NASA Appoints Jim Watzin as New Mars Program Director

Jim Watzin, new director for NASA's Mars Exploration Program Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Jim Watzin, new director for NASA’s Mars Exploration Program
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA has named Jim Watzin as the new director for its Masr Exploration Program at NASA Headquarters in Washington beginning Dec. 1, and he succeeds Jim Green, NASA’s planetary sciences chief who had been the acting Mars director since December 2012.

“Jim brings the right leadership at the right time to the Mars program,” said Green. “His experience and creativity will be instrumental in making the Mars 2020 rover a reality, guiding the success of the missions leading up to it, and bridging the gap from science to the future human exploration of the Red Planet.”

Watzin most recently served as the technical director and deputy program executive for Command, Control, Communication, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance at the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) in Huntsville, Alabama. Among his other duties, he oversaw MDA’s space development and test activities.

Watzin graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. In 1980, he earned a master’s degree in aerospace dynamics and control from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. He joined NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, in Greenbelt, Maryland in 1980, where he began a career focused largely on challenging, paradigm-shifting space exploration programs.

With a hands-on background in systems engineering, Watzin has led multiple flight projects and program offices, serving as the NASA program manager for several programs that included Living with a Star, Solar Terrestrial Probes, and Robotic Lunar Exploration.

About his new role, Watzin said, “I’m looking forward to the challenge and thrilled to have the opportunity to help set the stage for the next decade of exploration.”

Besides MAVEN, Curiosity and Mars 2020, the agency’s Mars Exploration Program also includes the Opportunity rover, the Odyssey orbiter and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

In 2016, a Mars lander mission called InSight will launch to take the first look into the deep interior of Mars. The agency also is participating in the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) 2016 and 2018 ExoMars missions, including providing “Electra” telecommunication radios to ESA’s 2016 orbiter and a critical element of the astrobiology instrument on the 2018 ExoMars rover.

NASA’s Mars Exploration Program seeks to characterize and understand Mars as a dynamic system, including its present and past environment, climate cycles, geology and biological potential — preparing the way for future human spaceflight to Mars.

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