directorate. Prior to joining NASA, Gazarik served as project manager for the Geosynchronous Imaging Fourier Transform Spectrometer project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory. He also led the development of the Airborne Sounder Testbed-Interferometer, an instrument that helps scientists understand temperature and water vapor profiles of the Earth’s atmosphere. Gazarik also worked in the private sector on software and firmware development for commercial and government applications including telecommunications and signal processing.

Gazarik understands that diverse teams develop better solutions. Under his leadership, engineering at Ball Aerospace has seen marked increase in diversity at all levels of the organization. Forty percent of the engineering directors are women, and overall diversity of department has increased by more than 10%. He served as an executive sponsor for the LGBTA Ball Resource Group and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, and a member of the Society of Women Engineers.

Gazarik earned a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pittsburgh in 1987 and was a General Motors Scholar. He earned an M.S. in 1989 and a Ph.D. in 1997, both in electrical engineering, from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He is a Fellow of the AIAA, and a member of the Engineering Advisory Board for the University of Colorado’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, the University of Pittsburgh’s Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, and the University of Arizona’s College of Engineering Department. He also serves on the NASA Advisory Committee for Technology and Innovation. Gazarik has received numerous awards, including NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal, a Silver Snoopy Award, one of NASA’s highest honors, and was selected as a Distinguished Alumni from the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering in 2018. He is a leader in Boy Scouts of America, coached and refereed youth lacrosse, and led the development of lacrosse programs in the Hampton Roads area.


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Bill Gerstenmaier


William H. Gerstenmaier is Vice President for Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX.

Previously, he served as special advisor to NASA’s deputy administrator, appointed to the position in July 2019.

Previously, Gerstenmaier had been the associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. In this position, Gerstenmaier provided strategic direction for all aspects of NASA’s human exploration of space and cross-agency space support functions of space communications and space launch vehicles. He provided programmatic direction for the operation and utilization of the International Space Station and its crew; development of the Gateway, Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft; and was providing strategic guidance and direction for the commercial crew and cargo programs.

Gerstenmaier began his NASA career in 1977 at the then Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, performing aeronautical research. He was involved with the wind tunnel tests that were used to develop the calibration curves for the air data probes used during entry on the Space Shuttle.

Beginning in 1988, Gerstenmaier headed the Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle (OMV) Operations Office, Systems Division at the Johnson Space Center. He was responsible for all aspects of OMV operations at Johnson, including development of a ground control center and training facility for OMV, operations support to vehicle development, and personnel and procedures development to support OMV operations. Subsequently he headed the Space Shuttle/Space Station Freedom Assembly Operations Office, Operations Division. He was responsible for resolving technical assembly issues and developing assembly strategies.

Gerstenmaier also served as Shuttle/Mir Program operations manager. In this role, he was the primary interface to the Russian Space Agency for operational issues, negotiating all protocols used in support of operations during the Shuttle/Mir missions. In addition, he supported NASA 2 operations in Russia, from January through September 1996 including responsibility for daily activities, as well as the health and safety of the NASA crewmember on space station Mir. He scheduled science activities, public affairs activities, monitored Mir systems, and communicated with the NASA astronaut on Mir.

In 1998, Gerstenmaier was named manager, Space Shuttle Program Integration, responsible for the overall management, integration, and operations of the Space Shuttle Program. This included development and operations of all Space Shuttle elements, including the orbiter, external tank, solid rocket boosters, and Space Shuttle main engines, as well as the facilities required to support ground processing and flight operations.

In December 2000, Gerstenmaier was named deputy manager, ISS Program, and two years later became manager. He was responsible for the day-to-day management, development, integration, and operation of the space station. This included the design, manufacturing, testing, and delivery of complex space flight hardware and software, and for its integration with the elements from international partners into a fully functional and operating space station.

Named associate administrator for the Space Operations Directorate in 2005, Gerstenmaier directed the safe completion of the last 21 Space Shuttle missions that witnessed assembly completion of the International Space Station. During this time, he provided programmatic direction for the integration and operation of the ISS, space communications, and space launch vehicles.

