Dava Newman

Director; Apollo Professor of Astronautics
  • Director's Office

Dava Newman is the director of the MIT Media Lab. She holds the Apollo Program Professor of Astronautics chair at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is a Harvard–MIT Health, Sciences, and Technology faculty member in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was named a MacVicar Faculty Fellow (a chair for making significant contributions to undergraduate education); and was the former Director of the Technology and Policy Program at MIT (2003–2015); and Director of the MIT–Portugal Program (2011–2015, 2017-2021). As the Director of MIT’s Technology and Policy Program (TPP), she led this unique multidisciplinary graduate program with over 1,300 alums and faculty advisors from all 5 Schools across the Institute. She has been a faculty leader in Aeronautics and Astronautics and MIT’s School of Engineering for 29 years. She holds a top-secret clearance.  

The Honorable Dr. Dava Newman served as NASA Deputy Administrator (2015-2017). Nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate unanimously in April 2015. Along with the NASA Administrator, she was responsible for articulating the agency's vision,  providing overall leadership and policy direction, and representing NASA to the Executive Office of the President, Congress,  heads of federal government agencies, international space agencies, and industry. 

During NASA’s 60-year history, Dr. Newman was only the third technical Deputy Administrator, following in the footsteps of her mentors Dr. Robert Seamans and Dr. Hans Mark, and she was the third woman and first female engineer and scientist to serve in this role. During  her tenure as NASA Deputy Administrator, Dr. Newman made significant impact on NASA’s human exploration, specifically  developing and articulating the Human Journey to Mars plan, highlighting scientific missions, advocating for transformative  aeronautics capabilities, developing and implementing a strategic innovation framework, and advocating for diversity and  inclusion for NASA and the nation’s STEM initiatives by changing the conversation to include science, technology, engineering,  arts, mathematics and design, or STEAMD.  She helped realize significant annual budget increases and provided instrumental leadership of NASA’s 17,500 civil servants and over 45,000 contractors in the immediate workforce. Strategic successes included NASA being named the Best Place to Work in the US Federal Government each year, working with the White House and the Congress on the President’s Clean Transportation initiative and leading NASA’s contribution to the White House Science Ministerial focusing on arctic, earth,  ocean, and climate sciences. Dr. Newman provided leadership and oversight for all NASA partnerships, including all US and over 800 international agreements with over 120 nations. She was instrumental in working with European, Japanese, Canadian, and Russian space agencies and parliaments to extend the International Space Station agreement to 2024. 

She developed and implemented a strategic Innovation Framework (Wood, D. and Newman, D. “The Innovation Landscape within a Large Government Agency: Promising Practices from the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)”, Sept. 2016) for NASA, which served as the first comprehensive  innovation strategy for a large government agency, including best practices from across government and industry; leading  NASA’s novel public-private partnerships (PPP) with several companies to develop new launch, spacecraft, commercial cargo  and crew capabilities as examples of disruptive innovation during her tenure. NASA currently manages commercial cargo resupply services contracts with Grumman Aerospace, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), and Sierra Nevada Corporation,  and commercial crew launch contracts with SpaceX and the Boeing Company for flights to the International Space Station. She helped lead the successful effort to increase funding for commercial crew from Congress, realizing the innovative PPP approach for services, which has transformed NASA–industry business models. For the first time in over a decade NASA is now investing in blended wing body, ultra-efficient aircraft, and low-boom supersonic aircraft technologies to transform commercial aviation, which is an example of revolutionary technology innovation she prioritized. She framed and articulated enduring questions for NASA, for scientific understanding and for our human culture as  “How did our solar system originate and change over time?”, “Are we alone?”, and “Are there other habitable planets?”. Two dozen scientific spaceflight missions successfully launched during her tenure as NASA Deputy Administrator exemplify the continuous innovation that she championed.  

Dr. Newman is an exceptional leader and advocate for diversity and inclusion and made significant contributions to NASA and the nation’s science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics and design, STEAMD initiatives. She provided critical leadership in the U.S. Interagency Policy Group on Increasing Diversity in the STEM Workforce by Reducing the Impact of Bias led by the White House and U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The impactful final report entitled, “Reducing the Impact of Bias in the STEM Workforce: Strengthening Excellence and Innovation”  provides guidance for educating, advancing and diversifying a world-class STEM workforce in the Federal Government and Federally funded institutions of higher education, and for sharing lessons learned in the process (Reducing the impact of bias in the STEM workforce: Strengthening Excellence and Innovation, A Report of the Interagency Policy Group on Increasing Diversity in the STEM Workforce by Reducing the Impact of Bias; November, 2016). Under her leadership, NASA convened a MissionSTEM Summit for all NASA grantee institutions as well as leaders of all science agencies (NASA, NIH, NSF, WH OSTP, USDA, etc.) resulting in sharing best practices across government and academia as well as articulating values, responsibilities and compliance in diversity and inclusion to normalize participation by women and under-represented people to bring about excellence in our institutions. She helped oversee implementation of NASA’s anti-harassment policy and procedures resulting in a new requirements and implementation guide. Recently, she led MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics Committee on Diversity, Inclusion and Innovation strategic and implementation plans (2017–2020).  

