June 14, 2005

New Director Appointed at Space Telescope Science Institute

NASA -- Dr. Mattias (Matt) Mountain has been appointed director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, the science operations center for NASA's Hubble Space Telescope and the planned James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). He will succeed Dr. Steven V. W. Beckwith, who will end his term Sept. 1.

Previously, Dr. Mountain was director of the Gemini Observatory and was based in Hilo, Hawaii. The observatory operates the two 8-meter Gemini Telescopes on Mauna Kea, Hawaii and Cerro Pach³n in Chile. Dr. Mountain is also the telescope scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, a member of the JWST Science Working Group, and a visiting professor at the University of Oxford (UK).

In 1992 he became project scientist for the Gemini 8-meter Telescopes Project, based in Tucson, Arizona, and went on to become the director of the project in 1994. During his tenure as director, he had direct responsibility for the construction and commissioning of the two Gemini telescopes in Hawaii and Chile.

In 1998 he moved to Hawaii and was responsible for the Gemini Observatory, including formulating, implementing, and running the operations and development programs of both Gemini 8-meter Telescopes. As part of the development program, he built up a world-renowned adaptive optics group to keep the Gemini telescopes at the forefront of observational infrared astronomy.

His background is in physics and astronomy, receiving his bachelor of science degree in physics in 1978 and his doctorate in astronomy in 1983, both from the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London University.

In accepting the position, Dr. Mountain said, "It's an extraordinary privilege to be asked to lead such a fascinating, diverse and challenging organization as the Space Telescope Science Institute. I'm looking forward to working with the superb Institute staff, NASA and the astronomical community; the potential of what we can collectively achieve with HST and the James Webb is tremendously exciting!"

The institute carries out the scientific mission of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. (AURA) manages STScI for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The European Space Agency (ESA) participates in the HST Project under a long-term arrangement with NASA.

More than 100 candidates were considered for the position. AURA's Board of Directors made the selection, which was approved by NASA.

William Smith, president of AURA, said, "AURA, NASA and the scientific community have always been extraordinarily fortunate to have had STScI directors of such quality and leadership ability. Matt is inheriting a strong organization poised to take on the responsibility of making the JWST a success."

AURA is a consortium of 32 U.S. institutions and seven international affiliates. It manages the National Optical Astronomy Observatories, the National Solar Observatory, and the international Gemini Telescope Project in Tucson, Ariz., under separate cooperative agreements with the National Science Foundation; and STScI under contract with NASA.


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