Gerstenmaier received a Bachelor of Science in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University in 1977 and a Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Toledo in 1981. He completed course work early in his career for a doctorate in dynamics and control with emphasis in propulsion at Purdue University, and in spring 2019, he will receive an honorary doctorate from his alma mater.

For his technical contributions and leadership in national and international human spaceflight programs, Gerstenmaier was elected into the 2018 class of the National Academy of Engineering.

Gerstenmaier is the recipient of numerous awards, including three NASA Certificates of Commendation, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, a Senior NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, the Meritorious Executive Presidential Rank Award, and Distinguish Executive Presidential Rank Award. He also was honored with an Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Award from Purdue University. Additionally, he was twice honored by Aviation Week and Space Technology for outstanding achievement in the field of space. His other awards include: the AIAA International Cooperation Award; the National Space Club Astronautics Engineer Award; National Space Club Von Braun Award; the Federation of Galaxy Explorers Space Leadership Award; AIAA International Award; the AIAA Fellow; Purdue University Distinguished Alumni Award; and honored at Purdue as an Old Master in the Old Masters Program; recipient of the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement’s National Space Trophy; Space Transportation Leadership Award; the AIAA von Braun Award for Excellence in Space Program Management; and the AIAA von Karman Lectureship in Astronautics.

He is married to the former Marsha Ann Johnson. They have two children.



Phil Ingle

Morgan Stanley

Phillip (Phil) Ingle is a Managing Director in Morgan Stanley’s Investment Banking Division. He joined Morgan Stanley in 2002 as an Analyst in the firm’s Melbourne, Australia, office. In 2004, he relocated to the New York office where he joined the Global Industrials Group. Phil specializes in the coverage of Aerospace & Defense, General Industrial and Security companies and has worked on a variety of M&A and capital markets transactions for clients across these industries.

Notable space-related transactions include the announced sale of Ball Aerospace to BAE Systems, the IPO of MDA, the SPAC merger of Rocket Lab with Vector Acquisition Corp, Harris Corporation’s acquisition of Exelis and its merger-of-equals with L3 Technologies, and debt and equity financings for several commercial and government-customer focused space companies including Virgin Galactic, Maxar and Aerojet Rocketdyne.

Phil graduated from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Commerce (Hons) and a Bachelor of Laws (Hons). During and after his five years at university, he served as an Infantry Office in the Australian Army Reserve. Phil currently resides in Brooklyn, NY, with his wife Laura and their four daughters.

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Lt. Gen. Larry D. James USAF (Ret.)

Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

Larry D. James was appointed Deputy Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in August 2013. At JPL, he is the Laboratory’s Chief Operating Officer responsible to the Director for the day-to-day management of JPL’s resources and activities. This includes managing the Laboratory’s solar system exploration, Mars, astronomy, physics, Earth science, interplanetary network programs, and all business operations. These activities employ 6000 scientists, engineers, technicians, and business support personnel, generating $2.6 billion in annual revenues.

Prior to his retirement from the Air Force 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, Cambridge MA. He was also a Draper Fellow at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge MA.


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Tonya Ladwig

Lockheed Martin Space

Updated bio coming soon.

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Joe Landon

Joe Landon is a visionary leader and innovator in the space industry, with a distinguished career marked by senior executive roles at leading aerospace and defense contractors and bold space ventures. Joe has a track record of building new commercial businesses, shaping and winning large U.S. government programs and leading entrepreneurial teams. He has a strong technical foundation in spacecraft and space mission design, test and operations.

Most recently, Joe founded and served as CEO of Crescent Space, a pioneering new subsidiary of Lockheed Martin building lunar infrastructure as-a-service. Prior to launching Crescent, Joe served as Vice President for Advanced Programs Development at Lockheed Martin where he led business development, strategy, and R&D for Lockheed Martin’s multi-billion-dollar Commercial Civil Space line of business. Earlier in his career, Joe served as CFO of the asteroid mining venture Planetary Resources Inc. Joe also co-founded Space Angels Network, the world’s first and largest angel investor network focused on early-stage space companies.

