William H. Gerstenmaier


William H. Gerstenmaier
NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, as seen in 2007
BornSeptember 1954 (age 67)[1]
EducationB.S. Aerospace engineering,
M.S. Mechanical engineering
Alma materPurdue University
TitleVP of Mission Assurance, SpaceX
Spouse(s)Marsha Ann Gerstenmaier[2]

William H. Gerstenmaier (born September 26, 1954) is an aerospace engineer and policymaker who is Vice President of Mission Assurance at SpaceX.[3] He previously served as NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations between 2005[2][4] and July 10, 2019.[5] While in that role, he was described as "arguably the most influential person when it comes to US spaceflight."[6] Prior to being Associate Administrator, Gerstenmaier served as the International Space Station Office Program Manager, at Johnson Space Center, a position he began in June 2002. He spent a total of four decades with NASA.

In February 2020 SpaceX announced that Gerstenmaier had joined the company as a consultant.[7] He was promoted to VP of Mission Assurance one year later.[3]

Early life

Gerstenmaier was born in Akron, Ohio, in September 1954 and graduated from East High School in 1973.[1][8] As a teenager he followed the early space programs of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.[9] He had early dreams of being a test pilot, and after high school, enrolled at the United States Naval Academy. After seeing so many pilots returning from the Vietnam War, he thought he may not get a chance to fly, and chose to reconsider his path. He transferred to Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics, hoping to get into flight via academics. During his time at Purdue, Gerstenmaier found a great interest in spaceflight technology, and chose to focus on this area for his career.[9]


Gerstenmaier (left) working on a space shuttle wind tunnel test at the Glenn Research Center in 1978

Gerstenmaier graduated with a bachelor of science in aeronautical engineering from Purdue University School of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 1977,[10] and joined the Lewis Research Center (now called the John Glenn Research Center) in Ohio, beginning his career with NASA. Initially doing research with supersonic wind tunnels, developing air data curve information used during entry on the Space Shuttle. Gerstenmaier continued his education, obtaining his master's degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Toledo in 1981.[2][4]

In 1980, Gerstenmaier moved to Houston, Texas, to work at the Johnson Space Center, researching propulsion related to the Space Shuttle, and was involved in the earliest phases of the International Space Station design. In 1984, he was a semi-finalist in the selection for NASA Astronaut Group 10.[11] In 1988, he first served as manager of Space Shuttle Program Integration, and then went on to serve as head of the Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle Operations Office. Following that, he became Director of Space Shuttle and Space Station Freedom Assembly Operations, and was named Chief of the Projects and Facilities Branch of the Flight Design and Dynamics Division.[2]

In 1992, Gerstenmaier was given a fellowship from NASA to obtain his doctorate degree from Purdue, and in 1992 and 1993, he completed course work for a doctorate in dynamics and control, with a minor in propulsion at Purdue University School of Aeronautics and Astronautics.[2][4] Of the time away from NASA, he said, "It was the most humbling experience of my life."[9]

In 1995, Gerstenmaier returned to NASA as the Shuttle/Mir Program Operations Manager, and was the liaison to the Russian Space Agency for operations and protocols. For the first half of 1996, he was stationed in Russia to support astronaut Shannon Lucid, who spent six months aboard Mir.

In December 2000, Gerstenmaier was named Deputy Manager of the International Space Station Program. In 2002, Gerstenmaier was named Manager of the International Space Station Program. Mike Suffredini replaced Gerstenmaier as the International Space Station Program manager.

Gerstenmaier held his position as Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations from 2005 until July 10, 2019.[4][12][13] At the date, he was reassigned to the role of special advisor to NASA Deputy Administrator Jim Morhard.[13]

He was hired in February 2020 by SpaceX. Originally announced publicly as being in a consultant role,[14] he reported directly to Hans Koenigsmann, VP of Mission Assurance.[3]

In February 2021, he became SpaceX Vice President of Mission Assurance, replacing the retiring Koenigsmann, with responsibility for the safe completion of SpaceX missions.[3]


Gerstenmaier has twice been awarded the Aviation Week and Space Technology's Laureate Award for "Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Space", as well as three NASA Certificates of Commendation, two NASA Exceptional Service Medals, a Senior NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executives.[2][8][12]

In 2003, he received the Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executives. Also that year he received the Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Award, Purdue University.

