Dava Newman

You could say that my journey to NASA started with the Apollo missions. I remember watching multiple moon landings on TV in my hometown of Helena, Montana and being fascinated that human beings could actually be walking on the moon that I saw from my backyard. From the moon, my attention turned to the solar system and stars, of which there are many visible in Big Sky country. I learned to dream, to explore, and that nature and machines had much to teach me.

Children are born explorers, and I think I’m still channeling the child in me who wanted to look over the mountaintops and to design and build the machines to take us in to the solar system. In college, I was always one of just a very few women or sometimes the only woman in my science and engineering classes. I had never met or was taught by a female engineering professor, but I knew I wanted to be a rocket scientist. Fortunately, my family and friends were supportive of my dreams and my ‘why not’ attitude. There were a few key mentors, both male and female, who nurtured my academic curiosity. Ultimately, I earned degrees in aerospace engineering, technology and policy, and aerospace biomedical engineering. I’m very grateful for my education at Notre Dame and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). My first faculty job was in Houston and I made my professional home at MIT over the last three decades.

It’s been my great pleasure throughout my career to work with explorers of all types. Being an explorer myself, we circumnavigated the world on our sailboat teaching students about exploration via Sea and Space. From students to teachers and practicing scientists and engineers, I’ve always gravitated toward the people who want to figure out the way things work, whether that’s through science, through technology, or through design. There’s nothing more exciting than designing, building, flying, and testing flight systems. One of my deepest passions is the design of ‘the world’s smallest spacecraft’, the personal spacesuit, and investigating how we can innovate and make it better for the generation that is going to explore Mars. My past spacesuit research involved incorporating engineering analysis, design, human physiology and aesthetics to re-think how to protect astronauts as well as to change the paradigm for maximizing mobility on a planetary surface.

NASA – really the entire global exploration effort that we lead – is on a journey to Mars, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic to help advance that mission. I’ve been involved with NASA throughout my entire career as a researcher, and Principal Investigator (PI) having flown four space experiments to measure astronaut performance in the microgravity environment onboard the Space Shuttle, Mir space station, and the International Space Station. My passion and background in STEAMD – science, technology, engineering, the arts, math and design – prepared me for the human experience of exploration, and that exploration of the solar system teaches us most about ourselves here on Earth. STEAMD gives me the right mix of technological expertise and appreciation of the intellectual diversity that leads to innovative breakthroughs. The strongest team always teaches the leader, and this entire journey is about lifelong learning with the many others who are passionate about innovation and raising the bar of human potential.

We’ll never be done exploring space. Who is to say what is impossible? The greater the challenge, the greater the excitement and accomplishment. There will always be new giant leaps to be made. I’m a strong advocate for women and people of color contributing to the STEAMD disciplines, because we need everyone – every girl and boy. We gain valuable talent and perspective when we work to be inclusive of everyone who might want to take part in the grandest exploration for human beings – the journey to another world. In the end, it shouldn’t matter what gender you are (although I strongly believe that more than one woman, maybe even the commander, will be aboard our first crewed mission to Mars!). We welcome everyone; we welcome excellence to help us achieve our next milestones. We, as women at NASA, have an opportunity to help even more people see that it is possible to pursue their STEAMD dreams, and I’m here to empower the next girl who steps in to her back yard, looks up into the nighttime sky and thinks – ‘I want to explore the planets and heavens.’

Photo of Dr Dava Newman

Biography

Dr. Dava Newman was nominated in January 2015 by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in April 2015 to serve as the Deputy Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. She was sworn in on May 15 and began her duties with the agency on May 18. Along with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, Newman is responsible for providing overall leadership, planning, and policy direction for NASA. Newman performs the duties and exercises the powers delegated by the administrator, assists the administrator in making final agency decisions, and acts for the administrator in his absence by performing all necessary functions to govern NASA operations and exercises the powers vested in the agency by law. Newman also is responsible for articulating the agency’s vision and representing NASA to the Executive Office of the President, Congress, heads of federal and other appropriate government agencies, international organizations, and external organizations and communities. Prior to her tenure with NASA, Newman was the Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge. Her expertise is in multidisciplinary research that encompasses aerospace biomedical engineering. Newman’s research studies were carried out through space flight experiments, ground-based simulations, and mathematical modeling. Her latest research efforts included: advanced space suit design, dynamics and control of astronaut motion, mission analysis, and engineering systems design and policy analysis. She also had ongoing efforts in assistive technologies to augment human locomotion here on Earth.Newman is the author of Interactive Aerospace Engineering and Design, an introductory engineering textbook published by McGraw-Hill, Inc. in 2002. She also has published more than 250 papers in journals and refereed conferences. As a student at MIT, Newman earned her Ph.D. in aerospace biomedical engineering in 1992 and Master of Science degrees in aerospace engineering and technology and policy in 1989. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree aerospace engineering from the University of Notre Dame in 1986.