The National Air and Space Museum welcomed Dr. Ellen Stofan as its new director on April 30. She will be the first woman to ever hold the prestigious post.

What Inspired Her To Become A Scientist

Stofan was born in 1962 in Oberlin, Ohio. Her mother was a science teacher, and her father was a rocket engineer for NASA. At age 4, Stofan attended her first rocket launch.

Growing up around science inspired Stofan to become a geologist at age 9.

"As a kid, picking up rocks and being fascinated by the natural world was just something that I did," she said in a YouTube video. "You could read layers of rocks like pages in a history book."

At age 14, Stofan attended a speech by astronomer Carl Sagan about space exploration. She credits this event as the catalyst for encouraging her to study space science.

"Carl Sagan started talking about why we were exploring Mars — the fact that Mars had this history of water; that potentially life could have evolved on Mars," Stofan told NPR. "I heard that speech and thought, 'that's what I want to do.'"

Her Career

After getting her masters and doctorate degrees from Brown University, Stofan worked for NASA. She combined her passion for space science and geology by studying rocks from Venus, Mars, and Saturn's moon, Titan.

Throughout her career at NASA, she held numerous posts. She was the chief scientist who worked on the New Millennium Project, and she worked on the Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn. Stofan primarily worked as the principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Stofan resigned from NASA in 2016. She has also written numerous books and papers about space science.

While at NASA, Stofan was often one of the few female scientists to work on numerous projects.

"I've spent my entire career being one of the few women in the room," she told NPR.

Inspiring The Next Generation

Stofan is taking over as Director of the National Air and Space Museum while the facility is undergoing important renovations. She wants to use her new role to inspire the next generation of children to get interested in science.

"When I think about watching kids come through the door, my dream for them is that they will be inspired the way that I was," she said. "Someone from their generation that will be the first person to step onto the surface of Mars. That's incredibly exciting to me."

Stofan said that she also wants the museum to highlight the important contributions of female scientists and minorities who have been often overlooked in the field of science.

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