Joe is an Associate Fellow of AIAA, a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Space, and a member of the FAA’s NextGen Advisory Council. He holds undergraduate and master’s degrees in engineering and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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Emma Louden

American Astronomical Society Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy

Emma Louden is an American astrophysicist, strategist, and speaker.

Raised in Park City, UT, she spent many nights outside looking up at the Milky Way through the crisp and clear mountain air. After falling in love with the NASA rovers Spirit and Opportunity, Emma’s astrophysics pathway took off quickly. Since then, Emma has attended the Summer Science Program, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Princeton University, and been selected as a Brooke Owens Fellow and a Quad Fellow. As an astrophysics Ph.D. candidate at Yale University, Emma studies the geometry of exoplanetary systems. Emma uses the thinking spurred by this inquiry to help humanity develop a consciousness that puts the Earth in context and advances space exploration for the common good.  

Emma is also a space strategy analyst and EarthDNA Ambassador. She co-founded the Ask-A-Brookie Mentorship program and serves on the American Astronomical Society Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy. Emma is deeply committed to sharing her passion for astronomy to spark curiosity and excitement in future scientists, especially minorities in STEM. She serves as a Young Professional Mentor for the Zed Factor Fellowship,  a mentor for the Space Prize, and a lead for the SSP Connect mentorship program for alumni of the Summer Science Program. Her expertise has been featured in talks at TEDx, Yale Law School, NPR, and the Jasper Dark Sky Festival. She was named one of the STEM Reinventors of the Year for 2021 and a Payload Pioneer 30 Under 30. She also serves on the Future Space Economy Webcast Advisory Board for SATELLITE. As a sought-after speaker, Emma travels around the world as a steward of the story of the next phase of space exploration, empowering the next generation of students in STEM and connecting the public to the transformative power of space exploration. 


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Sandra Magnus

AstroPlanetview, LLC

Dr. Sandra H. “Sandy” Magnus is a Principal at AstroPlanetview.

Dr. Sandra H. “Sandy” Magnus is employed by MITRE acting in the capacity of a “temporary government employee” as the Chief Engineer for the Traffic Coordination System for Space in the Office of Space Commerce in the Department of Commerce. She is also affiliated with the Georgia Institute of Technology as part time of Professor of the Practice. Dr. Magnus retired from federal service as the Deputy Director of Engineering in the Office of the Secretary of Defense for the Undersecretary of Research and Engineering. In that role she served as the “Chief Engineer” for the DoD establishing engineering policy, propagating best practices, and working to connect the engineering community across the department. Prior to joining the DoD she served as the Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the world’s largest technical society dedicated to the global aerospace profession. Selected to the NASA Astronaut Corps in April 1996, Dr. Magnus flew in space on the STS-112 shuttle mission in 2002, and on the final shuttle flight, STS-135, in 2011. In addition, she flew to the International Space Station on STS-126 in November 2008, served as flight engineer and science officer on Expedition 18, and returned home on STS-119 after four and a half months on board. Following her assignment on Station, she served at NASA Headquarters in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. Her last duty at NASA, after STS-135, was as the deputy chief of the Astronaut Office. Before joining NASA, Dr. Magnus worked for McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company from 1986 to 1991, as a stealth engineer. While at McDonnell Douglas, she worked on internal research and development and on the Navy’s A-12 Attack Aircraft program, studying the effectiveness of radar signature reduction techniques.

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Clare Martin


Dr. Martin joined Astroscale U.S. in August 2019 as Executive Vice President. She brings many years of experience in space technology management, operations, and engineering to support the foundation and growth of Astroscale U.S.

Dr. Martin previously held the position of the Director, Orbital Solutions at General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems (GA-EMS). She was responsible for the management and technical performance of the engineering staff and delivery of projects, including planning and managing technical and programmatic solutions to ensure quality, business, and financial objectives were met.

