Director, SOFIA

Updated: 7 months ago
Location: Mountain View, CALIFORNIA
Deadline: 14 Jan 2020

SOFIA, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, is a NASA program to understand Cosmic Origins by studying the formation and evolution of planets, stars and galaxies, planets in our solar system, and extreme cosmic environments. It is the major airborne astronomical observatory world-wide, capable of making observations in the far-Infrared that are unique and impossible to obtain even with today’s largest, most advanced high altitude ground-based telescopes. SOFIA is an international partnership, funded jointly (80/20) by NASA  and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The Universities Space Research Association manages the SOFIA program for the NASA Ames Research Center in support of NASA’s Astrophysics Division (APD) in the Science Mission Directorate (SMD).  SOFIA, now considered a major airborne astronomical observatory, paves the way scientifically for the soon to be launched Webb telescope in the near term, while simultaneously filling a unique scientific niche in the mid to far infrared longer term. USRA is seeking a world-class Science Mission Operation Director to provide scientific and technical leadership for and management of the SOFIA program and to maintain it as the premier airborne stratospheric observatory in support of the NASA strategic goals in astronomy, astrophysics, and planetary science.

Position Summary:

The successful candidate will be responsible for visioning and implementing a compelling series of forefront astronomical and astrophysical investigations, working closely with the infrared observing community and other observatories and archives around the world to achieve the richest scientific outcome.  The Director’s will manage the USRA/SOFIA program deliverables and performance at NASA Ames and Armstrong Centers. S/he works with the SOFIA Mission Operations Director to maintain the appropriate level of interactions with USRA, NASA, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and the Deutsche SOFIA Institute (DSI).  The SOFIA’s SMO Director is responsible for cost and schedule performance of the SOFIA science mission, operations, and deliverables.  Key elements of the SOFIA program include scientific and technical leadership and publication, mission operations and safety assurance, hardware and software engineering operations and development, contract compliance and deliverables, and oversight and management of the entire SOFIA program. The Director is supported by a team of nationally-recognized senior scientists and seasoned functional managers. This program team is responsible for establishing mission science priorities and efficient execution, establishing and managing program budgets, optimizing the organization to maximize the science output through organizational efficiencies and innovative approaches to management and operation of SOFIA. Successfully fulfilling this broad span of duties necessitates a unique mix of skills in scientific and technical program development and management, and a proven record of working closely with the Space Science community and NASA Science programs. An advanced degree in Astronomy/Astrophysics with at least 10 years of relevant program/project development experience is required.

The SOFIA team, under the Director’s leadership,  develops a compelling scientific and technical strategy and an implementation plan including measures of progress through scholarly publications in the open literature; convenes scientific and technical symposia sessions focused on SOFIA science discoveries at national and international conferences; and organizes dedicated astronomy, astrophysics and planetary science workshops and meetings in support of NASA science and exploration.

Essential Duties/Responsibilities:

  • Executive management and oversight for the SOFIA program, including scientific, technical, cost, schedule, risk, communications and outreach, and discrepancy reporting and compliance with NASA and USRA corporate policies and procedures
  • Direct, supervise, and provide technical and management guidance for SOFIA science, operations and facility managers/directors.
  • Supervise the executive management team, including staff and visiting scientists, and their engagement with SOFIA and the external scientific community.
  • Maintain an effective communication with NASA on a routine basis to ensure USRA responsiveness and high quality service and continued success with the delivery of SOFIA program obligations.
  • Oversee and provide scientific, technical and management guidance to SOFIA’s communications and outreach team, and enhance such efforts to demonstrate unique scientific and technical contributions of the SOFIA to NASA space science and exploration
  • Conduct and review performance appraisals for the senior staff and scientific employees of SOFIA program
  • Ensures compliance with USRA corporate policies and procedure

Required Qualifications:


  • PhD degree in Astronomy/Astrophysics or related scientific and technical fields.


  • Must have at least 10 years of experience in program development and management, including demonstrated supervisory experience. Experience with managing Federal Government funded contracts is highly desired
  • Experience with multi-disciplinary projects including science and engineering, software development and maintenance, and business systems
  • Experience in guiding analyses and presenting project cost, schedule and risk data to both project teams, USRA executive leadership, and NASA
  • Prior or current NASA program/project leadership and management experience, such as having worked at/with at least one NASA Center is highly desirable

Knowledge, Skills & Abilities:  

  • Working knowledge of complex and multi-sponsor and organizational projects/program, and proven skills for their management
  • Understanding of scientific, technical, operations and financial risk Identification and mitigation management processes
  • Ability to establish scientific and technical, mission operations, financial and business metrics and evaluation processes
  • Knowledge of NASA science mission priorities, business policies and practices, and organizational relationship between NASA Ames Research Center, NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, NASA Headquarters and USRA.


  • Behave Ethically: understand ethical behavior and business practices and ensure one’s own behavior is consistent with these standards, in alignment with USRA core values
  • Build Relationships: establish and maintain positive working relationships with others, both internally and externally, to achieve the goals of USRA. Excellent customer focus
  • Communicate Effectively: excellent oral, written and presentation skills
  • Foster Teamwork: Work cooperatively and effectively with others to set goals, resolve problems, and make decisions that enhance programmatic effectiveness
  • Lead: positively influence others to achieve results that are in the best interest of the organization.
  • Organize: set priorities, develop a work schedule, monitor progress towards goals, and track details, data, information and activities
  • Plan: determine strategies to move the organization forward, set goals, create and implement actions plans, and evaluate the process and results
  • Solve Problems: assess problem situations to identify root causes, gather and process relevant information, generate possible solutions, and make recommendations and/or resolve the problem effectively


  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office and its applications.

Working Conditions:

This job primarily operates in a professional office environment, but requires occasional airborne observatory flights, up to 5 times each year. Familiarity with and use of standard office equipment such as computers, phones, and other IT tools and capabilities for communication and management is essential.


Position will offer limited opportunities for telecommuting


Up to 20% travel, including supporting deployments of SOFIA to remote locations such as New Zealand.

Applicants should apply to the posting at  and include a letter of interest, resume, or curriculum vita.  Review of candidates will begin immediately.  Additional information on USRA can be found at

 USRA is an Equal Opportunity Employer Minorities/Females/Protected Veterans/Disabled/Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity

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