Press Release

Jonathan Ormes Named Space Sciences Director at Goddard

By SpaceRef Editor
May 24, 2001
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Dr. Jonathan Ormes has been named the new Director of Space Sciences
at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

In his new position, Ormes will be responsible for planning,
organizing and evaluating a broad program of scientific research,
both theoretical and experimental, in the study of Space sciences.
The program ranges from basic research to flight experiment
development, to mission operations and data analysis.

“I feel quite honored,” said Ormes of his appointment. “The science
and technology being done continues to excite and amaze me. It’s
remarkable that we are able to test the laws of physics as long ago
as the beginning of the Universe, and at the edges of space near
black holes 100 million times more massive than our Sun. It’s a
challenge to keep up and an opportunity to keep learning.”

Ormes has extensive experience in science management. He was Head of
the Nuclear Astrophysics Branch at Goddard from 1982 until 1990. In
1983, he took a year away from these duties to be the Acting Head of
High Energy Astrophysics at NASA Headquarters from 1983-1984 and was
awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Award for his efforts in that
capacity. In 1990, he was appointed to the Senior Executive Service
and assumed the job of Chief of the Laboratory for High Energy
Astrophysics serving in that capacity for 10 years.

He came to Goddard as a National Academy of Sciences Resident
Research Associate and expected to stay here “for a couple of years.”
He has been at Goddard ever since and says he has enjoyed it

A Soviet satellite and the promise of adventure ignited Ormes’s
interest in space. “Sputnik happened when I was a senior in high
school, so that was part of my awareness – that the country needed
people interested in math and science, which I was,” said Ormes.
“Then in college, I started out in civil engineering, but since I
couldn’t draw, I switched to physics. When I was looking for a
graduate school, I saw a brochure with a picture of Professor Ed Ney,
incidentally a future pioneer of infrared astronomy, and his team
having an adventure in the desert of Africa. They were there to study
a solar eclipse. That was it – science, adventure, travel. I was
accepted for graduate work at the University of Minnesota and I’ve
been in the space business ever since.”

His first research interest was a type of celestial “bullet” called
cosmic rays, subatomic particles from space that move at nearly the
speed of light (about 186,000 miles per second). “My thesis advisor
showed me the spectrum (energy range) of cosmic rays and said ‘We
don’t know where they came from or why the spectrum is so
featureless’ and I was hooked by the challenge of finding the
answer,” explains Ormes. “The spectrum he referred to covers over 11
decades in energy – up to an energy 100 billion times the rest energy
of a single proton. That’s like having one kind of job paying a
salary ranging from $1 per year to $100 billion per year. We know
more now, but lots of that mystery still isn’t solved.”

His research has been focused on measurements of galactic cosmic ray
spectra at high energies, isotopic composition, and more recently, on
measurements of antimatter. He was made a fellow of the American
Physical Society for his work on cosmic ray spectra and is proud to
have been the discoverer of the excess of an isotope of neon (22Ne)
in galactic cosmic rays. He was the Project Scientist for the
Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE), launched August 25, 1997.

Recently he has turned his attention to the development of new
missions such as the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope. GLAST will
study high-energy gamma-ray emissions from astrophysical sources of
energetic particles and improve on the pioneering studies made by the
Energetic Gamma Ray Experiment Telescope (EGRET) on the Compton
Gamma-ray Observatory. He has also been deeply involved in developing
instrumentation for missions to determine the source spectrum and
acceleration mechanism of galactic cosmic rays and to study the
highest energy particles (>10^20 electron-volts) known to exist in
nature by observing the giant air showers they make in the atmosphere
from space. He has a number of theoretical papers about the origin
and propagation of galactic cosmic rays, and has published more than
100 original scientific papers.

Ormes is ready to capitalize on the opportunities and face the
challenges associated with running a large research organization like
Goddard’s Space Sciences Directorate. “The Space Science program in
NASA is quite healthy. The budget is going up, and “faster, better,
cheaper” has led to more frequent flight opportunities. The changes
of the past decade are working. But at the same time they bring us
new challenges related to the higher frequency of launches. In the
face of this, it is essential that we keep track of and nurture the
embryonic technologies for the future,” said Ormes.

Other challenges Ormes mentioned are improving the relationship
between Space Sciences and the engineering directorates at Goddard,
and developing more meaningful ties with our university colleagues.

Ormes also would like to ensure that the next generation of
researchers benefits from the experience of the existing generation
before they leave Goddard. “Almost half the scientists in the
directorate are of retirement age. So we will be finding creative
ways to bring in new young talent and making good use of the older
wiser generation to mentor and train them. We will be doing this
through partnerships with Universities, and using a graduate student
cooperative work/education program. A second goal, one that can help
the first, is to revitalize the National Academy of Sciences Resident
Research Associateship program,” said Ormes.

Beyond these specifics, Ormes believes the best way to ensure success
is to remember the mission and pay close attention to the basics. “My
first boss here was Dr. Frank McDonald, who went on to be NASA’s
Chief Scientist. In the days before performance plans, he gave us one
straightforward directive: ‘Go forth and do good science,'” said

Ormes received his undergraduate degree in physics from Stanford
University and his doctorate, also in physics, from the University of
Minnesota in 1967. Ormes is proud to report he lives with his wife of
37 years and has three children and 5 grandchildren. He enjoys square
dancing, hiking, gardening, and his get-a-way place in West Virginia.

SpaceRef staff editor.