Meet LPI’s New Director

January 15, 2021

Dr. Lisa Gaddis

The LPI recently welcomed a new director, Dr. Lisa R. Gaddis on November 9, 2020. Dr. Gaddis will provide scientific leadership and management of the research and operations of the LPI and maintain and grow it as a primary research center in support of NASA’s strategic goals in planetary science and solar system exploration. Dr. Gaddis is a Fellow of the Geological Society of America, and a recipient of the U.S. Department of the Interior Honor Award, Meritorious Service. She holds an A.B. from Vassar College, Sc.M. from Brown University, and Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii.

LPI: How did you become interested in space science?
LG: I was born in the same year that Sputnik launched (1957), so one could say that the Space Age has shaped much of my life. I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t interested in looking at the night sky. I was a child during the Apollo missions, and watching those cemented the possibility of a future “in space.” My interest was also encouraged by reading lots of science fiction (Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, etc.) and listening to people like Carl Sagan (remember the first Cosmos?).

LPI: When did you know that you wanted to pursue this as a career?
LG: In college, during the 1970s, when I learned that such a career existed. I studied geology and astronomy (and the Russian language) when the fields of planetary and space science were getting started as study programs for students. I found graduate programs in geology that would allow me to do research in remote sensing and lunar and planetary sciences. And I’ve been busy doing that ever since!

LPI: What is the focus of your research?
LG: I have done a lot of different things in research, but they can be described largely as “remote sensing of geologic terrains on the Earth and other planets.” As a planetary geologist, I’ve studied lava flows and dunes on Earth (Kilauea, Pisgah, Death Valley sites, etc.), pyroclastic deposits and other volcanic features on the Moon, volcanoes on Venus, and sedimentary layers in Valles Marineris on Mars. As a remote sensing scientist, I’ve studied and improved methods of acquiring and processing data from aircraft and spacecraft at ultraviolet, visible, near-infrared, and radar wavelengths that can be used to map and understand geologic processes on solid-body planets and satellites. I’ve created several major digital image products for the Moon used widely by planetary scientists. Later in my career, I spent many years managing an extensive data archive for NASA of image data from planetary spacecraft missions.

LPI: What is the most unexpected or exciting result that you’ve encountered in your research?
LG: One area of interest for me in research are the small volcanoes on the Moon. These features are interesting because we think that they are places where samples from deep inside the Moon are brought up to the surface, helping us understand how the Moon has evolved over time. Lunar small volcanoes look much like the cinder cones you’d see at volcanoes on Earth, except that they tend to be larger and broader. For many years, we studied the “dark halo craters” in the floor of Alphonsus crater on the Moon with telescopic and orbital data, and we found 11 of them there in the ’70s. About 40 years later, when higher resolution data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter cameras became available, we found at least three and as many as five more small volcanoes there! We simply could not see them earlier. My colleagues and I continue to find these “new” ancient volcanoes in many places on the Moon. It seems that these little gas-driven lunar eruptions are much more common than we’d thought, and we now know of many more places that we can go to find samples from deep inside the Moon.

LPI: What do you most look forward to as it relates to planetary science over the next 10 years?
LG: With all the exciting missions ongoing and being planned, it’s hard to pick just one thing to look forward to. But I’m really looking forward to the NASA Artemis program and returning to the Moon with humans! There is still so much to learn in lunar science, exploration, and living and working in space. Maintaining a presence on the Moon would give us a ready foothold for venturing to Mars and elsewhere in space.

LPI: What was your path to becoming the director of the LPI?
LG: As broad as my background in NASA-funded research is, I also have been a manager of large projects and research programs for many years. I’ve worked on many NASA review panels, committees, and advisory groups. I have a lot of experience working with scientists and managers across our community, doing work in planetary science that NASA has chosen to fund, and serving the entire planetary science community. I have attended LPSC since 1981, and I’ve worked with scientists and staff at the LPI for many years (including as a member and Chair of the Science Council).

LPI: What’s next for the LPI?
LG: One of the most prominent roles for LPI in the planetary science community is bringing researchers together to share news and knowledge about the latest developments in research, exploration, education, data, etc. We’ve all been plunged headfirst into a virtual work environment in 2020 by a pandemic, and we’ve learned a lot in a short amount of time. One thing we’ve learned is that we can reach people all over the world readily with our virtual meetings. As we emerge from this environment, we hope to continue to provide this kind of support, even as we look forward to gathering and working together in-person.

LPI: What are your goals as director?
LG: I recognize the value of and have much respect for the LPI and its role in planetary sciences and supporting NASA. As director, a primary goal is to continue to provide excellent support and service to NASA and to the entire worldwide planetary community. I hope to work closely with scientists at Johnson Space Center as they support the astronaut program, a return to the Moon, and several NASA and international missions (among many other endeavors!). There are many outstanding instrument labs, exploration groups, and university programs in Texas that I hope to learn more about very soon, with an eye toward partnerships and collaborations. I intend to facilitate and help maintain the already-excellent ongoing work at LPI in research, education, meetings, etc. And together, we will continue to look for new opportunities and areas for growth.

LPI: What do you like to do for fun?
LG: I enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities (hiking, biking, boating, etc.), but I love to play recreational volleyball!

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