Carolyn R. Mercer, PhD

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Carolyn R. Mercer headshot

Carolyn Mercer is a Program Executive in the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. She leads the Small Innovative Missions for Planetery Science (SIMPLEx) program, which selects new rideshare missions to explore the solar system. She is also the founding director of the Planetary Science Exploration and Technology Office (PESTO) for the Planetary Science Division and serves as Program Officer for several technology development programs, including COLDTech and AISR:ARROW.

Previously, Carolyn served as a senior policy analyst for astrophysics in NASA’s Strategic Integration and Management Division at NASA Headquarters where she wrote documents for Congress and other NASA stakeholders explaining activities within the NASA’s Astrophysics Division. Before that, she was a project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, managing the development of numerous technologies for science missions, human exploration, and aeronautics. These technologies included large, flexible solar arrays, regenerative fuel cells, advanced batteries, integrated vehicle health management systems for aircraft, and adaptive propulsion systems. She conducted research in optical instrumentation for ground-based aerospace propulsion systems and holds two patents for phase-stepping interferometers which precisely measure solid surface shapes and fluid properties.   Her interferometers, velocimeters, and Schlieren systems have been used in the 10’x10’ supersonic wind tunnel and aeroacoustic chamber, and laboratories for studying buoyant flow, engine research, and electric ion grids at the Glenn Research Center. Carolyn also led the Optical Instrumentation Technology Branch at the Glenn Research Center, supervising engineers and scientists in the development of a range of measurement systems for ground tests and flight including neural net optical aligners, optical tweezers, quantum sensors, temperature sensitive paints, spectrometers, hyperspectral imagers, photonic sensors, and advanced electronics.

Carolyn earned her bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering at the Ohio State University, her master’s degree in physics at Cleveland State University and her doctorate at the Optical Sciences Center at the University of Arizona with thesis research focused on a novel common-path optical interferometer. Carolyn has received numerous engineering and leadership awards, including the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement – Stellar Award, the NASA Leadership Award, and the NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal.

Carolyn enjoys sailing and kite flying, and continues to match wits with hungry deer to grow healthy annuals and perennials.

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