Director, SOFIA (971-500)

Submission Information
Publish Date: 
Thursday, November 14, 2019
Archive Date: 
Thursday, February 6, 2020
Job Summary
Job Category: 
Science Management
Institution Classification/Type: 
SOFIA / Universities Space Research Association
Mountain View
United States of America
Job Announcement Text: 

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 by NASA and the German Aerospace Center (DLR). The Universities Space Research Association (USRA) manages SOFIA Science Mission Operations (SMO) for the NASA Ames Research Center, in support of NASA’s Astrophysics Division in the Science Mission Directorate. SOFIA, a major airborne astronomical observatory, paves the way scientifically for the soon-to-be launched James Webb Space Telescope, while simultaneously filling a unique scientific niche in the mid- to far-infrared over the longer term. USRA is seeking a world-class SMO Director to provide scientific, technical, and programmatic leadership of SOFIA Science Mission Operations, and to ensure SOFIA science remains at the forefront of astronomy, astrophysics, and planetary science.

Position Summary:

The successful candidate will be responsible for envisioning, articulating, and implementing a compelling series of investigations at the forefront of astronomy and astrophysics, working closely with NASA, the infrared astronomy scientific community, and other observatories and archives around the world to achieve the richest scientific outcome. The SMO Director will manage the USRA/SOFIA program deliverables and performance at NASA’s Ames and Armstrong Centers. S/he will maintain the appropriate level of interactions among USRA, NASA, DLR, and the Deutsche SOFIA Institute (DSI). The SMO Director is responsible for cost and schedule performance of the SOFIA science mission, science operations, and associated deliverables. Key elements of the SOFIA SMO program include scientific and technical leadership, publication, science mission operations and safety assurance, hardware and software engineering operations and development, contractual compliance and deliverables, and oversight and management of the entire SOFIA SMO program. The SMO Director is supported by a team of nationally-recognized senior scientists and seasoned functional managers who support the science mission. This program team is responsible for establishing mission science priorities, achieving efficient execution, establishing and managing program budgets, optimizing the organization to maximize scientific productivity, and adopting innovative approaches to management and operation of SOFIA science. Successfully fulfilling this broad span of duties necessitates a unique mix of skills in scientific and technical program management, and a proven record of working closely with the astronomy/astrophysics community and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. A doctoral degree in the physical sciences is required; at least 10 years of relevant program/project management experience is desired.

The SOFIA SMO team, under the SMO 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. The team also convenes scientific and technical 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:

  • Lead the SOFIA SMO program, including performance in scientific, technical, cost, schedule, risk, communications, and outreach areas, as well as discrepancy reporting.
  • Provide technical and management oversight for SOFIA SMO science, operations, and facility managers.
  • Supervise the SOFIA SMO management team, including staff and visiting scientists, and their engagement with SOFIA and the external scientific community.
  • Maintain effective communications with NASA on a routine basis, to ensure USRA responsiveness, exceptional service, and continued success with the delivery of SOFIA program obligations.
  • Provide scientific, technical and management oversight to SOFIA’s communications and outreach team, and amplify efforts to demonstrate SOFIA’s unique scientific and technical contributions, and how they support NASA objectives in space science, exploration, and discovery.
  • Review performance of the senior staff and scientific employees of SOFIA SMO program.
  • Ensures compliance with NASA policies, and USRA corporate policies and procedures.



  • Ph.D. degree in Astronomy/Astrophysics, or related scientific fields, is required.


  • 10 years of relevant experience in program/project management desired, including demonstrated supervisory experience. Experience managing federal government contracts is highly desired.
  • Experience with multi-disciplinary projects including science and engineering, software development and maintenance, and business systems desired.
  • Experience in guiding analyses and presenting project cost, schedule, and risk data to project teams and upper management desired.
  • Prior or current NASA program/project leadership and management experience, such as having worked at/with at least one NASA Center, is highly desired.
  • Knowledge, Skills & Abilities:
  • Working knowledge of complex and multi-sponsor and organizational projects/program, and proven skills for their management.
  • Understanding of risk identification and management processes, including scientific, technical, mission operations, and financial/business risks.
  • Ability to establish and evaluate management metrics, including scientific, technical, mission operations, and financial/business.
  • Understanding of NASA Science Mission priorities, business policies and practices, and organizational relationships among 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’s Core Values.
  • Build Relationships: Establish and maintain positive working relationships with others, both internally and externally, to achieve the goals of USRA. Maintain 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 action plans, and evaluate progress 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 problems effectively.


  • Proficiency in Microsoft Office and its applications.

Working Conditions:

This job primarily operates in a professional office environment, but involves occasional airborne observatory flights as required by the science mission. 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.

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

Application Deadline: 
Friday, February 14, 2020
Selection Deadline: 
Friday, February 14, 2020
Current Status of Position: 
Accepting Applicants
Apply to Job
Attention To: 
Ben Tanis
Talent Acquisition
Universities Space Research Association
Street Line 1: 
7178 Columbia Gateway Drive
Zip/Postal Code: 
United States of America
Inquiries About Job
Attention To: 
Ben Tanis