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NASA Leadership to Change at Two of Agency’s Centers

Two of NASA’s centers will undergo changes to leadership in the coming year. Johnson Space Center will see former astronaut Michael Coats retire and another veteran astronaut, Ellen Ochoa, take his place. Over at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Ramon Lugo will also be retiring and will be replaced by James M. Free. Photo Credit: NASA

The heads of two of NASA’s centers are undergoing some changes in the highest levels of leadership. Both Glenn Research Center located in Cleveland, Ohio and Johnson Space Center (JSC) located in Houston, Texas will lose their directors at the close of this year.

Ramon Lugo, Glenn Research Center’s Director will be replaced by James Free. Lugo will be retiring from the space agency in January. Free is no stranger to either Glenn or a leadership position, he served as the center’s deputy director since Jan. 2011.

Coats was Johnson Space Center’s 10th center director and will have held the position for more than seven years after he retires at the end of this year. Photo Credit: NASA

Johnson Space Center Director Michael Coats will also be retiring at the end of this year. Coats is a three-time space shuttle veteran and will be replaced by someone with similar experience, former NASA astronaut Ellen Ochoa.

“Ellen and Jim are experienced, outstanding leaders who I know will continue to do great things as they take the helms of their field centers,” Bolden said. “I also want to thank Mike and Ray for their years of leadership and dedicated service at NASA, most recently
while guiding Johnson and Glenn through pivotal times for those centers. I am sad to see Mike leave, as he and I have been close friends and allies since coming together in the summer of 1964 as new plebes in the Great Naval Academy class of 1968. I also want to thank Ray for his years of tireless work at NASA, for a long while on the team at the Kennedy Space Center and, most recently, while leading Glenn.”

Coates was tapped to be an astronaut candidate back in 1978. He was selected while serving as a naval aviator. After he completed his final mission into space, STS-39, he retired from both the Navy and NASA and entered the private sector. He would return to the space agency in 2005, becoming JSC’s 10th center director.

Ellen Ochoa, a four-time shuttle veteran herself, will be taking over for Coats. She has served as director and deputy director of flight crew operations at JSC. Before she was selected as an astronaut in 1990, she managed the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch at NASA’s Ames Research Center located in Moffett Field, Calif. Like Free, she has served as JSC’s deputy director since Sept. 2007.

Lugo’s career spans some 37 years, he started working for NASA in 1975 as a cooperative education student at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. His first position with the space agency was at KSC’s Construction and Modifications Branch as an engineer responsible for construction modifications to Launch Complex 39A in preparation for the very first shuttle flight.

Lugo’s replacement, Free, began working for the space agency at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center located in Greenbelt, Md. He served as a propulsion engineer and then a systems engineer on the Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRSS). He started his time at Glenn Research Center as the liaison for the International Space Station’s Fluids and Combustion Facility.

Written by Jason Rhian

Jason Rhian gained Bachelor’s Degrees in journalism and public relations from the University of South Florida and spent countless hours volunteering with NASA and other space groups to gain experience. He has interned with NASA twice. Once at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) press site in 2007 and with NASA's Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) in 2009.

Jason has worked with a number of space-related groups and events - including Google Lunar X-PRIZE team Omega Envoy, the 2009 International Space Development Conference and NASA's KSC press site. Jason has covered over 30 launches. His work has been published in Aviation Week & Space Technology, The Spaceport News and online with,,,, Universe Today and other websites.

Whereas some journalists are comfortable repurposing a press release and using imagery provided to them by the public relations arm of that organization – Jason has made a habit of getting behind the pre-approved announcements to cover the events first hand. He covered President Obama’s remarks live from Kennedy Space Center in April 2010. Jason also flew out to Utah to cover the test fire of Alliant Techsystems second test of the company’s Development Motor-2 (DM-2). More recently, he sat in the backseat of history, flying on NASA’s Shuttle Training Aircraft with STS-135 Commander Chris Ferguson as he trained for the last mission of the space shuttle era during the Terminal Countdown Demonstration Test (TCDT).

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