Mission

The mission of the Exoplanet Exploration Program is threefold– to search for planets beyond our solar system, characterize them, and look for life among the stars. The scientists and engineers who work at NASA's exoplanet program work daily to make those goals a reality.

 


  • Gary Blackwood
    Gary Blackwood
    Program Manager
    Dr. Gary H. Blackwood is the Program Manager for the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He earned his B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from MIT. He has been an employee at JPL since 1988 and has worked on technology development for precision astronomical instruments and astrophysics missions including the Hubble Wide/Field Planetary Camera-2, the StarLight formation-flying interferometer, the Space Interferometry Mission and the Terrestrial... more
  • Kendra Short
    Kendra Short
    Deputy Program Manager
    Kendra Short is the Deputy Program Manager for the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Prior to this position, she served as a Payload Manager within the SWOT project, responsible for the delivery of over $50 million in instruments and subsystems. In her previous 28 years of professional experience at JPL, she has held a number of leadership positions in related science, technology, and project management across multiple Directorates (Earth Science, Astrophysics,... more
  • Karl Stapelfeldt
    Karl Stapelfeldt
    Program Chief Scientist
    Dr. Karl Stapelfeldt is the Chief Scientist for NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. His research is focused on circumstellar disks, planet formation, exoplanets, and the design of future missions and instruments that could achieve major scientific advances in these areas. Dr. Stapelfeldt began his NASA career as a post-doctoral research fellow at JPL in 1993. As a JPL scientist from 1994 to 2011, he worked on the Hubble Space Telescope WFPC2 instrum... more

