Since the resignation/retirement of Dr. Deborah Barnhart in December of 2019, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center has been operating without a permanent CEO during the most difficult year in center history. However, at the annual meeting of the Alabama Space Science Exhibit Commission (ASSEC) on Friday, November 6th, the commission was briefed on the two finalists for the CEO position. After a lengthy and detailed discussion about the finalists, Dr. Kimberly Robinson was phoned with an offer for the position.
According to sources close to the space center, the initial offer was significantly lower than what had been advertised for the CEO position. That advertisement listed the salary between $230k – 250k, which was comparable to the $237k that Barnhart started receiving in 2017. With contractual salary increases by 5% annually unless the commission gave a negative performance review. However, because of the 2020 pandemic, the offer to Robinson was significantly less than what was advertised. At some point, the commission stopped discussions with Robinson and contacted the other finalist, Alex Hall, former Executive Director of the Chabot Space Center, in California.
However, in a recent follow-up commission meeting, ASSEC Chair Joe Newberry reported to ASSEC that Robinson had counteroffer and asked the commission to review. The commission went into a 45-minute executive session to “discuss the good name and moral character of the finalists” and extended that session an additional 35 minutes. At the end of the session, the commission resumed the public meeting and voted on the motion to resume negotiations with Robinson. It is important to note while a majority voted to continue negotiations with Robinson, some of the longest-serving commission members voted against the motion.*
Dr. Robinson currently serves as the Secondary Payloads Manager for the Space Launch System. She has spent over thirty years working at NASA in various roles from starting her career as a Project Engineer at the Propulsion Laboratory, Flight Controller in the Mission Operations Laboratory to various project manager roles. Her work at NASA has resulted in numerous commendations for her performance and achievements including a Silver Snoopy Award, and the Special Service Award for excellent leadership in developing and implementing a plan for an Ascent Development Test Flight.
Dr. Robinson earned her bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University in Mechanical Engineering in 1989. She received her master’s degree from the University of Alabama at Huntsville in Industrial and Systems Engineering in 1999 and later a doctorate in Engineering Management and Systems Engineering
Robinson comes to the space center during turbulent times. COVID-19 has caused severe interruptions to what many had expected to be one of the most successful years on record. With the timing of COVID-19 hitting just before the busy summer season, the center has suffered a major financial crunch. Those finance issues have led to ongoing major cuts in staff resulting in a barebones operation.
*Because the virtual roll call was a bit hard to follow, I asked the center to clarify who voted to not continue negotiations. The request was denied and I was informed I would have to wait until the minutes were approved at the next ASSEC meeting in February to obtain a clear idea who voted for what.
In the coming days, Sprocketeers will request a final copy of Dr. Robinson’s contract via the Alabama Open Records Act and will post it for review. Additional information about the search process and other finalist will also be forthcoming in future posts as well.
Wes is a two time Space Camp graduate and space enthusiast with a love of North Alabama. When he isn't busy being a dad he enjoys travel, volunteering and working his life away. All comments are my own.