Press Release

JPL Director Named One of ‘America’s Best Leaders’

By SpaceRef Editor
October 23, 2006
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Dr. Charles Elachi, director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is being honored as one of “America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News & World Report, in collaboration with the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Elachi and 19 other leaders are featured in the magazine’s Oct. 30 issue, on newsstands today. The distinguished list includes U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen; New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg; Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. CEO Warren Buffett; former U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor; and world-renowned architect Frank Gehry.

“At a time when the public’s confidence in leadership is low, ‘America’s Best Leaders’ celebrates individuals who exemplify true leadership and serve as models for others,” said David Gergen, U.S. News’ editor-at-large and director of the Center for Public Leadership.

A selection committee sought leaders who embody and define leadership today and have achieved measurable results in their fields, challenged established processes and inspired a shared vision. The committee was particularly seeking leaders with resilience, adaptability and sustainability who empower others and value their colleagues’ personal growth. Elachi and the others are being honored Oct. 23 at a banquet in New York.

“I am deeply honored to be recognized in this way,” said Elachi. “I am fortunate to have the opportunity to lead an exceptionally talented, innovative and dedicated group of men and women at JPL. Every individual’s contribution helps us make magic happen, as we explore Earth and space and develop new technologies that will carry us into the future.”

In addition to being director of JPL, Elachi is a vice president of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, where he is also a professor of electrical engineering and planetary science. Caltech manages JPL for NASA. “NASA and Caltech, two of the nation’s finest institutions, are a phenomenal combination for brainpower, creativity and excellence,” Elachi said. “Working in that kind of environment brings out the best in everyone.”

Elachi, who joined JPL in 1970, became the lab’s director in May 2001. As JPL director, Elachi has overseen a number of successful missions, including several Mars orbiters and the twin rovers, Spirit and Opportunity; the Cassini mission to Saturn, for which Elachi heads the radar team; missions to study stars, galaxies and other celestial objects, as well as Earth’s clouds, ocean temperatures, ocean wind and climate patterns; and missions that have brought home samples from a comet tail and successfully collided with a comet to study its structure and composition.

Before becoming JPL director, Elachi served as the lab’s director for space and Earth science programs from 1982 to 2000, and was responsible for the development of numerous flight missions and instruments for Earth observation, planetary exploration and astrophysics. When he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1982, he was one of its youngest members.

Elachi was born in Lebanon, where he was honored at the age of 16 as the country’s top science student. That distinction enabled him to attend the college of his choice, the University of Grenoble, France, where he received a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1968. That same year, he received an engineering degree from the Polytechnic Institute, Grenoble. His further educational pursuits led him to Caltech, where he earned his master’s degree in 1969 and a doctorate in 1971 in electrical sciences. Additional degrees include a 1979 MBA from the University of Southern California and a 1983 master’s in geology from the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1988, he was selected by the Los Angeles Times as one of “Southern California’s rising stars.”

Elachi has chaired many strategic planning committees for NASA and has lectured in more than 20 countries. He has participated in archeological expeditions in Egypt, Oman and China.

Previous honors include the Royal Society of London Massey Award; Lebanon Order of the Cedars; Wernher von Braun Award; Bob Hope Distinguished Citizen Award; Philip Habib Award for Distinguished Public Service; Takeda Award; Nevada Medal; and several NASA medals for Exceptional Service, Outstanding Leadership, Exceptional Scientific Achievement and Distinguished Service. For his contributions to planetary exploration, Elachi was honored by having an asteroid named for him – 4116 Elachi.

Elachi and his wife, Valerie, live in Altadena, Calif. They have two daughters, Joanna and Lauren.

More information on Elachi and the other honorees is online at . More information on JPL and its missions is at . The mission of the Center for Public Leadership is to further leadership for the common good through excellence in leadership research, education and development. For more information on “America’s Best Leaders,” please contact Sabrina Tanenbaum at 212- 576-2700, x236 or

SpaceRef staff editor.