In 2004, Gerstenmaier was selected as a finalist for the Service to America Medal, for "Leading the efforts to continue the safe operation of the International Space Station in the absence of the Space Shuttle, allowing continued research and preservation of its unique capabilities for the future."[15]

In 2006, the Huntsville National Space Club awarded him the Von Braun Award.

In 2007, The Federation of Galaxy Explorers honored Gerstenmaier with the 2007 Space Leadership Award, and Purdue University honored him with the Distinguished Alumni Award, "For outstanding accomplishments in a career dedicated to the human exploration of space and international cooperation in space." In November 2008 he was honored again at Purdue as an Old Master in the 2008 Old Masters Program.[9][16][17]

Gerstenmaier received the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement's National Space Trophy in 2010, Space Transportation Leadership Award, 2011, the 2011 AIAA von Braun Award for Excellence in Space Program Management and the AIAA von Karman Lectureship in Astronautics in 2012.[18]

Gerstenmaier was elected as a member into the National Academy of Engineering in 2018 for technical contributions and leadership in national and international human spaceflight programs.


  1. ^ a b c "William H. Gerstenmaier: 2010 National Space Trophy Winner" (PDF). Rotary National Award for Space Achievement. 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f NASA (2007). "Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations: William H. Gerstenmaier". The National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d Sheetz, Michael (2 February 2021). "INVESTING IN SPACESpaceX VP Hans Koenigsmann, Elon Musk's fourth hire at the space company, plans to retire". CNBC. Retrieved 2 February 2021.
  4. ^ a b c d Purdue Engineering Department (2002). "William H. Gerstenmaier selected to lead NASA Space Operations". Purdue University. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  5. ^ Davenport, Christion (10 July 2019). "Shakeup at NASA as space agency scrambles to meet Trump moon mandate". Washington Post. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  6. ^ Berger, Eric (2015-12-07). "NASA official warns private sector: We're moving on from low-Earth orbit". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2016-04-09.
  7. ^ Sheetz, Michael (2020-02-11). "SpaceX brings on NASA's former top spaceflight official as it prepares to launch first astronauts". CNBC. Retrieved 2020-02-12.
  8. ^ a b Akron Beacon Journal (2005). "East High School Induction". Akron Beacon Journal. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  9. ^ a b c d Purdue Engineering Department (2007). "Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground". Purdue University. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  10. ^ "William H. Gerstenmaier". College of Engineering - Purdue University.
  11. ^ "Biographies of Astronaut and Cosmonaut Candidates". Retrieved July 26, 2010.
  12. ^ a b NASA. "William H. Gerstenmaier, Manager, International Space Station Program" (PDF). NASA. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 24, 2009. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  13. ^ a b Jeff Foust (11 July 2019). "NASA shakes up exploration leadership". Space News. Retrieved 14 Jul 2019.
  14. ^ Berger, Eric (2020-02-11). "William Gerstenmaier joins SpaceX, and that's a really big deal". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 2020-02-11. Retrieved 2020-02-11.
  15. ^ Partnership for Public Service (2004). "Twenty-Eight Federal Employees Honored for Outstanding National Achievements". Partnership for Public Service. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  16. ^ Purdue University (2007). "Distinguished Engineering Alumni 2007". Purdue University. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  17. ^ The Planetary Society (2007). "Louis Friedman to Receive Space Education Inspiration Award". The Planetary Society. Retrieved September 29, 2007.
  18. ^ Marianne Dyson (2010). "2010 National Space Trophy Recipient". Retrieved April 19, 2011.

External links

  • Biography, NASA, February 2019.
  • Appearances on C-SPAN