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Applied Physics Laboratory Memo: Appointment of Space Exploration Sector Head

Status Report From: Johns Hopkins University
Posted: Thursday, January 20, 2022

ADM 2022-002

January 20, 2022

To:All Staff

From: R. D. Semmel

Subject: Appointment of Space Exploration Sector Head

I am pleased to announce that our search for a new Space Exploration Sector (SES) Head has successfully concluded with the selection of Dr. Robert D. Braun, who is currently the Director for Planetary Science at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Bren Professor of Aerospace at the California Institute of Technology.

Bobby will be succeeding Mike Ryschkewitsch, who announced in October his intention to retire. As I indicated then, Mike led SES during a pivotal time, and we are deeply appreciative of his outstanding leadership and many impressive contributions to the Laboratory and our nation.

With more than 30 years of experience as a space systems engineer, technologist, and organizational leader, Bobby is internationally recognized as a technical authority in the development of entry, descent, and landing systems. He has contributed to the formulation, development, and operation of multiple space flight missions at JPL. As an executive leader there, he has had programmatic responsibility for approximately half of the Lab’s business base, including leadership of the NASA Mars Exploration Program Office, NASA Mars Sample Return Campaign Program Office, and the Europa Clipper, Psyche, Mars 2020, Ingenuity, Lunar Trailblazer, and VERITAS flight projects.

Prior to his current role at JPL, Bobby furthered the field of space exploration through an impressive progression of leadership roles at NASA and in academia. He served as Dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, and prior to that served as a faculty member at the Georgia Institute of Technology where he led the Space Systems Design Laboratory, founded the Center for Space Technology and Research, and co-founded an aerospace startup. Before joining the Georgia Tech faculty, Bobby was a member of the technical staff of the NASA Langley Research Center.

In 2010-2011, Bobby served as the first NASA Chief Technologist in more than a decade. In this role, he was responsible for technology and innovation policy and programs spanning industry, academia, and all 10 NASA Centers. His work led to the maturation of a broad spectrum of technologies required for our nation’s future missions in space.

Bobby is the author or co-author of more than 300 technical publications, and his national-level recognition includes election into the National Academy of Engineering and appointment as a Fellow of both the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and American Astronomical Society (AAS). He is presently a member of the National Academies Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and previously served as Vice Chair of the National Academies Space Studies Board and as a member of the USAF Scientific Advisory Board. He received a Ph.D. in aeronautics and astronautics from Stanford University, an M.S. in astronautics from the George Washington University, and a B.S. in aerospace engineering from the Pennsylvania State University.

On a more personal note, Bobby is the son of former long-time APL staff member Jacob “Jack” Braun and fondly remembers APL holiday parties and family days at the Lab as a child.

Please join me in congratulating Bobby, welcoming him back to APL, and wishing him well in his new role. He will be at APL on January 24 and periodically over the next two months. Mike Ryschkewitsch has graciously agreed to continue as the Space Exploration Sector Head until Bobby’s appointment becomes effective on March 28, 2022.


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