NASA’s Robert Lightfoot meets UCD students who developed Ireland’s first satellite

Posted June 27, 2017

Robert M Lightfoot Jr, acting administrator of NASA, visited University College Dublin to meet with MSc and PhD students in the UCD School of Physics.

The students are part of the team that developed Ireland’s first satellite (EIRSAT-1). The lead scientist on the project is UCD Professor Lorraine Hanlon, an expert in astrophysics.

EIRSAT-1 will be delivered to the International Space Station and launched into orbit in 2019 - after it passes the requirements of the European Space Agency (ESA). It will be managed and controlled from a ground station in the UCD School of Physics during its 12-month orbit above the Earth.

In conversation with the group of UCD space science students, Lightfoot, a mechanical engineer by training, described the emotion of space exploration.

“You can’t underestimate the emotion of space,” he said. “We talk about being technical and engineers but the emotion of space is really a big pull.”

Lightfoot joined NASA in 1989 as a test engineer and program manager for the space shuttle main engine technology test bed program and the Russian RD-180 engine testing program for the Atlas launch vehicle program.

From 2005–2007, he was manager of the Space Shuttle Propulsion Office where he was responsible for overseeing the manufacture, assembly and operation of the primary shuttle propulsion elements: the main engines, external tank, solid rocket boosters and reusable solid rocket motors.

In 2009, he was appointed director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. In this role, he headed one of NASA's largest field installations which plays a critical role in NASA’s space operations, exploration and science missions.

In 2012, he became associate administrator for NASA, the agency's highest-ranking civil servant, before becoming the acting administrator of NASA in 2017.

By: Dominic Martella, UCD University Relations