Space Dynamics Lab Taps Former NASA Chief, Three USU Leaders for Board

Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Laboratory (SDL) recently appointed four new members to its Board of Trustees, including Robert Lightfoot, Jr., former Acting Administrator for NASA; Laurens (Larry) H. Smith, USU’s Interim Vice President for Research and Dean of Graduate Studies; Ken White, USU Vice President and Dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences; and Neil Abercrombie, USU Vice President for Government Relations.

“Our Board of Trustees have helped enable SDL to experience tremendous growth in terms of our capabilities, employment and revenue,” said H. Scott Hinton, President of the USU Research Foundation – SDL’s parent organization. “The addition of Robert, Larry, Ken and Neil strengthens our current bench of academic and industry leaders who will help guide SDL through unprecedented growth and provide strategic direction.”

SDL works with the U.S. Department of Defense and industry in defending and protecting our nation as well as supporting NASA’s vision to reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind. More than 700 dedicated engineers, scientists, technicians, and business professionals work at SDL to provide powerful remote and in situ sensing capabilities, with an emphasis in electro-optical sensing in the near ultra violet to far infrared, as well as data gathering and analysis tools for the intelligence communities and all branches of the military.

“For nearly 60 years, SDL has been solving the technical challenges faced by NASA and the military, intelligence and science communities, and I’m honored to have been asked to serve this storied lab,” Lightfoot said. “For NASA, SDL has contributed significantly to understanding space and our place in it by building space-based cameras that have become the eyes to some of our most important missions.”

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Lightfoot is president of LSINC Corporation. He is responsible for leading innovative strategy assurance and product development to help clients achieve mission success. Lightfoot is the former acting administrator of NASA. His permanent position at NASA headquarters was associate administrator, the agency’s highest-ranking civil service position. He previously was director of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL, one of NASA’s largest field installations, which plays a critical role in NASA’s space operations, exploration and science missions. He spent much of his Marshall career in the rocket engine testing and space shuttle propulsion office. He also served as director of the Propulsion Test Directorate at NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. After Stennis, he spent two years at NASA headquarters focusing on strategies for the space shuttle return to flight following the Columbia tragedy, then the initial transition and retirement efforts for shuttle infrastructure.

White is currently vice president for USU Extension, dean of the College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences, and director of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station at USU. He received his bachelor’s in animal science from Brigham Young University in 1979, his master’s in animal science and a doctorate in physiology from the University of California, Davis in 1982 and 1986, respectively. He has been actively involved in directing a competitive research program throughout his 32-year academic career, including a new U.S. Department of Agriculture/National Institute of Food and Agriculture award in 2017. As an independent researcher, he has generated over $15.5 million in extramural funding to support research in animal reproduction and embryonic development. Under his leadership, the USU College of Agriculture and Applied Sciences has experienced double-digit growth in students and is at an all-time high in total number of students and scholarships awarded.

Smith became interim vice president of Research and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at USU in August of this year. He has worked at USU in administrative roles since 2003, including serving as the interim dean of the School of Graduate Studies from 2004 to 2006. He served in the Provost’s office for 12 years and recently completed a 19-month period as interim provost. Smith’s academic background is in physiology and cell science. He earned a bachelor’s in biology at Eastern Connecticut State College, a master’s in physiology at the University of Kansas and a doctorate in physiology at the University of Maryland. After several years of postdoctoral work at medical schools and research institutes in the Eastern U.S., Smith began his faculty career at Idaho State University in 1989. While there, he led efforts to improve the teaching and research environment in cell and molecular science and was the founding director of the Molecular Research Core Facility

As vice president for Government Relations for USU, Abercrombie works closely with Utah’s congressional delegation, state legislature and local governments advocating for USU and higher education. Abercrombie is also the director of USU’s Institute of Government and Politics, which provides both internship and political engagement opportunities for students across campus. He currently teaches courses of higher education law and policy and careers in government at USU; he has also taught public budgeting as an adjunct professor at the University of Utah.

With its headquarters in North Logan, SDL has offices in Albuquerque, NM; Bedford, MA; Dayton, OH; Huntsville, AL; Houston, TX; Los Angeles, CA; and Washington, DC. As a University Affiliated Research Center, SDL serves as a trusted agent of the U.S. Government and a strategic Department of Defense research center. Last year, research projects awarded to SDL valued more than $100 million. SDL is growing and is currently hiring more than 50 engineers, technicians and business professionals to add to the current workforce of over 700 people. Visit for more information.

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