  • Eric Mamjek
    Eric Mamajek
    Deputy Program Chief Scientist
    Dr. Eric E. Mamajek earned his B.S. in astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State, an M.Sc. in physics from the University of New South Wales/ADFA, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of Arizona. He was previously a Clay Postdoctoral Fellow at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Associate Astronomer for the National Optical Astronomy Observatory at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, and Professor of Physics & Astronomy at University of Rochest... more
  • Nick Siegler
    Nick Siegler
    Program Chief Technologist, Technology Development Manager
    Dr. Nick Siegler is an astrophysicist and the Chief Technologist for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. With collaborators from all over the country he helps identify and mature technologies needed to enable possible future NASA missions that will ultimately look for evidence of life on exoplanets. He has worked in a variety of systems engineering and project management roles for the last nine years. Prior to JPL, Dr.... more
  • Keith Warfield
    Keith Warfield
    Program Chief Engineer
    Keith Warfield is the Chief Engineer for the NASA Exoplanet Exploration Program (ExEP) and the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx) Study Office Manager. HabEx is one of four large mission studies funded by NASA as preparation for the coming 2020 Astrophysics Decadal Survey. Prior to his present roles, Mr. Warfield was the Study Office Manager overseeing the designs and concept development for two sub-billion dollar exoplanet direct-imaging mission studies (Exo-C an Exo-S). From 2006 to 2013, Mr. W... more
  • Anya Biferno
    Anya Biferno
    Exoplanet Communications Manager
    Anya Biferno is the Public Engagement Manager for NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program, coordinating communications activities across the theme of exoplanet science, missions, and technology development. She has been with ExEP since 2008. In addition to her communications role with ExEP, Ms. Biferno is the JPL Co-I on the Universe of Learning education cooperative agreement (PI-STScI). She has a BA in Global Politics from the California State University, Los Angeles and a Masters in Public... more
  • Chas Beichman
    Charles Beichman
    NExScI Director
    Dr. Beichman has been a leader in infrared astronomy and exoplanet research for over 30 years. His primary scientific interests include the formation of solar type stars and debris disks around both young and mature stars (IRAS, Spitzer, Keck Interferometer, JWST), the detection and characterization of planets around young and mature stars (Palomar, SIM, Spitzer, JWST), and the study of brown dwarfs (2MASS, Keck, WISE, Spitzer, HST, JWST). He has been a member of science teams on a variety of sky survey projects... more
  • Rachel Akeson
    Rachel Akeson
    NExScI Manager
    Dr. Rachel Akeson is the Acting Manager for the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute (NExScI), part of NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program. She has been at NExScI, which is located at Caltech, for 19 years as a research scientist and specializes in using interferometry at many wavelengths to study the formation of stars and planets. Her previous roles include Keck Interferometer Project Scientist and NExScI Deputy Director.
  • Tony Comberiate
    Anthony Comberiate
    WFIRST Mission Manager
    Mr. Comberiate is the WFIRST Mission Manager for the Exoplanet Exploration Program at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, responsible for ensuring the successful development and implementation of the WFIRST mission. Mr. Comberiate has over 45 years of engineering and management experience in both space and environment programs. He has served in senior executive positions with both NOAA and NASA with experience in managing communications satellite systems, space science missions, and environmental sate... more
  • Phil Willems
    Phil Willems
    LBTI Manager
    Dr. Phil Willems has been an employee at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since June 2015. He is the Project Manager for the Large Binocular Telescope Interferometer and was previously the Project Manager for the NN-EXPLORE precision radial velocity spectrometer. Prior to joining JPL, he was a Senior Scientist on the LIGO gravitational wave detector and has also worked in the optical fiber telecommunications and medical imaging industries. Dr. Willems earned his B.S. in physics from the University of Wisconsi... more
  • John Callas
    John Callas
    NN-Explore Project Manager
    Dr. John L. Callas earned his B.S. in Engineering from Tufts University and his Sc.M. and Ph.D. in Physics from Brown University.  He has been an employee at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1987. He has worked on advanced spacecraft propulsion, X-ray and gamma-ray instrumentation for astrophysics and several Mars missions beginning with Mars Observer and continuing with the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Project. He currently is the project manager for MER and recently accepted, as ... more
  • John Ziemer
    John Ziemer
    Starshade Technology Development Manager
    Dr. John K. Ziemer is the manager for starshade technology development activities within the Exoplanet Exploration Program Office. He has worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 2000 after receiving a B.S.E. from the University of Michigan and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering with a focus on plasma physics and electric propulsion. Before focusing on starshade technology, Dr. Ziemer was responsible for developing,... more
  • Brendan Crill
    Brendan Crill
    Deputy Program Chief Technologist, Deputy Technology Manager
    Dr. Brendan P. Crill has worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 2008 and joined the Exoplanet Exploration Program in 2016 as the Program’s Deputy Technology Development Manager. His science career began in cosmology, with an undergraduate degree from Brown University and a Ph.D. in physics from Caltech. He worked on developing instrumentation for measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB). His work on the receiver of the BOOMERANG... more
  • Ray Lemus
    Ray Lemus
    Program Business Administration Manager
    Ray Lemus earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and an MBA from the Anderson School of Management at UCLA. He has been an employee at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1996. Early in his career, Mr. Lemus worked as a process engineer in Chevron’s largest refinery in the San Francisco Bay area, responsible for the technical performance of various fuel-oil plants. Subsequent to his MBA, he split his career primarily between contra... more
  • Bruce Nomoto
    Bruce Nomoto
    Program Resource Analyst