Prior to joining GA-EMS, Dr. Martin was the Chief Operating Officer at Surrey Satellite Technology US, where she led the Surrey project management and engineering teams. As a member of the Surrey Satellite US Executive Team, Dr. Martin managed the bidding, negotiation, and execution of projects, and was responsible for ensuring the company’s cost-effective methods were appropriately applied to the execution of programs.

Dr. Martin transferred to Surrey Satellite US from Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. in the United Kingdom, where she held several positions including the Head of Telecommunications and Navigation business unit, encompassing the Galileo payload programme. Prior to Surrey, Dr. Martin was a Project Manager and Scientist at QinetiQ.

Dr. Martin earned a Master of Science in astrophysics and a Doctorate in mathematics and computational sciences from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. She loves to explore and adventure the mountains in Colorado.


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Rob Meyerson


Rob Meyerson is the co-founder and CEO of Interlune, a company committed to sustainable and responsible harvesting of natural resources from space to benefit humanity. Rob is an angel investor, advisor, and/or director for companies including Axiom Space, Hadrian, ABL Space, Sceye, Starfish Space, Hermeus, and others.

Prior to Interlune, Rob was the President of Blue Origin, and grew the company from its founding into a more than 1500-person organization between 2003 and 2018. Prior to joining Blue, Rob was a Senior Manager at Kistler Aerospace, and he 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. For accomplishments at Blue Origin, Rob and his team were awarded the Robert J. Collier trophy from the National Aeronautic Association in 2016, and Rob was awarded the Space Flight Award by the American Astronautical Society in 2017.

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Wayne Monteith


Wayne Monteith is the General Manager for NAS. He has 29 years of distinguished service in the U.S. Air Force. He retired from the Air Force in 2018 as a Brigadier General after serving as Commander of the 45th Space Wing and Director of the Eastern Range, at Patrick Air Force Base, Florida. Prior to that command, he served as the Senior Military Assistant to the Secretary of the Air Force. Wayne earned his commission in 1989 as a distinguished graduate from the University of New Mexico’s Air Force ROTC program. He has served in various special duty capacities including major command, combatant command, Headquarters Air Force, and Office of the Secretary of Defense staff positions. He earned the Master Missile Operations designation and is a Command Space Professional. Monteith’s most recent assignment was serving the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Washington, D.C. as the Associate Administrator for the Office of Commercial Space Transportation. 

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Mark Mozena

Planet Federal

Mark Mozena is the Vice President of Government Affairs for Planet in Washington, D.C. where he leads Planet’s government relations and policy efforts with Congress and U.S. Government Agencies. Before joining Planet, Mark worked for United Launch Alliance (ULA) where he handled the civil space portfolio and led government relations with NASA, NOAA, and the FAA. Prior to ULA, Mark worked for Representative Michael Honda (D-Silicon Valley, CA) in Washington, D.C. Mark initially joined the Congressman as an AAAS Congressional Science & Technology Policy Fellow before transitioning to permanent staff. As a Senior Policy Advisor, Mark managed the Commerce, Justice, and Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee for Congressman Honda who served as the Subcommittee’s Ranking Member. Before working on Capitol Hill, Mark received his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of California, Santa Cruz where his research focused on galaxy evolution. As the son of a US diplomat, Mark spent much of his childhood living in South Asia and southern Africa before going to Rice University in Houston, Texas for his bachelor’s degree. Following Rice, Mark taught high school physics with Teach For America in St. Louis, Missouri before moving to California for graduate school.


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Johnathon Olson

United States Space Force

Maj. Gen. John M. Olson is the Mobilization Assistant to the Chief of Space Operations, Headquarters United States Space Force, Pentagon, Washington, D.C. In this position, he assists the CSO with responsibility to organize, train and equip space forces; develop and acquire military space systems; and conduct space operations to advance and protect U.S. and allied interests. Maj. Gen. Olson is the USSF lead for Combined Joint All Domain Command and Control and the Advanced Battle Management System. Maj. Gen. Olson also serves on the Office of the Secretary of Defense Operational Energy Innovation Technical Advisory Group and flies as an Airborne Emergency Action Officer on the Looking Glass Airborne Nuclear Command Post leading strategic deterrence missions.

