BROOMFIELD, Colo. — NASA has selected the head of its heliophysics division as its new associate administrator for science, responsible for a $7.8 billion portfolio of more than 100 missions.

NASA announced Feb. 27 it selected Nicola Fox as the new associate administrator for science, effective immediately. Sandra Connelly, deputy associate administrator for science, had been serving as acting associate administrator since the departure at the end of December of Thomas Zurbuchen.

Fox had been director of the Science Mission Directorate’s heliophysics division since 2018. She was previously chief scientist for heliophysics at the Applied Physics Laboratory and project scientist for NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission. Fox is the second woman to hold that position after former astronaut Mary Cleave, who was associate administrator for science from 2004 to 2007.

“As the director of our heliophysics division, Nicky was instrumental in expanding the impacts and awareness of NASA’s solar exploration missions and I look forward to working with her as she brings her talents, expertise and passion to her new role,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement announcing the appointment. He also thanked Connelly for “an incredible job keeping the mission moving forward” in her acting associate administrator role.

The associate administrator of science oversees NASA’s overall science activities, which includes missions and research in astrophysics, Earth science, heliophysics and planetary science. NASA also recently transferred biological and physics sciences research done on the International Space Station to the Science Mission Directorate. Those programs received nearly $7.8 billion in the fiscal year 2023 omnibus spending bill enacted in December.

The appointment of Fox ends a temporary reshuffling of personnel in the Science Mission Directorate, a domino effect of Connelly serving as acting associate administrator. At a Feb. 27 meeting of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group (MEPAG), Tiffany Morgan, deputy director of the Mars Exploration Program, said that with Fox’s appointment, those personnel had returned to their previous positions.

That includes Eric Ianson, deputy director of the planetary science division who was acting deputy associate administrator for science. He said later at the MEPAG that he did not expect any additional changes in staffing for the Science Mission Directorate other than hiring a replacement for Fox as heliophysics division director.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...