Michael M. Watkins became Director of JPL on July 1, 2016. In this role he also serves as a vice president of the California Institute of Technology, which staffs and manages JPL for NASA.
Watkins, an engineer and scientist, previously was on the staff of JPL for 22 years. In 2015-16 he spent a year at the University of Texas at Austin, where he held the Clare Cockrell Williams Chair in Engineering and was director of the university’s Center for Space Research.
During his JPL career, Watkins served as chief scientist for the Laboratory’s Engineering and Science Directorate, manager of JPL’s Science Division and manager of its Navigation and Mission Design Section. He was mission manager from development through landed operations for the Mars Science Laboratory mission, which sent the Curiosity rover to Mars. He also led NASA development and review teams for the Cassini, Mars Odyssey and Deep Impact robotic space missions.
Watkins served as project scientist for the GRACE, GRAIL and GRACE Follow-On missions. He was an originator of the concept for the GRACE mission, which uses a pair of Earth-orbiting satellites to make detailed measurements of Earth's gravity field anomalies. In addition, he has been a pioneer in the development and use of gravity data for new science applications to better understand Earth’s climate and its evolution. Other research interests include mission design, instrument design and science analysis for acquisition and use of remote sensing data for Earth and other planets.
Watkins holds bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He has published in both engineering and science, contributed more than 100 conference presentations, and serves or served on the boards of numerous international scientific and engineering societies. In addition, he has taught estimation, filtering theory and system engineering at the University of Texas at Austin and at Caltech.