Jim Ratti, '82
Roberta Ewart - USSF Chief Scientist
I had a nice conversation with Dr. Roberta Ewart in mid January 2022. She sent me an e-mail on another subject earlier that month and I noticed the title in her signature block (chief scientist) and a U.S. Space Force e-mail address. As a long-time believer that there would eventually be a separate space force (my class ring is inscribed with "The Sky is NOT the Limit") I had to know more about what she does and how she got to that position. We arranged a phone call the next day and I spoke to her for about 30 minutes between meetings.
By way of background, Roberta is a distinguished USAFA graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics. She was awarded the Air Force's first ever Marshall Scholarship to Oxford University, United Kingdom, and there earned a Bachelor in Physics and Philosophy in 1985. She went on to obtain a Master of Arts in Physics and Philosophy from Oxford in 1990. She also holds a Master of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from the University Colorado and a Doctor of Engineering degree from Stanford.
During her active duty career, she was a shuttle flight controller for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Houston, and a Global Positioning System Mission controller in Colorado Springs. She also served as an ROTC assistant professor aerospace studies at Ohio State University, and worked at the Air Force Research Laboratory.
Roberta had been at the Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) for about 23 years, eventually becoming SMC's chief Scientist in 2006. Then when the United States Space Force (USSF) became a reality in 2019, her position transferred to the new service along with pretty much everything else in SMC. She describes her job as "fun", stressing that in USSF's world, it's critical for cyber, space operations and technology to work together seamlessly. Innovation and out of the box thinking are rewarded.
She told me that her job is to "work for the PEO (Program Executive Officer) after next", looking out 7-10 years to determine what technology needs to be in the pipeline now to meet the needs of the future. There's a lot of emphasis on space logistics, maneuver, and on-orbit service. She noted that we have a "pacing adversary" that's very good at what they do, so keeping a technological edge is both challenging and critical.
She said that being a charter member of a new military service has certainly been challenging, but very rewarding. While they had a strong SMC legacy upon which to draw, much of the policy and process was built with a "clean sheet" philosophy. It's a very exciting time to be in the USSF. Their work will determine the course of events in space for decades.
I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation and look forward to hearing more about how the USSF develops.