Scolese to receive the 2018 von Kármán Lectureship in Astronautics award

Christopher Scolese in the cleanroom at NASA.

Christopher Scolese (center) works with fellow NASA employees in a cleanroom in the Detector Development Lab at Goddard Space Flight Center. From left to right: Dave Franz, Branch Head of the Detector Systems Branch; unidentified engineer; Scolese, Center Director; George Morrow, Deputy Center Director; Briana Horton, Protocol Officer.

by Rebecca Rudell

Published April 20, 2018

His love of space began in kindergarten, but Christopher Scolese (BS '78) credits the broad and somewhat unique curriculum at UB for ultimately leading him to his position as center director of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  

“Not many electrical engineering students learn as much physics and math as UB electrical engineers do. That helped me get my first position in the Nuclear Navy, which allowed me to expand my engineering background even more.”
Christopher Scolese, director,
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

“Not many electrical engineering students learn as much physics and math as UB electrical engineers do. That helped me get my first position in the Nuclear Navy, which allowed me to expand my engineering background even more.”

From the Navy, Scolese moved on to NASA where he has worked since 1987, leading projects such as the James Webb Space Telescope, and the recent launching of GOES weather satellites for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A new mission, OSIRIS-REx, will collect samples from an asteroid known as Bennu and bring them back to Earth in 2022-2023.

Scolese’s knowledge, integrity and leadership skills at Goddard have earned him the 2018 von Kármán Lectureship in Astronautics award, named after world-renowned authority on aerospace sciences, Theodore von Kármán. Previous winners of this prestigious award include Nobel Prize recipient, Samuel Ting, and the first female commander of a Space Shuttle mission, Eileen Collins.

Scolese heads to Florida this September to receive the award at the AIAA SPACE and Astronautics Forum and Exposition. His lecture topic, “Strategies for Technology Infusion and Risk Mitigation at NASA,” will discuss how to introduce new capabilities into a system or deal with new environments in ways that give reasonable assurance that a mission will be successful.

When he heard he had won the award, Scolese jokes, “I was surprised for a number of reasons. Mainly because I told people not to nominate me for anything.” He continues, “But to be included in a group of luminaries, many of whom I have admired since childhood, is a real honor. And to know that people in my organization think I deserve something like this is quite remarkable.”

According to his NASA biography, Scolese is the recipient of several honors including the Presidential Rank Award of Meritorious Executive, the NASA Distinguished Leadership Medal; Goddard Outstanding Leadership, two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals and the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) National Capital Section Young Engineer/Scientist of the Year award. He was recognized as one of the outstanding young men in America in 1986, was a member of college honor societies including Eta Kappa Nu and Tau Beta Pi, and was recipient of the 1973 Calspan Aeronautics award.

He is a Fellow of the AIAA and a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He also served as a member of the AIAA Astrodynamics Technical Committee and chaired the National Capitol Section Guidance Navigation and Control Technical Committee.

Scolese received his BS in electrical engineering and computer science from UB in 1978, and received an honorary doctorate of science from the State University of New York in 2015. He also earned an MS from George Washington University.