Jim Watzin. Cred

WASHINGTON — Veteran NASA program manager Jim Watzin has left the U.S. Missile Defense Agency to become director of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program in Washington, the space agency said in a Nov. 21 press release.

Watzin, who will manage NASA’s roughly $500-million-a-year Mars portfolio beginning Dec. 1, succeeds Doug McCuistion, who left his post in December 2012 after eight-and-a-half years on the job. McCuistion was the longest-servicing Mars czar in the history of the post, which was created in 2000 to get the Mars program back on track after back-to-back mission failures.

Watzin was most recently technical director and deputy program executive for Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance at the Missile Defense Agency in Huntsville, Alabama. Before that, he did a stint as director of space programs at ATK and spent many years at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, leading numerous flight projects and program offices.

Jim Green, NASA’s director of planetary science, has been acting Mars Exploration Program director since McCuistion’s departure.

Dan Leone is a SpaceNews staff writer, covering NASA, NOAA and a growing number of entrepreneurial space companies. He earned a bachelor’s degree in public communications from the American University in Washington.