NASA announced today that Mars Program Director, G. Scott Hubbard, has decided to leave that position following a successful year leading the agency’s robotic exploration program. Orlando Figueroa, currently the Deputy Chief Engineer for Systems Engineering at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC, was appointed to replace Hubbard as Acting Director, starting May 6.

“Scott Hubbard was given ‘mission impossible’ and turned it into ‘mission accomplished,'” said Dr. Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science at NASA Headquarters. “When we were hit with the back-to-back loss of two Mars missions, I knew we had to get the best person on the job. Scott did a top-to-bottom reorganization of the program, and earlier this month we had the first launch in the new program, the 2001 Mars Odyssey.”

In announcing his transition, Hubbard said, “I promised our Administrator, Mr. Goldin, and Dr. Weiler that I would devote at least a year doing everything I could to fix the problems in the Mars program and deliver a new approach we could all be proud of.”

“After a challenging and rewarding year, it was time to assess the personal side of the equation,” added Hubbard. “After considering everything, my wife and I decided we would return to our home in California. I look forward to the excitement of my return to Ames (NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA) and a bit of vacation.”

“Scott’s replacement, Orlando Figueroa, is very highly regarded for his achievements in space exploration,” said Dr. Weiler. “I feel confident that the Mars program will be in extremely good hands. With Hubbard at the helm the past year and Figueroa ready to take charge, Mars exploration now has a solid basis to build on and a clear direction for the future.”

Figueroa was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Prior to his present position, he spent 22 years of his career at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD. His experience at Goddard includes engineering leadership positions with the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE), and tenure as Head of the Cryogenics Technology Section; Manager for the Superfluid Helium On Orbit Transfer (SHOOT) Experiment; Manager for the Small Explorers (SMEX) Project; Manager for the Explorers Program; and Director of the Systems, Technology, and Advanced Concepts Directorate.

In accepting the new position, Figueroa said, “It is a real privilege to re-join the Space Science community that I dedicated so much of my career to at Goddard. I look forward to building upon the foundation that Scott has left behind, and to the excitement of directing such an important and challenging program.” Figueroa joined NASA Headquarters as the Deputy Chief Engineer for Systems Engineering in February 2000, at the request of the NASA Administrator. In this position, Figueroa was responsible for developing and implementing the strategies and framework for excellence and advancement of the system engineering capability in the agency.

Throughout his career, Figueroa has received numerous awards for Group Achievement and Outstanding Performance in engineering and management. He was awarded the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal in 1993, and the Community Stars Award from the Maryland Science Commission for his work in innovative education programs involving NASA, industry and Maryland schools. He is the author of several technical publications in the field of cryogenics and the SMEX missions. Figueroa resides in Silver Spring, MD, with his wife, Josephine, and two sons, Daniel and Alexis.

Hubbard was asked to come to NASA Headquarters last March during the investigation into the two failed Mars missions and given responsibility to fundamentally restructure the agency’s entire Mars exploration program. One major goal was to address the “lessons learned” and other recommendations of the investigation boards to ensure missions have the greatest chance for success. Another was to address the overall scientific rationale for exploring Mars.

Three major changes successfully implemented were the initiation of a new Program Director’s Office at NASA Headquarters; establishment of a new effective management relationship among Headquarters, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and contractors; and the creation of a Mars mission queue which thoroughly integrates science and technology with sound management, and provides a vision for the next two decades.

In recent months the new program has been reviewed and endorsed by groups which include the Mars Program Independent Assessment Team chaired by Thomas Young (Lockheed Martin, Ret.), two committees of the National Academy of Sciences and NASA Advisory committees. NASA’s budget request for the Mars Exploration Program provides more than $500 million for Mars over 5 years for new missions in 2003, 2005 and 2007, and a sample return mission possibly as early as 2011.