Maj. Gen. Olson was commissioned in 1992 as a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy. He has earned five engineering degrees, including two bachelor’s degrees from the U.S. Air Force Academy, master’s degrees in engineering from the University of Illinois and the University of Tennessee and a Doctorate in Systems Engineering from Auburn University. He also completed executive education programs at Harvard, MIT and Stanford. Maj. Gen. Olson has held numerous air, space, cyber, acquisition, test, weapons, political-military, intelligence and technology command, staff and leadership roles at all levels. He is a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School, a freefall parachutist and a former European and Eurasian Foreign Area Officer. Maj. Gen. Olson deployed to Southwest Asia, supporting air and space operations for operations Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and New Dawn in Iraq, Odyssey Dawn in Libya and Joint Task Force Horn of Africa. Maj. Gen. Olson transitioned to the Air Force Reserve in 2004 after joining NASA, where he served as a Senior Executive Service leader in several civil space leadership roles for nearly a decade, earning the Presidential Rank Award. In his industry capacity, he served as a CEO, president, vice president, and general manager in both public and private corporations for nine years, following 25 years of federal civil service culminating as the Assistant Director for Space and Aeronautics in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Prior to his current position, Maj. Gen. Olson served as the first Chief Data and Artificial Intelligence Officer for the Department of the Air Force at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

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Shawna Pandya

International Institute for Astronautical Sciences

Dr. Shawna Pandya is a physician, aquanaut, scientist-astronaut candidate with the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS), skydiver, pilot-in-training, VP Immersive Medicine with Luxsonic Technologies, Associate Fellow of the Aerospace Medicine Association, and Fellow of the Explorers Club. She is Director of IIAS’ Space Medicine Group, Chief Instructor for IIAS’ Operational Space Medicine course, a host with the World Extreme Medicine’s podcast series, Primary Investigator for the Shad Canada-Blue Origin student microgravity competition, and sessional lecturer for “Technology and the Future of Medicine,” at the University of Alberta. She serves as a medical advisor to Astreas and Above: Space Development Corporation, member of the AIAA ASCEND Guiding Coalition, and as a member of the Jasper Dark Sky Festival Advisory Committee.

Dr. Pandya was on the first crew to test a commercial spacesuit in zero-gravity in 2015. She earned her aquanaut designation on the 2019 NEPTUNE (Nautical Experiments in Physiology, Technology and Underwater Exploration) mission. Her expeditions have been previously captured in the 2019 Land Rover short, ‘Another World,’ released with the Apollo 11: First Steps film, and in the 2022 FIGS Space Navy and Mauve space medicine themed campaign. She interned at ESA’s European Astronaut Center and NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Her publications include book chapters on psychological resilience in long-duration spaceflight, sexuality and reproduction in spaceflight, and space technologies that have benefitted terrestrial medicine. In 2021, she was granted an Honorary Fellowship in Extreme and Wilderness Medicine and named to the Canadian Women’s Executive Network’s Top 100 Most Powerful Women. Her work is permanently exhibited at the Ontario Science Center alongside Dr. Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman in space. In 2022, Dr. Pandya was named to the Explorers’ Club’s “50 Explorers Changing the World.”


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Frank Pelkofer

Maxar Space Systems

Frank Pelkofer serves as the lead of the Spacecraft Assembly, Integration and Test team, leading multiple teams responsible for building, testing and delivering Maxar Space Systems’ final products to its customers. Frank has more than three decades of aerospace experience, including serving as a strategic leader charged with architecting and implementing the transformation of the Maxar Space Systems business to support a diversified portfolio of products.  

