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Goddard Space Flight Center's new boss swears in on holy Pale Blue Dot

Some brilliant toys await Dr Makenzie Lystrup in mega space facility

Dr Makenzie Lystrup is the new director at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland – the biggest employer of space exploration techies and scientists in the US – and swore in using the consecrated tome beloved by many a Reg reader, Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, left, swears in Dr. Makenzie Lystrup as director of Goddard Space Flight Center, as NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy looks on Thursday, April 6, 2023, at the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building in Washington. Credits: NASA/Keegan Barber

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, left, swears in Dr Makenzie Lystrup. If you click on the pic, you'll probably recognize Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, the 1994 book by astronomer Carl Sagan Pic: NASA/Keegan Barber

An astrophysicist who earned her PhD at University College London, Lystrup takes over from Dave Mitchell, the space center's acting director since January this year. She previously worked as vice president and GM of Ball Aerospace's Civil Space Strategic Business Unit, where she was responsible for the company's portfolio of civil space systems, looking after Ball's contributions to several NASA missions, including James Webb Space Telescope, Imaging X-ray Polarimetry Explorer (IXPE), Landsat 9, and the Roman Space Telescope.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said of her appointment: "Makenzie is a natural leader, bringing to Goddard a scientist's drive for discovery along with a wealth of industry experience and knowledge. As center director, she will lead a world-renowned team of scientists, engineers, and technologists focused on Earth and space science. Under her leadership, the Goddard workforce will continue to inspire, innovate, and explore the unknown for the benefit of all."

NASA 'Blue Marble' image of Earth taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft

Mars rover Curiosity snaps 'pale blue dot' image of Earth, Moon


Goddard manages comms between mission control and astronauts on the International Space Station, builds and tests space tech, and is home to one of the world's largest ISO 7 clean rooms, the High Bay Clean Room. The specially maintained space, which keeps a very low concentration of airborne particulates, is a massive 1.3 million ft3 (37,000 m3) and during the Shuttle program could hold two full Space Shuttle payloads at the same time. After the program, it housed replicas of Hubble Space Telescope components, and was where Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, was built. Goddard is also home to NASA's balloon-borne exoplanet-observing telescope Exoplanet Climate Infrared Telescope (EXCITE).

Using a method they call "evolved structures," NASA Goddard engineers aim to reduce the mass of spacecraft structural components by over 60 percent, and reduce stress risks, by using off-the-shelf AI software to build parts that can be manufactured by commercial vendors. EXCITE's first test flight is slated for later this year.

The space center, which describes itself as your "friendly neighborhood space flight center, home to the largest community of scientists and engineers on Earth," also has an 120 ft (36.58m) diameter centrifuge that can accelerate a 2.5-ton payload up to 30 Gs – well beyond the force experienced in a launch.

Besides its main Maryland campus, it also boasts field sites including Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in West Virginia, New York's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New Mexico's White Sands Complex, and the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Texas.

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"Goddard is an incredible center and true national asset with the best and brightest minds in science and engineering – I'm humbled and honored to lead such an amazing and diverse world-renowned team," said Lystrup. "I'm keenly focused on growing the next generation of innovators along with ensuring our team has the resources and tools to advance technologies and make new discoveries that boost the space economy and benefit us all." ®

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