Her research expertise is in multidisciplinary aerospace biomedical engineering investigating human performance across the spectrum of gravity. She is a leader in advanced space suit design, dynamics and control of astronaut motion, leadership development, innovation and space policy. Dr. Newman was the principal investigator on 5 spaceflight missions. The Space Shuttle Dynamic Load Sensors (DLS) experiment measured astronaut-induced disturbances of the microgravity environment on mission STS-62. An advanced system, the Enhanced Dynamic Load Sensors experiment, flew on board the Russian Mir Space Station from 1996–1998. Dr. Newman was a Co-PI on the Mental Workload and Performance Experiment (MWPE) that flew to space on STS-42 to measure astronaut mental workload and fine motor control in microgravity. She also developed the MICR0-G space flight experiment to provide a novel sensor suite and study human adaptation in extreme environments. She is the MIT PI on the Gravity Loading Countermeasure Suit, or Skinsuit, flown on the International Space Station (ISS) as an ESA technology demonstration 2015-2017, and most recently the PI on the Skinsuit experiment on ISS (2023). Best known for her second skin BioSuit™ planetary EVA system, her advanced spacesuits inventions are now being applied to “soft suits/exoskeletons” to study and enhance locomotion on Earth. She has exhibited the BioSuit™ at the American Museum of Natural History, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, Paris’ Cite des Sciences et de L’Industrie,  Chicago Museum of Science + Industry, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her latest research targets climate change by applying AI/ML/GANs to accelerate understanding and possible actions to help regenerate Earth’s oceans, land and atmosphere. Newman is the author of Interactive Aerospace Engineering and Design, an introductory engineering design textbook, has published >350 papers in journals and refereed conferences, holds numerous design and compression technology patents, and has supervised >100 graduate student theses and supervised and mentored over 200 undergraduate researchers.  

Dr. Newman currently is on the Board of the Aerospace Corporation, the SETI Institute, the Technology Advisory Group for Lockheed Martin Corporation, Center for Arts, Design + Social Research, an ISU Governing Member, among other advisory roles. She served on the National Academies’ Space Studies Board (SSB) and Executive Committee and two terms on the National Academies’ Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board (ASEB); Co-Chaired the National Academies Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space, the Academies NRC Committees on Human Support in Space, Long–Term Utilization of the International Space Station, Laying the Foundation for Space Solar Power, and Pathways to Exploration: Rationales and Approaches for a U.S. Program of Human Space Exploration, and the AIAA Guiding Coalition Committee on Accelerating Space Commerce, Exploration and New Discovery (ASCEND). She also previously served on the NASA Advisory Council Technology and Innovation Committee. She is a highly recognized speaker on the topics of Exploration, Earth Systems, Human Spaceflight, Innovation, STEAM, and Women in Leadership. 

Select Honors Include: Honorary doctorates from Dartmouth College (2022), University of Minho (2023), and the Royal College of Art (2023), named an Institute of Space Commerce Senior Fellow (2021), Society of Women Engineers 35 World’s Most Influential Women Engineers (2021), named to Seneca’s 100 Women to hear, Honored at International Women's Day with a Dr. Dava Newman Barbie space doll by Matel™ (2019), elected to the Sea Space Symposium (2019), Lowell Thomas Award–Explorer’s Club (2018), Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar (2018-19), AIAA Fellow (2018), AIAA Jeffries Aerospace Medicine and Life Sciences Research Award (2018), NASA Distinguished Service Medal (2017), Women in Aerospace Leadership Award (2017), the Aerospace Medical Association’s Henry L. Taylor Award for Outstanding Accomplishment in Aerospace Human Factors (2016-17), the University of Notre Dame College of Engineering Alumni Honor Award (2016), the AIAA National Capital Section's Barry M. Goldwater Education Award (2016), awarded Best Invention of 2007 by Time Magazine, named 100 Extraordinary Women Engineers, an AIAA Distinguished Lecturer, and received the Women in Aerospace National Aerospace Educator Award, among other honors. Newman earned her Ph.D. aerospace biomedical engineering, Master of Science degrees in aerospace engineering and technology and policy all from MIT, and her Bachelor of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Notre Dame. 

Principal Fields of Expertise
Aerospace Biomedical Engineering; Engineering Design; Earth's Systems (oceans-land-air-space); Technology & Policy; Innovation, and Leadership Development.

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Photo Credit: Andy Ryan