Former Acting NASA Administrator Joins SDL Board

November 26, 2018 | HJNews

A former acting head of NASA has been appointed to the Utah State University Space Dynamics Lab’s board of trustees for the first time in the board’s history.

Robert Lightfoot Jr., who left his position as acting administrator of NASA earlier this year, is part of the governing body that provides strategic direction and oversight for SDL.

Located on USU’s Innovation Campus in North Logan, SDL contracts with an array of customers, including NASA, to provide a range of engineering and technological solutions that are created and tested before being launched into space. For example, in 2016, SDL was part of a multi-institutional effort with NASA to use instruments to study the ionosphere.

SDL is part of the USU nonprofit entity called the USU Research Foundation.

Lightfoot, who currently resides in Huntsville, Alabama, is head of LSINC Corporation, based in the same city. Before he left NASA as acting administrator, he was the agency’s associate administrator. He received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama.

Lightfoot spoke to The Herald Journal on Monday shortly after watching a live landing of a NASA-sponsored project designed to explore Mars below its surface.

Herald Journal: Prior to this appointment, did you have any interactions with SDL?

Robert Lightfoot: Not officially, but I knew what Space Dynamics Lab had done because SDL has been involved … with NASA.

HJ: What’s the significance of SDL outside of Cache Valley.

RL: The reputation is incredible. It’s a well-known, tremendous professional team that delivers on the missions that they’ve been asked to work on. … When (Board Chairman) Bruce Carlson reached out, Scott Hinton (USU Research Foundation president) reached out and asked if I’d be interested, it was kind of a no-brainer.

HJ: But what really attracted you to join the board?

RL: As I said, I’ve seen the contributions they have made. Since I retired, I went into kind of a different field and this was an opportunity to continue, how shall I say, my passion of space exploration and discovery — the journey of discovery I think we’re trying to do. I just believe SDL is going to be a critical part of that.

The growth is unbelievable and I expect it to continue because the expertise is there.

HJ: Is there anything in particular you’d like to see SDL do right now or that they can improve upon?

RL: I’ve only been in one board meeting, so I think I will hold judgement until I get a little bit more familiar. But what I saw so far is very impressive in terms of the contributions they’re making today to serve all of NASA’s missions.

HJ: Today saw the successful Mars landing of another NASA-sponsored project, the The InSight lander. What was your reaction?

RL: That’s my old team. The mission launched three days after I retired, and it’s about six months to get there. Obviously, most of that work went on while I was still at NASA so I knew quite a bit about that mission, so I was just excited to see it be successful.

HJ: What more might the project tell us about Mars?

RL: I think we’re just trying to understand how the interior of Mars behaves. Imagine a seismic counter here on Earth as we look to see how our planet reacts to what’s happening deep in its core, so we’re looking at the same thing on Mars. It’s our first opportunity to see what measurements we get from that.