NASA’s chief scientist Ellen Stofan departs agency

NASA’s chief scientist has parted ways with the US space agency after three years, deciding to move on and seek “new adventures” on or around December 20 of last year, according to reports published late last week by the folks at SlashGear and

Stofan first indicated she would be leaving NASA during a December 5 astrobiology symposium in California sponsored by the National Academies’ Space Studies Board. At the event, a placard with her name on it fell off of the podium, leading her to quick that she would be “leaving in two weeks, so I guess that falling sign is some indication of that.”

NASA also confirmed Stofan’s plans to move on in an interview with her posted to Tumblr, in which she said that she would miss “the people of NASA” the most. “Everyone I work with is so committed to the mission of this agency – pushing back the frontiers of science and technology to accomplish great things for the nation. NASA represents the best of this country.”

Agency spokesman Dwayne Brown verified to that Stofan, who was appointed chief scientist in August 2013, had parted ways with NASA. However, he was unable to give an exact date of departure, nor was he able to disclose the agency’s plans for choosing her successor.

Looking back at her distinguished career with the agency

Prior to her appointment to chief scientist, Stofan was the vice president of Proxemy Research in Maryland as well as an honorary professor in the University College London department of Earth sciences, according to her official NASA bio. She also previously worked in a number of science positions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) from 1991 through 2000.

While she most recently served as the principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency’s science programs and science-related strategic planning and investments, Stofan has also worked as an associate member of the Cassini Mission to Saturn Radar Team, with the Mars Express Mission’s MARSIS sounder team, and as deputy project scientist for the Magellan Mission to Venus. She earned a doctorate in geological sciences from Brown University.

During the Tumblr interview, she said that the most exciting part of her work was “the search for life beyond Earth. People have long wondered if we are alone, and we are now actually going to answer that question in the next few decades. We are exploring Mars, where it is very likely that life evolved at around the same time life evolved here on Earth.”

“We also are planning to explore the ocean worlds of the outer solar system, like Europa, where we might find life in subsurface oceans,” Stofan added. “Beyond our solar system, the thousands of planets discovered by the Kepler Space Telescope have made me very optimistic that we are close to finding an Earth 2.0 – though that will take us a little longer.”

“At NASA, we gather the data to help answer the most fundamental and profound questions: Where did we come from? How does our planet and our universe work? What is the fate of our planet? It is only by exploring, by making measurements, by answering scientific questions that we can move forward as a society,” she concluded. “And in doing so, we push technology and engineering in ways that benefit us every day right here on Earth.”


Image credit: NASA