WASHINGTON — A Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor with experience in both space technology and policy has emerged as the leading candidate to become the next deputy administrator of NASA.

Dava Newman, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT, is being vetted for the deputy administrator position, according to a former senior government official, who added that a decision regarding Newman’s nomination may be coming soon. A current government official with insight into the selection process said privately of the MIT professor, “Glad we got her.”

The position of NASA deputy administrator has been vacant since Lori Garver stepped down in September 2013 to become general manager of the Air Line Pilots Association. News of Newman’s potential nomination to the post was first reported Oct. 8 by NASA Watch.

Newman joined the faculty of MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, informally known as AeroAstro, shortly after receiving a doctorate in aerospace biomedical engineering from the department in 1992. Her research has focused on how humans can more effectively work in weightlessness and reduced gravity environments.

Newman is best known for research on form-fitting spacesuits that use mechanical counterpressure to provide greater freedom of motion for astronauts than conventional suits. “Ultimately, the big advantage is mobility, and a very lightweight suit for planetary exploration,” Newman said in a Sept. 18 press release from MIT about her group’s research.

She has also been involved in science and technology policy. She has a master’s degree in technology and policy from MIT and since 2003 has served as director of its Technology and Policy Program.

In 2008, she contributed to a report on the future of human spaceflight prepared by the Space, Policy, and Society Research Group at MIT. That report, completed before the Obama administration took office, endorsed the then-impending retirement of the space shuttle and an extension of the international space station to 2020. It also called for a “balance” in resources for exploration of the Moon, Mars and other destinations.

More recently, Newman served on the technical panel that supported the National Academies’ Committee on Human Spaceflight. That panel helped develop several different “pathways” for human space exploration, all leading to the long-term goal of humans on the surface of Mars, featured in the committee’s final report published in June.

If confirmed, Newman would be the second faculty member from MIT’s AeroAstro department to join NASA’s upper echelons in the last year. In March, NASA named David Miller, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics there, as the agency’s chief technologist. 

Twitter: @jeff_foust

Email: jfoust@spacenews.com

Staff writer Dan Leone contributed to this article from Washington.

Jeff Foust has more than a decade of experience writing about space policy, entrepreneurial ventures and regulatory affairs. In 2001, he established spacetoday.net to aggregate and summarize the day's space-related news stories. In 2003, he started The...