Frank served with the U.S. Naval Forces for more than five years. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

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Pat Remias

Blue Origin

Pat Remias is the Vice President of Space Systems Development at Blue Origin, a private space company working to radically reduce the cost of access to space and harness its vast resources for the benefit of Earth. With over 38 years of executive, engineering, and program management experience in DoD, NASA, commercial, and international aerospace programs, Pat is a seasoned aerospace executive dedicated to innovation.

Pat joined Blue Origin in 2022 as the Vice President of Space Destinations. In 2023, Pat was appointed Vice President of Space Systems Development, where she leads the research and development group, ideating and formulating new projects and programs in Commercial LEO Development, Lunar Mobility and Habitats, In-Situ Space Resources (ISRU) and Space Nuclear areas, among others.

Prior to Blue Origin, Pat was at Sierra Space, where she was responsible for complete engineering infrastructure supporting SNC’s Sierra Space subsidiary, developing innovative solutions to the nation’s most challenging space missions in civil and national security space. She also held positions at ComTech Aeroastro Inc., Emergent Information Technologies, Inc., and Orbital Sciences Corporation.

Pat has a bachelor’s degree in aerospace and ocean engineering (AOE), Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and a graduate certificate in engineering management at The Catholic University of America.

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Jim Reuter

James L. (Jim) Reuter is an aerospace consultant where he advises on company and program strategies, program management and systems engineering, proposal development, and strategic planning.

Jim retired from NASA in June 2023 after a 40-year career at NASA, where he served as the associate administrator for the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) at NASA Headquarters in Washington from 2018 until his retirement. Jim provided executive leadership and management of the technology programs within STMD, with an annual investment value of $1.2 billion. During Jim’s tenure as the STMD associate administrator, he created new innovative partnerships with industry and other government agencies to accelerate NASA’s technology work, with a special focus on innovating for the lunar surface. Jim also established new initiatives to foster talent within academia and the agency’s early-career workforce, all while increasing investment in technology development across the agency.”

During his four-decade career at NASA, Mr. Reuter 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 and External Tank Offices including a leading role in managing the shuttle’s return to flight after the Columbia accident; and environmental control and life support manager for the International Space Station from formation until the ISS was permanently occupied. His NASA career began at Marshall, where he was an aerospace engineer in the Structures and Propulsion Laboratory.

Reuter’s work has been recognized many times by NASA, with awards including a 2019 Presidential Rank Award, 2019 Distinguished Service Medal, 2016 Outstanding Leadership Medal, 2013 NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, a 2008 NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, a 2002 NASA Exceptional Service Medal, a 1998 Silver Snoopy Award, and a 1993 Space Station Award of Merit.

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Brent Sherwood

AIAA Space Domain Lead

Brent Sherwood is the Senior Vice President, Advanced Development Programs for Blue Origin, a private space company building the foundation for millions of people living and working in space. He is responsible for the development of in-space systems and services for human space flight, space cargo, and space infrastructure that collectively will open space to human expansion. He reports to Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith.

Brent came to Blue Origin from JPL, where he was the founding manager of the JPL Innovation Foundry and later the Program Manager for Solar System Mission Formulation. In those roles he respectively led the integration of JPL’s mission formulation and competitive proposal operations, and the strategic pursuit of Discovery missions, New Frontiers missions, unsolicited planetary missions, and future planetary flagship missions.

Prior to JPL, Brent was at the Boeing Company, where he led a succession of teams that developed human lunar and Mars exploration system concepts, Space Station Freedom module manufacturing methods, Sea Launch services pursuits, entrepreneurial civil and commercial space initiatives, International Space Station business development, and pursuit of planetary science objectives ranging from the Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter to Mars Sample Return.

A space architect, has published over 60 papers on the exploration and development of space, edited Out of This World: The New Field of Space Architecture, served as chair of the AIAA Space Architecture Technical Committee in 2018-2020 and on the board of the American Astronautical Society in 2018-2019, and is the 2021 recipient of the Columbia Medal from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Brent holds a summa cum laude Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale, a Master of Architecture degree also from Yale, and a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland.

