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Daniel D. Mazanek


Dan Mazanek is a Senior Space Systems Engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center.  He has over 30 years of experience in space mission and architecture formulation and in the design of human and robotic spacecraft.  He is a technical expert and a leader in the field of human and robotic missions to small planetary bodies.

Mr. Mazanek began working at NASA Langley in 1989 after graduating with honors from Virginia Tech with a B.S. degree in Aerospace Engineering.  During his first five years, he was intimately involved in redesign efforts for Space Station Freedom, which evolved into the currently operational International Space Station (ISS). 

A significant career highlight was his involvement in the Passively Aerodynamically Stabilized Magnetically Damped Satellite (PAMS) experiment.  PAMS was deployed from Space Shuttle flight STS-77 on May 22, 1996 and was the first ever experiment in the history of spaceflight to demonstrate spacecraft attitude stabilization induced solely by aerodynamics using angular rate damping provided by magnetic hysteresis rods.  The free molecular simulation software FREEMOL, which Mr. Mazanek was a principle developer of, was used to predict and numerically confirm the feasibility of spacecraft aerostabilization.

He subsequently served as the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) Lead Analyst at Langley.  During the design and development of GRACE, he provided free molecular flow regime aerothermal analysis and spacecraft design recommendations, disturbance environment characterization, attitude and orbit control system validation and verification, orbital debris analysis, and orbit lifetime estimates. After the successful launch of the twin spacecraft in 2002, GRACE provided critical and vastly improved measurements of the Earth’s gravity field.  The 15-year GRACE mission changed the way we study Earth's gravitational forces and the Earth system, including key changes in the planet's waters, ice sheets, and the solid Earth.

During the early-mid 2000s, Mr. Mazanek led an Agency-wide Broad Lunar Trade Study and served on the Expert Assessment Panel for the Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS). He then supported the Lunar Lander Preparatory Study (LLPS), where his approach to lunar architecting resulted in the innovative Descent Assisted Split Habitat (DASH) lunar lander concept.

From 2011-2017, Mr. Mazanek was instrumental in leading the agency’s efforts to develop the first-ever robotic mission to visit a large near-Earth asteroid, collect a multi-ton boulder from its surface, and redirect it into a stable orbit around the Moon by serving as the Mission Investigator for NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) and leading the development of the robotic mission option selected for implementation.  He provided valuable guidance in understanding mission risks along with identification of investigations that could be conducted during the robotic and crewed segments to increase the probability of mission success and knowledge gain from the mission. He led the ARM Formulation Assessment and Support Team (FAST) consisting of 21 members, including subject matter experts from academia, industry, NASA, and other government organizations.  During ARM formulation, he also originated the concept of an innovative planetary defense technique known as the Enhanced Gravity Tractor, which uses asteroidal material collected in-situ to augment the mass of the spacecraft, thereby greatly increasing the gravitational force imparted on the asteroid by the spacecraft.

Mr. Mazanek has led multiple study efforts to investigate sending humans beyond low-Earth orbit, including the development of a crewed asteroid mission concept in 2005.  He was also the Comet/Asteroid Protection System Study lead under NASA’s Revolutionary Aerospace Systems Concepts program in 2001-2002.  He has received a patent for the invention of the Hybrid Propellant Module, developed as part of a future modular, reusable in-space transportation infrastructure and has led cross-agency teams to develop human mission architectures and destination operations for near-Earth asteroids and the Martian moons by serving as the near-Earth asteroid Destination Lead for NASA’s Human Spaceflight Architecture Team.  Mr. Mazanek is currently helping lead NASA’s efforts to return humans to the Moon, as well as future destinations in the Solar System. 

Asteroid 11033 Mazanek (1988 SH3) was named in Mr. Mazanek’s honor on April 13, 2017 by The Planetary Systems and Bioastronomy Division of the International Astronomical Union for his development of asteroid mission concepts.

Select Awards and Recognitions
NASA's Distinguished Service Medal, 2020
NASA’s Silver Achievement Medal, 2020
NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal, 2014
Langley Research Center Director’s Award, 2014
Space Flight Committee Group Special Act Award, 2009
NASA’s Exceptional Service Medal, 2009
Lunar Lander Preparatory Study Team Center Award, 2008