    Bruce Nomoto received his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration-Finance from California State University, Northridge. He started his employment with JPL in May 2016, working for the Exoplanet Exploration Program Management Office as a Program Resource Analyst. He has overall Program Office responsibility for implementation and performance of all program and project control activities (e.g. cost estimating, funding, resource planning and analysis, budgeting, reporting, accounting).
  • Jennifer Gregory
    Jennifer Gregory
    Executive Staff Assistant
    Jennifer Gregory has been employed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1998 and has provided administrative support to several departments throughout her career. Among these were Interferometry and Large Optics, the Space Interferometry Mission and JPL’s special program DOD activities. In 2015, Ms. Gregory was excited to join the Exoplanet Exploration Program Office as an administrative assistant. She enjoys being a part of NASA’s vision and development of technol... more
  • Karla Miller
    Karla Miller
    Executive Staff Assistant
    Karla Miller has worked at JPL since 1993, first as a contractor, then becoming permanent in 1995. She has provided administrative support in several areas beginning with the Low Temperature Science & Engineering group, CHeX (Confined Helium Experiment) project, and the SESPD (Space Engineering & Science Program Division).  She has worked in her present position for over 16 years, when it was called the “Origins” and “Navigator” Program Office. She is fascinated whe... more
  • Genie L
    Genie Luzwick
    Program Schedule Analyst
    Genie Luzwick earned her B.A. in Anthropology, along with minors in Film Studies as well as Business, at the University of California, Irvine. After a year of teaching English in China, she went back to school to earn her M.A in Anthropology at California State University, Northridge. She started working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 2015. Since her start at the company, she has worked as a Schedule Analyst on DSAC (Deep Space Atomic Clock) and continues to work on ITB (Ins... more
  • Jeffery Webster
    Jeffery Webster
    Project Support Lead in the JPL Project Support Office
    Jeffery Webster has 33 years of experience in the aerospace industry, most recently at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. While a JPL Staff and Senior Systems Engineer, Mr. Webster served as a project planner and systems engineer on numerous JPL flight and ground-based programs and projects, and is currently a Project Support Lead in the JPL Project Support Office. Mr. Webster also serves as the SRB Review Manager for four JPL flight projects. He received a B.A. ... more
  • Rhonda Morgan
    Rhonda Morgan
    Standard Definitions and Evaluation Team Lead
    Dr. Rhonda Morgan is lead of the Standard Definitions and Evaluation Team for Yield Analysis as well as the Technologist for the Habitable Exoplanet Imaging Mission (HabEx) Study. Dr. Morgan joined ExEP in 2015. She has been at JPL since 2001, developing technologies for lightweight space telescopes and advanced observational instruments. She has worked on a variety of missions including the Starlight separated spacecraft interferometer, TPF-C, TPF-I, and DART. She was the metrology... more
  • Sharmon Keasler
    Sharmon Keasler
    WFIRST Program Business Manager
    Sharmon Keasler is the Business Manager supporting the WFIRST Mission Management office. She is responsible for ensuring the successful business planning and management of the WFIRST mission. Ms. Keasler has over 30 years of experience in Project and Program business management. In addition to serving as the Project Business Manager on the Space Interferometry Mission, Ms. Keasler spent over four years managing the Project Resource Analyst and Schedule Analyst Resources within the Project/Program... more
  • Stephen Watson
    Stephen Watson
    LBTI Mission Assurance Manager
    Stephen H. Watson has been at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory since 1990 and joined he Exoplanet Exploration Program in 2016 as the LBTI Mission Assurance Manager. He is also currently the Mission Assurance Manager for NASA's Deep Space Network, and has been the Project Software Systems Engineer on the Juno mission to Jupiter since 2006. He has been involved in the development of numerous project-wide, flight, ground and instrument software systems. He began his career at JPL in image processing... more
  • Jitendra Mehta
    Jitendra Mehta
    Program Mission Assurance Manager
    Jitendra S. Mehta is the chief mission assurance manager for the Astronomy and Physics directorate at JPL. He trains and mentors others to become mission assurance managers. Those responsibilities include proper implementation of flight project practices and design principle, and keeping track of project status on behalf of the directorate. Before taking on this role, Mr. Mehta was a group supervisor for flight information systems and fault protection in the flight systems section. ... more
  • Randy Jackson
    Randal Jackson
    Web Studio Manager
    Randal Jackson is manager of the Web Studio at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which produces websites, visualizations and apps about Mars, Earth science, and NASA's search for life beyond our solar system. Prior to working for NASA, he was senior editor for science and technology at CNN.com, where he oversaw coverage of such stories as the Pathfinder mission to Mars, the deorbiting of the Mir space station, and the construction of the International Space Station. Randal majored in science journalis... more
  • Thalia Rivera
    Thalia Rivera
    Outreach Coordinator
    Thalia Rivera is an academic part-time hire for NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration program. She works on public engagement by coordinating and supporting outreach events such as “A Ticket to Explore JPL,” and by maintaining NASA’s presence at public events like San Diego Comic-Con, American Astronomical Society conferences, and the Intrepid Air and Space Festival. She also creates informative materials for distribution to the public. These events and materials help make the science of exop... more
  • Pat Brennan
    Pat Brennan
    Science Writer
    Pat Brennan is a science writer for NASA's Exoplanet Exploration Program, and also for the NASA Sea Level Portal. He writes feature stories about exoplanet discoveries and helps develop a variety of public engagement content, from info-graphics to conference banner stands and even provided text for a recent exoplanet travel poster. Mr. Brennan joined JPL in 2015 after a 30-year career as a newspaper journalist. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Arizona.
  • Arielle Samuelson
    Arielle Samuelson

    Web Editor
    Arielle Samuelson is the web editor and social media lead for the Exoplanet Exploration Program. She has an M.S. in journalism from the University of Southern California, a B.A. in anthropology, and a background in documentary film. None of which are related to space. NASA let her have their Twitter account anyway.