NASA administrator Parsons visits campus

Bill Parsons, deputy director of the John F. Kennedy Space Center, visited with students and delivered a Voices of Discovery lecture Monday, Nov. 6. Details...

Parsons, who will become director of the Kennedy Space Center in January, was named space shuttle program manager in May 2003, just two months after the space shuttle Columbia and its seven-member crew were lost during re-entry over Texas.

During a visit with students in Introduction to Astronomy, taught by physics professor Tony Crider, Parsons said understanding exactly what happened in the Columbia tragedy was the most important task facing NASA when he was appointed shuttle program manager.

“What we didn’t want to do was jump to conclusions,” Parsons said. “The easy thing would have been to jump to conclusions, but we wanted to be sure we got it right.”

Maintaining the morale of the shuttle program staff and engineers after the disaster wasn’t as difficult as many might have imagined, Parsons said.

“They were so committed to what they were doing, and so committed to finding out what went wrong so that it would never happen again,” Parsons said. “They were ready to do what it took to get the shuttle back in space.”

Parsons said he is learning as much as he can about the Kennedy Space Center’s mission and its priorities before assuming the director’s post in January. He also hopes to work with Congress on reducing the amount of funds earmarked by the legislative branch for specific projects that are not always in step with the Center’s mission

“We have some of the largest earmarks of any agency,” Parsons said. “If I can change anything, it would be that.” Parsons said human spaceflight, while important, has taken budgetary priority over aeronautics and scientific missions, which are also vital to fields such as medicine.

Parsons added that he is a proponent of commercialization in space and believes the involvement of private business in space is crucial to continuing important scientific experiments and studies. “We have given money to the commercial sector to develop (space) vehicles, and I would like to see that continue,” Parsons said.

Parsons was asked about the possibility of space becoming militarized in the future. “I would not like to see space militarized at all,” Parsons said. “NASA’s role is peaceful and I would like to see it stay that way,” noting that the agency has strong relationships with many countries in the exploration of space. “I would like to see us all cooperate peacefully in space. I think that would be best for our world.”

A native of Mississippi, Parsons has a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Central Florida. A former U.S. Marine, he joined NASA in 1990 as a launch site support manager at the Kennedy Space Center. In 1997, Parsons joined the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and became its director in 2005. Parsons was named deputy director of the Kennedy Space Center in January 2006.

Parsons has received numerous honors, including the Presidential Rank Award (Meritorious Executive); NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal and Distinguished Service Medal; and the Silver Snoopy, awarded by astronauts for outstanding performance in flight safety and mission success.

Parsons’ visit to Elon was part of the Voices of Discovery science speaker series, sponsored by Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences. The series invites noted scholars in science and mathematics to campus to share their knowledge and experience with students.