NASA Names Glenn Research Center Director’s Replacement

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It’s official.

NASA on Nov. 16 announced leadership changes at the Johnson Space Center in Houston and Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. As SpaceNews reported Nov. 15, astronaut Ellen Ochoa will replace Mike Coats as the director of Johnson when Coats retires at the end of this year. Ramon Lugo, Glenn’s director since 2010, will be replaced by his deputy, James Free, according to a just-issued NASA press release.

Here’s the complete text of NASA’s announcement:

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WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Charles Bolden announced leadership changes Friday for the agency’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and Johnson Space Center in Houston.

James Free will succeed Ramon (Ray) Lugo as Glenn’s center director when Lugo retires in January. Free has served as Glenn’s deputy director since January 2011.

Ellen Ochoa will succeed Michael Coats as Johnson’s center director when Coats retires at the end of the year. Ochoa has served as Johnson’s deputy director since September 2007.

“Ellen and Jim are experienced, outstanding leaders who I know will continue to do great things as they take the helms of their field centers,” Bolden said. “I also want to thank Mike and Ray for their years of leadership and dedicated service at NASA, most recently while guiding Johnson and Glenn through pivotal times for those centers. I am sad to see Mike leave, as he and I have been close friends and allies since coming together in the summer of 1964 as new plebes in the Great Naval Academy class of 1968. I also want to thank Ray for his years of tireless work at NASA, for a long while on the team at the Kennedy Space Center and, most recently, while leading Glenn.”

Free began his career in 1990 at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. as a propulsion engineer and later as a systems engineer on NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites. He joined Glenn in 1999 as the International Space Station liaison for the Fluids and Combustion Facility. His other NASA assignments have included director of Space Flight Systems at Glenn, Orion Service Module manager at Glenn and chief of the center’s Orion Project Office. He also worked at Johnson as the Orion Test and Verification manager.

Ochoa is a four-time space shuttle astronaut who previously served as director and deputy director of flight crew operations at Johnson. She managed the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif., before being selected as an astronaut candidate in 1990. Ochoa flew on space shuttle missions STS-56in 1993, STS-66 in 1994, STS-96 in 1999, and STS-110 in 2002, logging a total of 978 hours in space.

Lugo’s retirement brings to a close a 37-year career at NASA. In 1975, he began working at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a cooperative education student. His first assignment was in the Construction and Modifications Branch as an engineer responsible for construction modifications to Launch Pad 39A in preparation for the first space shuttle mission. His other NASA assignments included serving as Glenn’s deputy center director and deputy program manager for NASA’s Launch Services Program.

Former space shuttle commander Coats was selected as an astronaut candidate from the U.S. Navy in 1978. He flew on three shuttle missions, serving as pilot for STS-41-D in 1984 and commander for STS-29 in 1989 and STS-39 in 1991. Following his final shuttle mission, Coats retired from the Navy and NASA’s Astronaut Office in August 1991 to join the private sector. He returned to NASA in 2005 to become Johnson’s 10th center director.