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John Casani, currently Special Assistant to the Director at JPL, has been a leader in the development and management of spacecraft systems for over 50 years. The majority of his career has been in systems engineering and project management. Starting in 1956 as an electronics engineer on some of the nation’s earliest spacecraft, he rose through a series of technical and management positions to Chief Engineer of the Caltech Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with broad management oversight for the Laboratory’s technical activities.
In his career at JPL he has served in engineering development roles on several early launches to Earth orbit and the Moon. He led the design teams for both the Ranger and Mariner spacecraft designs, held senior project positions in many of the Mariner missions to Mars and Venus, and was Project Manager for three major space missions at JPL: Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini. These spacecraft formed a series of cutting-edge systems that demanded continuous advancements in electronic and mechanical technology, system design and integration, software and deep space communications and operations. No less demanding were the management challenges of these multi-faceted and nationally prominent programs. From these developments have come design and management practices that are still in use today.
Since stepping down as JPL’s Chief Engineer in 1999, John Casani served in several nationally prominent committees, including leading the investigation boards of both the Mars Climate Orbiter and the Mars Polar Lander failures, and as the technical consultant to the NASA Mars Program Independent Assessment Team, which laid the basis for a revised and vigorous Mars exploration initiative. From early 2003 through 2005, Casani served as the project manager for NASA’s Prometheus Project, which was slated to be the nation’s first nuclear powered, electric propulsion spacecraft. Since 2005 Casani has been manager of the Institutional Special Projects Office at JPL.
Casani holds a B.S. degree in electrical engineering and a Doctor of Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and an Honorary Aerospace Engineering degree from the University of Rome.
He is a recipient of several NASA awards, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Exceptional Achievement Medal, and the Medal for Outstanding Leadership. In addition, Casani received the Management Improvement Award (1974) from the President of the United States for the Mariner Venus Mercury mission, the AIAA Space Systems Award (1979), the National Aerospace Club’s Astronautics Engineer Award (1981) for the direction of the Galileo project. He received the von Karman Lectureship (1990), the AAS Space Flight Award (1989), the AAS William Randolph Lovelace II Award (2005), and the Air and Space Museum Trophy for Lifetime Achievement (2009).
Casani was elected into the National Academy of Engineering (1989) for pioneering systems engineering of planetary spacecraft. He is an Honorary Fellow of the AIAA and a member of the International Astronautics Academy.