As he ties up a decades-long career in the space domain, former Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) Space Exploration Sector head Mike Ryschkewitsch has been recognized with the National Space Club and Foundation’s Norman J. Baker Astronautics Engineer Award. The award honors engineers who have made outstanding personal contributions to the nation’s space program.
The National Space Club and Foundation bridges industry and government to foster excellence in space activity. In 2021, the APL team leading NASA’s Parker Solar Probe mission earned the organization’s Nelson P. Jackson Award — which recognizes the most outstanding contribution to aerospace in the preceding year — for the mission’s efforts to untangle the long-standing mysteries of the complex solar environment.
“This award is well-deserved recognition of Mike’s inspiring leadership,” said APL director Ralph Semmel. “Thanks to his outstanding technical and management expertise, Mike has helped guide APL experts through challenges and triumphs, yielding incredible results in space science and systems engineering.”
Ryschkewitsch led the Space Exploration Sector (SES) for the last eight years and oversaw the sector’s efforts to successfully score major NASA missions for APL’s portfolio, including Dragonfly and the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe, as well as a critical role developing systems and instruments for the Europa Clipper mission. Most recently, he saw the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, the world’s first full-scale planetary defense test mission, through development and launch during the challenges of a pandemic. All the while, Parker Solar Probe continued its record-breaking descent into the Sun’s corona after its launch in 2018. APL has a 60-year history of designing, building, operating and leading more than 70 spacecraft missions for NASA and the Department of Defense.
“I’m honored to receive this award as I look toward a new chapter after eight rewarding years leading the many talented teams at APL,” Ryschkewitsch said. “We’ve worked through challenging circumstances and environments but always maintained a focus on mission success and delivering on commitments, and I’m proud of what our organization accomplished.”
Ryschkewitsch’s own career in space spans more than 30 years across APL and NASA. Before joining the Laboratory in 2014, he served as chief engineer at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., where he rallied to boost funding for technology development and to form the Office of the Chief Technologist and the Space Technology Mission Directorate. At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, he started as director of the Applied Engineering and Technology Directorate and then took on the role of deputy center director, maintaining a steady stream of missions from proposal to implementation and launch.
His NASA career also included work on the Cosmic Background Explorer and space missions, including the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP), the Swift Gamma-Ray Burst Mission, the Terra satellite and the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR) for the first Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission.
Ryschkewitsch’s breadth of experience in the development of robotic science and human spaceflight missions of all classes enabled his focused tenure as head of SES. He has been lauded for demonstrating “an unparalleled commitment to engineering excellence and mission success,” as noted in his nomination for the Astronautics Engineer Award.
After a storied career, Ryschkewitsch stepped down as SES head on March 14. Bobby Braun, former director for planetary science at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, succeeds Ryschkewitsch as sector head.
Ryschkewitsch will be presented with the award during the club’s annual Robert H. Goddard Memorial Dinner on Friday, March 18.
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