Robert D. Braun was named NASA Chief Technologist by NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden on Feb. 3, 2010. Braun serves as the principal advisor and advocate on matters concerning agency-wide technology policy and programs.
Braun has more than 20 years experience performing design and analysis of planetary exploration systems as a member of the technical staff at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., and the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research has focused on systems’ aspects of planetary exploration, where he contributed to the design, development, test and operation of several robotic space flight systems.
Braun was a member of the Mars Pathfinder design and landing operations team from 1992 to 1997 and has been part of development teams for the Mars Microprobe, Mars Sample Return and Mars Surveyor 2001 projects. He also has provided independent assessment and served on NASA review boards for the Mars Polar Lander, Mars Odyssey, Mars Exploration Rover, Phoenix Mars Scout, Genesis, and Mars Science Laboratory flight projects.
Braun joined the Georgia Institute of Technology in Oct 2003. At Georgia Tech, he led a research and educational program focused on the design of advanced flight systems and technologies for planetary exploration. Recent research projects included the development of entry, descent and landing concepts and technologies for human Mars exploration. He worked on robotic platforms capable of powered flight in planetary atmospheres, entry system architectural concepts for human return from the moon, design and analyses of inflatable aerodynamic decelerators, pinpoint landing technology assessment for planetary exploration systems and engineering strategies for asteroid deflection. Braun also was responsible for undergraduate and graduate level instruction in the areas of space systems design, astrodynamics and planetary entry.
Braun has performed extensive systems analysis and led the design and technology maturation of advanced planetary entry systems, aerial platforms and space transportation systems. From 2001-2003, he served as the Mission Architect and Atmospheric Flight System Manager for the Aerial Regional scale Environmental Survey Mars Scout mission, a proposed scientific survey using a Mars airplane. In this capacity, he was responsible for balancing science, implementation risk and cost across the mission architecture and managing Mars airplane development, including the successful ground-based and high-altitude flight test program.
From 1998-2000, he managed the development of the Mars Sample Return Earth Entry Vehicle, an innovative, risk-based entry system design.
Braun also has been an active participant in the development of advanced methods for multidisciplinary design and optimization. As a member of the Aircraft Design Group at Stanford University from 1991-1996, Braun developed the Collaborative Optimization architecture.
This architecture was shown to have significant computational and operational benefits in the optimization of large, distributed design problems. Since completing his initial research in this area, several university and industry groups have applied this technique in the solution of diverse set of engineering design challenges. From 2000-2001, Braun served as deputy program manager and chief engineer of NASA’s Intelligent Synthesis Environment Program, where he led and integrated the Agency’s advanced engineering environment technology development program.
Braun has served as an AIAA Distinguished Lecturer. He also has served on the NASA Planetary Protection Advisory Council, the AIAA Multidisciplinary Design Optimization Technical Committee, and co-chaired road-mapping efforts focused on development of an integrated robotic and human exploration development plan.
In 2006, Braun began service on NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Advisory Council. In 2008, he began service on Advisory Councils of the Aerospace Engineering Department at the Pennsylvania State University and the Space Systems Department of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. In 2009, he was appointed associate editor for the AIAA Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets and began service on the Advisory Council of The Planetary Society.
Braun received a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Penn State in 1987, M.S. in Astronautics from the George Washington University in 1989, and Ph.D. in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University in 1996.
Braun has received the 1999 AIAA Lawrence Sperry Award, two NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals, two NASA Inventions and Contributions Team Awards, and seven NASA Group Achievement Awards. He is an AIAA Fellow and the principle author or co-author of over 175 technical publications.