Marc Rayman head shot

Marc Rayman

Chief Engineer for Mission Operations and Science, Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Marc Rayman grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and earned an A.B. in physics from Princeton University. His undergraduate work focused on astrophysics and cosmology. He received an M.S. in physics from the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he conducted investigations in nuclear physics. He then performed research at the Joint Institute for Laboratory Astrophysics (JILA) on experimental tests of special relativity and atomic and laser physics, and received his Ph.D. there. He continued at JILA as a postdoctoral researcher. Throughout his time at JILA, he worked with Dr. John Hall, who subsequently won a Nobel Prize in Physics.

Dr. Rayman combined his scientific training with his lifelong study and passion for astronomy and the exploration of space by joining JPL in 1986. His work there has spanned a broad range, including optical interferometry missions to detect planets around other stars, design of a mission to return samples from Mars, a laser altimeter for Mars, the Spitzer infrared space telescope, the development of systems to use lasers instead of radios to communicate with interplanetary spacecraft, and more. 

In 1994, he helped initiate a new NASA program to characterize highly sophisticated and risky technologies for future space science missions by flying them on dedicated test flights. The first mission of this New Millennium program, Deep Space 1, was launched in October 1998, and he worked on it from its inception in 1995 to its conclusion in 2001. During the course of the project, Dr. Rayman served as chief mission engineer, mission director, and project manager. The new technologies that were tested on DS1 (including such exotic systems as ion propulsion and artificial intelligence) were designed to reduce the cost and risk and to improve the performance of subsequent interplanetary missions. The primary mission was extremely successful and led to a very productive and exciting extension, culminating in a spectacular encounter with Comet Borrelly that yielded NASA's first close-up images of the nucleus of a comet. The spacecraft remains in orbit around the Sun.

Now he is both chief engineer and mission director on a mission that builds on DS1 to explore the two largest uncharted worlds in the inner solar system. Launched in September 2007, Dawn is designed to orbit two giants of the main asteroid belt, protoplanet Vesta and dwarf planet Ceres, in an ambitious mission that should reveal much about the dawn of the solar system. In July 2011, Dawn became the only spacecraft ever to orbit a resident of the asteroid belt. Following an spectacularly successful investigation of Vesta, it left in September 2012 for its 2015 appointment with mysterious Ceres.

Dr. Rayman is the recipient of numerous honors. His many accolades from NASA include an extraordinary three Exceptional Achievement Medals and two Outstanding Leadership Medals, which are among NASA's most selective awards. He was named a JPL Fellow, the highest technical position available, "for extraordinary technical contributions made over an extended period." He is the only person to have received both the Exceptional Technical Excellence Award and the Exceptional Leadership Award, two of JPL’s most prestigious honors. Asteroid Rayman was named in recognition of his contributions to space exploration.

Dr. Rayman is a senior advisor to Deep Space Industries, a private company planning to mine asteroids to provide valuable materials and products to help open the frontier of space. This is a goal he has embraced since his days as a student at Princeton, where Gerard O'Neill helped create a vision for such a future.

Marc is also very active in education and public outreach. He is a highly regarded and popular speaker, relating the thrill of science and the excitement of discovery, and he has appeared frequently on television and been quoted often in other news media on subjects as wide-ranging as DS1 and Dawn, a fire onboard the Mir space station, the discovery of the top quark, and the profundity of humankind’s exploration of the cosmos. His DS1 blog had an enormous following and gained critical acclaim as it provided an exceptionally entertaining and informative view into the flight of DS1, and his Dawn blog continues in the same delightful style. Marc is technical advisor and a popular writer for NASA's educational website the Space Place, where his digital alter ego Dr. Marc resides.

In addition to more than 50 technical publications in physics and engineering, he has published many articles on Apollo, Skylab, the space shuttle, piloted and robotic missions of the former USSR, interplanetary missions, and a variety of topics in astrophysics, cosmology, and space exploration for reference books, encyclopedias, magazines, and newspapers.

One of Marc's favorite hobbies is learning about the space activities of all space-faring nations. Since before the age of 10, he has been building an extensive collection of information (and memorabilia) from over 40 nations. (His extraordinary personal collection is featured in an amusing video tour geared for space buffs.)

His other hobbies include international folk dancing (he and his wife teach and dance with the Pasadena Folk Dance Co-op), photography, hiking, cross-country skiing, and other outdoor activities. Marc also holds a black belt in karate. His wife, Dr. Janice Rayman, is a brain scientist and a very experienced mountaineer. They live in La Cañada, California with their cats Milky Way and Regulus, iguana Event Horizon, tropical fish, and a large variety of fauna and flora in their pond.

Latest Articles

Dawn Journal: Final Transmission

After more than 11 years in deep space, after unveiling the two largest uncharted worlds in the inner solar system, after overcoming myriad daunting obstacles, Dawn's interplanetary adventure has come to an end.

Dawn Journal: 11 Years in Space

Dawn is celebrating its 11th anniversary of spaceflight. This is the last dawnniversary the spacecraft will see.

Dawn Journal: A Bit of Perspective

Like its human colleagues, Dawn started out on Earth, but now its permanent residence in the solar system, Ceres, is far, far away. Let's bring this cosmic landscape into perspective.

Latest Planetary Radio Appearances

Why didn’t Dawn land on dwarf planet Ceres?

The ion engine-powered Dawn spacecraft will orbit Ceres for many years. Could it have touched down on the surface of the dwarf planet?

A Planetary Mystery is Solved, and it’s Bill Nye’s Anniversary!

Former Dawn mission director Marc Rayman of JPL reveals the secrets of the bright spots on dwarf planet Ceres, and we celebrate 10 years as Planetary Society CEO with Bill Nye.

Dwarf Planet Ceres Thrills as a Dying Visitor Closes In

Ceres is the queen of the asteroid belt. Her first Earthly visitor is nearing its last days in spectacular style. Dawn Mission Director and Chief Engineer Marc Rayman returns with stunning images taken from just 35 kilometers or 22 miles above the dwarf planet, and a preview of the spacecraft’s last days.