Former CSR Director Dr. Michael Watkins Elected to AIAA Fellow

Alumnus Michael Watkins Elected to AIAA Fellow

Photo fo Dr. Michael Watkins
Alumnus Michael Watkins, who has been elected a Fellow member of AIAA, is also member of the ASE/EM Academy of Distinguished Alumni. Photo credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Alumnus Michael Watkins has been elected to the title of Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) for notable and valuable contributions to the aerospace engineering community. AIAA is the world’s largest aerospace technical society that brings together industry, academia and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space and defense. Only one AIAA member for every 1,000 members is elected an esteemed Fellow each year by the institute’s board of trustees, making this one of the highest forms of recognition among aerospace professionals.

Since July 1, 2016, Watkins has been serving as the director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where he also serves as a vice president and professor of aerospace and geophysics at the California Institute of Technology. From 2015-16 he spent a year at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) as a professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics and the director of the Center for Space Research (CSR).

During his JPL career, Watkins has led some of NASA’s most high-profile missions, including the Mars Curiosity Rover’s operations, the Cassini, Mars Odyssey and Deep Impact probes. He also led the science development for the GRAIL moon-mapping satellites and served as manager of the Science Division and chief scientist for the Engineering and Science Directorate at JPL.

Watkins has a long history of collaborative research with CSR at UT Austin where he has worked on internationally recognized satellite projects such as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), the GRACE Follow-on mission and TOPEX/Poseidon.

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 earned his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees in aerospace engineering from UT Austin and is a member of the inaugural class of the UT Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics Academy of Distinguished Alumni.

Watkins will be inducted and recognized as an AIAA Fellow member during a banquet and gala in Washington, D.C. this May.