Who Is Ellen Stofan? The National Air & Space Museum's First Woman Director Has A Bigger Mission

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If you're an astrophile or just someone who appreciates an impressive museum dedicated to understanding the complex nature of the skies above us, you might have heard about the new director for the National Air and Space Museum: Ellen Stofan, a science lover and firm believer of bringing more girls into STEM. On April 30, she officially became the first woman to direct the Smithsonian Institution's spatial and aviation museum.

The museum, which saw 30 million visitors in 2017 according to the Smithsonian Newsdesk, explores the dazzling worlds of aviation, astrophysics, geology, and much more. Now, Stofan will be the very first woman in history to direct the museum. On Monday, NPR published an interview with Stofan about her new role and her interest in science.

"When I decided at age nine or 10 that I wanted to be a geologist, everybody encouraged me," Stofan told NPR. "I think having that strong base of encouragement made me feel like a STEM career was possible."

In a recent interview with CNET, Stofan said that STEM, as a field, needed more diversity or it would risk losing valuable talent. "It's about what talent are we leaving behind? Are we missing the next Einstein, the person who is going to deal with climate change, because they're an African-American boy or a young girl somewhere who is told girls don't do science?" she said.

"That's what I worry about," Stofan told CNET. "It's that talent that we're losing." She also said that the National Air and Space Museum should add more stories about people of color contributing to planetary science and aviation. "Some of those stories are already told in the museum, but I think we could tell more," Stofan told CNET.

Being the dedicated astrophile she was, Stofan also got to meet the legendary astronomer Carl Sagan, according to her NPR interview. At the time, Stofan was 14 and that was when she decided she wanted to understand planetary science better.

"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.'" The NPR interview also noted that Stofan already came from a household where the science of heavenly bodies was appreciated and studied; Stofan's father was a NASA rocket scientist and her mother taught science.

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In the CNET interview, Stofan shared her future plans as the new director of the National Air and Space Museum. "The building downtown on the National Mall has a lot of issues. The stone on the outside needs to be replaced, there is a lot of basic wear and tear that needs to be taken care of. That will begin this summer. We're going to take this opportunity to renovate and update all of the galleries," Stofan said.

There is also some good news for museum lovers; Stofan said that the National Air and Space Museum would remain open during renovation. Here's how it'll work, according to Stofan. "We'll do half the building and then the other half and the half that isn't being worked on will remain open," Stofan said.

As the new director of the National Air and Space Museum, you can expect Stofan's expertise on a variety of planets (who also loves Star Trek). According to the interim director of the museum, Christopher Browne, Stofan is knowledgeable about "Venus, Mars, Saturn’s moon Titan, and Earth." And if you're curious to know her favorite spatial mission, the new director of the National Air and Space Museum reserves a special place in her heart for the gorgeous Saturnian expedition called Cassini.