USU welcomes a new space director

By Connor Jones
The Utah Statesman
12 November 2008
Shannon Eilers

Media Credit: Tyler Larson
Douglas Lemon, the new Space Dynamics Laboratory director, officially took over USU’s Space Dynamics Lab in October.

Former USU Aggie Douglas Lemon has returned to Utah State to replace Mike Pavich as the Space Dynamics Laboratory’s director.

Lemon graduated from USU with a bachelor’s degree in 1974 and a doctorate in 1978, both degrees in physics. During his senior year as an undergraduate student, Lemon was awarded Utah State’s most coveted honor, the Robins Award. The award is given to USU’s most outstanding scholar for their hard work and dedication to their goals as well as the goals of USU.

Lemon officially took over from Pavich on Oct. 20. Pavich had been the lab’s director since 2003. According to SDL’s Web site, during Pavich’s time as director, they increased their workforce by more than 25 percent, transitioned from a few high–priced space programs to more than 150 programs worldwide, sent multiple pieces of equipment into orbit and received millions of dollars in both federal grants and private donations.

Following Pavich’s great success in this position won’t be easy, but Lemon said he’s up to the task.

“We really want to build on our strengths,” Lemon said. “My goal for SDL is to have runners on every base, system planning, modeling and simulation, development and calibration, data analysis and performance improvements. We have (runners on every base) in some areas but I want to broaden it so that we build our business but also build barriers to competition, becoming so important to the client that there is really no other place to go.”

Lemon said when a lab has runners on every base they’re energetic, always busy and impenetrable to the competition, which is ultimately where Lemon wants SDL to be.

Lemon returned to Cache Valley after living in Richland, Wash., where he was working for Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, a U.S. Department of Energy government research lab. At PNNL Lemon worked as the director of strategic planning, bringing an innovative strategy over the $850 million a year organization. Lemon said what appealed to him about coming to SDL was the opportunity to solve problems, get closer to the technology, a chance to lead an organization and a chance to come back to Cache Valley.

Karen Wolfe, the public communications manager for the SDL, said Lemon will bring good things to the lab.

“Doug will bring experience with technology and development,” Wolfe said. “We have quite a few dollars we invest into research and development, both at the innovation campus and up at the university campus. I think Doug’s experience will be really good for us in that way.”

Lemon said he was looking forward to the new position not only for the new experience but because it’s something he really enjoys.

“It’s a lot of fun for me,” Lemon said. “Painters paint, composers write and that’s what I do. I get these cool technologies and all these difficult questions, I team the people together and I try to provide a solution. It’s a lot of fun.”

Lemon said he has always been interested in everything. He said as a young kid he was really interested in astronomy, cosmetology* and the origins of the universe. In the sixth grade he missed about six weeks of school due to being sick, he said, and his parents had just bought the World Book Encyclopedia to read during that time, which he just soaked up.

“By ninth grade I knew the difference between a physicist and a chemist,” said Lemon. “I said to myself, physics, that’s it, they’ll give me the answers I want. And as an undergrad here at USU I started working for space sciences and have been involved in it since.”

He said SDL’s NASA work has declined because of the decline in NASA missions but that loss has been more than compensated for by the growth in the tactical military work.

“We at SDL don’t only deal with space,” Lemon said. “One of our divisions is civil space and environment. They’re supporting agriculture, characterization of aerosols, along with researching dust and chemicals in the atmosphere, so we have a very terrestrial mission here as well, and I think it’ll be very important as we deal with environmental climate change and air quality.”

President–elect Barack Obama has said he is committed to increase the energy and environment budget from $3 billion to $6 billion during the next 10 years. Lemon said this budget increase is a good thing for the U.S. and for the SDL. He said more money needs to go into research on global climate change, research that labs like USU’s Space Dynamic Lab do.

Government funds are extremely important to the SDL.

“The Space Dynamics Laboratory offers great opportunities for USU and Cache Valley,” Lemon said. “SDL provides opportunities for students to work, we currently have 410 employees, over 100 of which are students. We understand the importance of education. We really want to get young people excited about math and science again, the nation needs it and we need it if we’re going to compete on the global stage.”

The opportunities the SDL provides are even more important for students due to its locality.

“We are one of the premier places in the country to do leading edge, exciting work,” Lemon said. “You don’t have to travel across the country to find a place to do world class science and engineering, and you can be a part of it even when you’re in your college years.”

* Editor's note: the correct term is cosmology – the study of the universe as a whole.

© 2008 – The Utah Statesman