Iranian scientist Firouz Michael Naderi worked for more than 30 years in a variety of managerial and technical capacities at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), where he made a significant contribution to some of the most well-known robotic space missions in the United States. He left NASA in 2016 and is now a public speaker, business consultant, and counselor to emerging high-tech firms.
He received his early schooling in Shiraz, Iran, the city where he was born. Before departing Iran in 1964 to continue his university studies in the United States, he completed his high school education at the Don Bosco Boarding School in Tehran, an Italian boarding school. He graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree before relocating to California in 1969. He obtained a Master of Science from the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles after working as an engineer in Santa Barbara for two years. doctoral degree in 1972. Both graduated with a major in electrical engineering in 1976. After completing his education, he spent three years in Iran returning to work for the Iranian Remote Sensing Agency. Following the Iranian Revolution in July 1979, he left Iran and returned to the United States. Since then, he hasn’t been back to Iran.
In September 1979, he began working as a Communications Systems Engineer at NASA JPL. Over the course of his 30-year career, he advanced through the ranks. Systems engineering, technology development, program and program management for planetary systems, astrophysical observatories, Earth remote sensing observatories, and satellite communication systems have all been a part of his career at JPL.
His early JPL work entailed designing big satellite systems for all of the country’s cellular coverage. He worked as the program manager on the Advanced Communications Technology Satellite (ACTS), the peak of today’s multibeam commercial space-switching satellites, for two years at NASA headquarters in the middle of the 1980s. The NASA Scatterometer (NSCAT) project, which intends to collect space-based radar measurements of wind over the world’s oceans and use them for weather forecasting, hired him as its program manager once he returned to JPL. For overseeing the program, he received the NASA Distinguished Leadership Medal. After NSCAT, he oversaw NASA’s ambitious and technologically advanced Origins program, which sought out Earth-like planets in other planetary systems.
He was appointed manager of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program in April 2000 after the organization experienced two consecutive high-profile disasters the year before. He contributed to the program’s restructuring in the summer of 2000, turning it into a series of missions focused on science, technology, and operations, with spacecraft being sent to Mars every two years. For the following five years, under his direction, the program saw the successful landings of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. According to a roadmap developed in the summer of 2000, the United States launched a total of six successful missions to Mars between 2000 and 2012 (four landers and two orbiters). He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, the agency’s highest accolade, for overseeing the Mars program.