By Kevin Kelley
James Free, a 23-year NASA veteran, will assume leadership of the John H. Glenn Research Center in January, the space agency announced Friday.
The North Olmsted resident and northern Ohio native first joined Glenn in 1999 and has been Glenn’s deputy director since January 2011.
He succeeds Ray Lugo, who will retire after 37 years with NASA. Lugo has served as Glenn’s director since July 2010, and had been deputy director for the previous three years. Lugo lived in Lakewood and Westlake during his tenure at Glenn.
NASAWatch, a blog that is often critical of the agency, hinted at Lugo’s departure in August. The blog described Lugo’s retirement as part of NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden’s efforts to make leadership changes across NASA. However, Lugo denied there was pressure for him to leave in an interview with The Plain Dealer Sunday.
Much of Lugo’s career with NASA has been at the Kennedy Space Agency in Florida, where he served as deputy program manager of the Launch Services Program.
Bolden, a former astronaut, praised both Free and Lugo in a statement.
“Jim (Free) is an outstanding leader who I know will do great things as the director of Glenn,” Bolden said. “I also want to thank Ray (Lugo) for his years of leadership and dedicated service at NASA, for a long while on the team at the Kennedy Space Center and, most recently, while guiding Glenn Research Center through a pivotal time for that center, the city of Cleveland and the nation. Ray has been a tireless leader, and we wish him and his family well.”
Free began his career at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., as a propulsion
engineer, and later became a system engineer on NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites.
“I am humbled to be selected to represent the
center’s dedicated workforce,” Free said of his
appointment. “I have been privileged to know and work for Ray all these years. I am in awe of his passion to the NASA mission, and it’s contagious.”
A graduate of St. Ignatius High School and Miami University, where he earned a degree in aeronautics, Free also holds a master’s degree in space systems engineering from Delft University in the Netherlands.
Free previously led Glenn’s Orion Project Office and Space Flight Systems programs, and served as the Orion Test and Verification manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston from 2008 through 2009. Orion is an astronaut spacecraft being developed by NASA.