For release: 10/28/02
Release #: 02-272
Jim Bilbro named NASA Marshall Center's first chief technologist
Jim Bilbro has been named assistant director for technology at the Marshall Center. In the newly created position, Bilbro will guide Marshall in finding, developing and using the latest technology in accomplishing the goals of the Center's space exploration programs.
Photo: Bilbro (NASA/MSFC)
Jim Bilbro, an engineer with more than 30 years of experience in the nation's space program, has been named assistant director for technology at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.
In the newly created position, Bilbro will guide the Marshall Center in finding, developing and using the latest technology in accomplishing the goals of Marshall's space exploration programs. He will find methods to enhance the capability of Marshall's scientists and engineers, and identify critical areas for investments.
Since 1999, Bilbro has served as special assistant to the director of the Marshall Center for space optics, working as a liaison to NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C., to achieve long-term planning goals for the Center.
A native of Kim, Colo., Bilbro sees his new position as a logical step in an evolutionary process that began with his early fascination with the space program.
"As a kid," Bilbro said, "I even kept a scrapbook of stories about the program and Dr. Wernher von Braun," the Marshall Center's first director. "But growing up on my father's cattle ranch, it was sometimes hard to imagine myself actually someday working for NASA."
Fate - or luck - intervened. One day, Bilbro, an engineering student at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, was introduced by an engineering professor to Dr. Fritz Krause, of the Marshall Center.
That introduction led to the beginning of Bilbro's NASA career, when he joined the Marshall Center as a co-op in 1968 in the Fluid Mechanics Research Office.
After earning a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering that same year, Bilbro took military leave from NASA to serve as a U.S. Army sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam.
He returned to the Marshall Center in 1971 as a research engineer, working mainly to develop the coherent laser radar which tracks aircraft wake wind spirals or vortices. Later, he began specializing in optics, especially for X-ray telescopes such as the Chandra X-ray Observatory, the world's most powerful X-ray telescope.
In 1988, Bilbro was named senior technical expert in Marshall's Optics Branch, developing lightweight optics that are less expensive to launch than traditional mirrors. In 1990, he became the Optics Branch chief. From 1993 to 1998, he served as deputy chief, and then chief, of Marshall's Optics and Radio Frequency Division. He is credited with establishing the Space Optics Manufacturing and Technology Center - a world-class facility that develops, manufactures and tests components for sophisticated optical systems for space exploration. In 1998, he was named assistant director of the Marshall Astrionics Laboratory, working on rocket guidance and control systems.
Bilbro earned a master's degree in engineering from the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 1977. He completed the doctorate of optical sciences program at University of Arizona in Tucson in 1983.
During his NASA career, Bilbro has authored or co-authored more than 70 technical papers and served on editorial boards of the trade journals Applied Optics and Optical Engineering. He was recently elected vice-president of the International Society for Optical Engineering - which has more than 15,000 members in more than 80 countries. After serving as vice-president in 2003, he will assume the role of Society president in 2004.
Recognized for his exceptional contributions to human spaceflight programs, Bilbro has received more than 60 NASA awards in his career, including the Exceptional Service Medal twice -- in 1990 and in 1998.
A 1962 graduate of Kim, Colo., High School, Bilbro grew up on a cattle ranch 15 miles north of Kim. He is the son of the late James and Thelma Bilbro. He is married to Peggy Hale Bilbro, formerly of Fort Collins, Colo. The couple has three children.
The Marshall Center is carrying out its vision of being the world leader in space transportation systems. With its rich history spanning more than four decades, Marshall remains one of NASA's largest field centers, occupying over 1,800 acres and employing more than 2,700 civil servants. More than 23,000 contractor personnel are engaged in work for the Center, which has an annual budget of more than $2.3 billion.
For more information: