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NASA Names Cornell Professor To CTO Position

Mason Peck will bring expertise in spacecraft design and robotics to the space agency's technology directorate.
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NASA has named an Ivy League professor to replace departing CTO Bobby Braun.

Mason Peck, a Cornell University professor, will take over the position in January, serving as the space agency's lead on technology policy and programs and overseeing how NASA technology benefits both the agency's mission and the general public, according to the agency.

Peck also will be responsible for coordinating and tracking technology investments across the agency and lead NASA's efforts to commercialize technology in the private sector.

Braun left NASA at the end of September to return to his position as a faculty member at Georgia Tech, which allowed him to join the space agency last year through an intergovernmental agreement. Peck will become his successor through a similar deal with Cornell, according to NASA.

[NASA is turning to the cloud to boost compute resources for scientific research. Learn more about the agency's plans: NASA Plans Cloud Marketplace For Scientists.]

When Braun took the position in February 2010, it was the first time NASA had a CTO in 10 years. During his tenure, he oversaw the formation of NASA's Space Technology program, which picks up where the space shuttle program left off, to develop technologies to send aircraft and people even deeper in to space.

Peck will now take over that program, which was criticized in an August report for lacking the technology advancements to meet its goals.

In addition to its space innovations, NASA also has emerged as an early adopter of technology that's crucial to both the public and private sectors, such as cloud computing and open source technology. During Braun's time as CTO, the NASA-developed cloud computing infrastructure Nebula took on a more prominent role to run applications and services for the agency.

NASA used open source technologies to build Nebula, and the agency also created an entire website devoted to its open government plan on an open source platform during Braun's tenure.

Peck likely will continue these efforts, although his areas of expertise are in other aspects of technology--namely, spacecraft design and robotics, according to NASA. The latter experience should bode well for programs like NASA's Robonaut, which has sent its first humanoid robot into space aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

At Cornell, Peck is the principal investigator on the CUSat in-orbit inspection technology demonstration, a pair of satellites the university has built that are scheduled to launch in 2013 on a Falcon 9 rocket through the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory's University Nanosatellite program.

Peck also is the principal investigator for the Violet experiment, another satellite being built at Cornell. This one will be an orbiting testbed for technology to improve on commercial Earth-imaging satellites, according to NASA.

Overall, Peck has nearly 20 years of experience in aerospace technology, both in industry and academia, and his time as CTO will not be the first time he's worked with the space agency.

Previously, Peck served an engineer on a variety of programs, including the tracking and data relay satellite system and geostationary operational environmental satellites. His academic research in modular spacecraft architectures and propellantless propulsion was sponsored by the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, and the ISS currently hosts his research group's flight experiment in microchip-size spacecraft.