Michael Watkins Named Next JPL Director

Michael Watkins. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Michael Watkins. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

May 2, 2016 – Michael M. Watkins, the Clare Cockrell Williams Centennial Chair in Aerospace Engineering and Director of the Center for Space Research at The University of Texas at Austin, has been appointed director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and vice president at Caltech, the Institute announced today.

Watkins will formally assume his position on July 1, 2016. He succeeds Charles Elachi, who will retire as of June 30, 2016, and move to the Caltech faculty.

Watkins is an internationally recognized scientist and engineer. Prior to assuming his current position at The University of Texas in 2015, he worked at JPL for 22 years, where he held leadership roles on some of NASA’s highest-profile missions. He last served at JPL as manager of the Science Division, and chief scientist for the Engineering and Science Directorate.

“Dr. Watkins is no stranger to the NASA family. In more than two decades at JPL, Dr. Watkins played a major role in the Mars Curiosity Rover, Cassini, Mars Odyssey, GRACE, GRAIL, and the GRACE Follow-on missions — to name just a few,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement issued by NASA. “I am confident that he will do an excellent job as he begins a new chapter in the incredible legacy that Caltech and NASA have written together through JPL for generations.”

A committee composed of Caltech trustees, faculty, senior administrative leaders, and a member of the JPL executive council conducted an extensive search and recommended Watkins to Caltech’s president.

Watkins holds a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from The University of Texas at Austin. He has published broadly in both engineering and science, contributed more than 100 conference presentations, and has served on the boards of numerous international scientific and engineering societies.

“JPL has such a talented and deeply committed staff,” says Watkins. “It is a privilege to have this opportunity to lead the laboratory to even greater discoveries. I look forward to working with my colleagues on campus and across NASA to forge new directions in space exploration and Earth science.”

Caltech manages JPL for NASA.