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Wanda Sigur

Lambent Engineering LLC

Wanda Sigur, as president of Lambent Engineering LLC, works as an aerospace consultant for both emerging space exploration companies and traditional aerospace industry companies, continuing her lifelong commitment to the success of aerospace missions, the growth of the aerospace profession and new technology implementation. Ms. Sigur retired from Lockheed Martin as Vice President and General Manager of the Civil Space business where she had executive responsibility for national space programs relating to human space flight and space science missions, including planetary, solar, astrophysical, and Earth remote sensing for civil government agencies. These major programs included the Orion Multi-purpose Crew Vehicle, Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes, GOES-R weather satellites, Juno, GRAIL, MAVEN, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Odyssey, and OSIRIS-REx planetary missions, and the company’s nuclear space power programs. Wanda’s key experience reflects her passion for growing an inclusive and progressive space exploration environment.

Previously, Ms. Sigur was Vice President, Engineering, Space, for Lockheed Martin Corporation (LM). In this capacity, she was responsible for leading LM’s space engineering personnel development and deployment; engineering processes, tools & training; and product technical validation, with emphasis on ensuring operational excellence and first-time-right engineering. Over her career, Wanda has held multiple positions with increasing levels of responsibility. She led several critical initiatives for LM, including Vice President, Program Manager for the Space Shuttle External Tank (ET), responsible for return-to-flight following hurricane Katrina and the Columbia accident.

Ms. Sigur is a member of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST), and participates on multiple committees for the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM), including Chair of the Space Technology Industry Government University Roundtable (STIGUR) for the Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board. She graduated from Rice University, BSMSE, and Tulane University, MBA.


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Lauren Smith

Northrop Grumman Corporation

Lauren Smith is a program manager for the Satellite Servicing operating unit within the Tactical Space Systems division of Northrop Grumman Space Systems. In this role, Smith leads the portfolio of programs that advance the future of in-space refueling.

Smith has served in multiple, diverse air and space roles across her career at Northrop Grumman. She was recently the operations manager for a portfolio of 13 ground and data processing programs as well as the chair of the company’s first-ever Systems and Software Engineering Symposium. Smith was also the mechanical test engineering manager for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and a member of 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.

Before 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 her alma mater’s mechanical and aerospace engineering departments. She is a member of the AIAA ASCEND Guiding Coalition, serves on two committees for the International Astronautical Foundation, and has held numerous leadership roles for the Space Generation Advisory Council. Smith has also been recognized as a Future Space Leader Grant winner.

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.


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Matthew Weinzierl

Harvard Business School

Matthew Weinzierl
Senior Associate Dean and Chair, MBA Program; Joseph and Jacqueline Elbling Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Matt Weinzierl is Senior Associate Dean and Chair of the MBA Program at Harvard Business School and a Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. His research focuses on the optimal design of economic policy, in particular taxation. Since 2016, he has launched a set of research projects on the commercialization of the space sector and its economic implications. Prior to completing his PhD in economics at Harvard University in 2008, Professor Weinzierl served as the Staff Economist for Macroeconomics on the President’s Council of Economic Advisers and worked in the New York office of McKinsey & Company.

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Vanessa Wyche

NASA Johnson Space Center

Vanessa E. Wyche is the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to America’s astronaut corps, Mission Control Center, International Space Station, Orion and Gateway programs and its more than 10,000 civil service and contractor employees. She is responsible for overseeing a broad range of human spaceflight activities, including development and operation of human spacecraft, commercialization of lowEarth orbit and Johnson’s role in landing the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the Moon. Wyche previously served as deputy director at Johnson, a position she held since 2018. Other key leadership positions include: assistant and acting deputy director of Johnson; director of the Exploration Integration and Science Directorate, flight manager of several missions of the retired Space Shuttle Program, executive officer in the Office of the NASA Administrator, and led additional center-level technical and program organizations.

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.


Noelle Zietsman 2024 BW

Noelle Zietsman


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