Clarke Succeeds Chenette as NASA Heliophysics Director

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WASHINGTON ­— Steven Clarke will take over as director of NASA’s roughly $600 million Heliophysics Division effective June 1, the agency said.

Steven Clarke, director of NASA's Heliophysics Division. Credit: NASA
Steven Clarke, a 15-year NASA veteran, comes to the Heliophysics Division without much experience in solar science. He did, however, help launch the sun-watching DSCOVR space weather satellite in his previous job as head of NASA’s Joint Agency Satellite Division. Credit: NASA

Clarke will guide the overall direction, strategy, and budget for Heliophysics, the smallest of the four divisions within NASA’s roughly $5-billion-a-year Science Mission Directorate. Clarke will work at NASA Headquarters here and report to John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for science, the agency wrote in a May 22 note on its website.

Clarke is an engineer by training, not a scientist. The new heliophysics boss was most recently director of NASA’s Joint Agency Satellite Division, which builds spacecraft operated by other agencies. Examples include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s weather satellites and the U.S. Geological Survey’s medium-resolution, Earth-observing Landsat spacecraft.

Clarke joined NASA in 2000. Much of his 15-year agency career has focused on launch vehicle development. His appointment as heliophysics director caps a nearly year-long effort to fill the vacancy left by David Chenette, a veteran scientist and former Lockheed Martin executive fired in June 2014 after 10 months on the job for what his boss, Grunsfeld, called leadership and management failures.

Chenette, who hotly protested Grunsfeld’s decision in letters leaked to the press, was succeeded on an interim basis by Jeffrey Newmark, a program scientist at NASA headquarters. NASA spokesman Dwayne Brown did not immediately reply to a query about whether Newmark will return to his old job. Sandra Smalley, who joined the Heliophysics Division shortly after Chenette’s firing, remains the division’s acting deputy director, according to a NASA organization chart last updated in May.