Alicia Dwyer-Cianciolo recipient of prestigious NASA Outstanding Leader Medal in May

Alicia Dwyer Cianciolo

Alicia Dwyer Cianciolo (middle) accepts the NASA Outstanding Leader Medal from the Langley Research Center Director Clayton Turner (left) and Deputy Director, David Young (right). Credit: NASA, Mark Knopp.


Alicia Dwyer Cianciolo was awarded NASA Outstanding Leader Medal on May 22, 2022, for outstanding leadership in determining the agency’s reference vehicle system for landing humans on Mars.

From 2015 through 2018, Ms. Dwyer Cianciolo provided superior cross-agency leadership developing the reference vehicle system and concept of operations for landing humans on Mars through her conceptualization and then leadership of Space Technology Mission Directorate’s (STMD) Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) Architecture Study (EDL-AS).

As a result of the generation of the Mars Design Reference Architecture 5.0 (DRA5) in 2009, the agency recognized the need to define more detailed EDL concepts of operation for landing humans on Mars. From 2009 through 2011, a cross-agency project, which Ms. Dwyer Cianciolo was a member of, was formed to assess several Mars EDL options. However, after completion of the project, agency Mars architecture studies gradually increased in design fidelity and identified more precise landing requirements. Ms. Dwyer Cianciolo observed this progression and approached management suggesting that a more focused EDL study be completed to down-select to a couple of candidate concepts for future agency EDL vehicle development. In conjunction with the STMD EDL Principal Technologist, Ms. Dwyer Cianciolo successfully advocated for and was appointed the lead of the EDL-AS project, which started in fiscal year 2015 and was the STMD director’s highest priority project at the time.

In leading the EDL-AS effort, Ms. Dwyer Cianciolo assembled a team of 30 individuals from five agency centers. Starting with the results from the previous systems study, the team focused on four candidate concepts. Despite her personal reservations on the viability of two of the concepts, Ms. Dwyer Cianciolo took an open and inclusive approach and allowed all four of the concepts to remain as candidates for further study. In fact, her leadership philosophy throughout the project was to always include all options that team members wanted to consider and held technical interchange meetings (TIMs) to draw out merits and disadvantages of those options. In doing so team members felt that their ideas were seriously addressed. For the complete story turn to this weeks Elgin Review.