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Ed Reynolds

Ed Reynolds with his Academy of Engineering Excellence award.

B.S., Electrical Engineering, 1985
Induction year: 2024

Ed Reynolds ‘85 has made significant strides in space exploration throughout his career at NASA. His academic journey began with an intention to major in mechanical engineering, but a chance encounter led him to switch to electrical engineering, aligning better with his interests.

Reynolds’ fascination with space guided his professional choices. His career-defining moment came in 1990 when he, as a system engineer for the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) team, competed against the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) team for a mission to rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid. Despite JPL’s dominance in deep space missions, APL’s innovative, cost-effective approach won the mission.

Reynolds was among the four presenters from APL. Since then, APL has undertaken NASA missions to Mercury (MESSENGER), Pluto (New Horizons), and the Sun (STEREO and Parker Solar Probe), with Reynolds playing a pivotal role in these endeavors.

The successful execution of the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) mission, including landing on the asteroid Eros, marked a significant milestone for APL and a proud moment for Reynolds. He has since played a pivotal role at NASA for the past 20 years, including missions to Mercury, Pluto, and the Sun.

Notable achievements in Reynolds’ career include being named TIME Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in 2023, having an asteroid named after him, and winning numerous group awards for his work with NASA.

Current town: 
Ellicott City, Maryland

Woodbridge, Virginia

Professional roles:

  • Project Manager, NASA Missions, 2003-Present
  • Spacecraft Engineer and Mission System Engineer, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, 1994-2003
  • Spacecraft Integration and Test Engineer, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, 1985-1993

Professional awards:

  • Asteroid (33486) 1999GN8 renamed ‘Edreynolds’ by IAU Naming Committee, 2023
  • TIME100, TIME Magazine 100 Most Influential People, 2023
  • Inductee, Beta Gamma Sigma Business School Honor Society, 2013
  • GW Excellence Award, George Washington University Project Management Program, 2013

Group awards:

  • Michael Collins National Air and Space Museum Trophy, Smithsonian Institution for the Double Asteroid Redirection Team, 2024
  • Space Foundation's Space Achievement Award to NASA's Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Team, 2023
  • American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Award for Aerospace for the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, 2023
  • Various NASA Group Achievement Awards for NEAR, GRAIL, Van Allen Probes, STEREO

Volunteer roles:

  • National Research Council (NRC) Planetary Science Decadal Survey: Primitive Bodies Panel, 2010

Why did you decide to come to Virginia Tech?
Virginia Tech has a strong engineering program, and the in-state tuition made my education possible.

How did you decide what to major in at Virginia Tech?
At the end of my first year, I originally wanted to be a mechanical engineer and was on my way to drop my folder off at the mechanical engineering department. Halfway across the Drillfield, I ran into a friend on her way to drop her folder off at the electrical engineering department. I really valued this friendship and didn't want it to diminish so I went with her. The rest is history. Looking back, I am glad about this choice, as it was a better fit for me.

What's one of your favorite memories from Virginia Tech?
I remember the natural beauty of the campus and the surrounding area. Academics can be stressful, especially around exam time. I could always center myself by walking to the Duck Pond or running out to the airport.

What led you to your chosen profession?
I have always been fascinated by space and wanted to be a part of its exploration.

What was the moment in your career that you felt like you made it - that you were really proud of yourself for what you had accomplished?
That moment was in 1990 when our team from the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) went head-to-head against a team from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in a competition for a mission to be the first spacecraft to rendezvous with a near-Earth asteroid. Until that moment, JPL had dominated deep space missions for NASA, which was looking for a mission that was low in cost but high in science return. I was the system engineer for the APL team. We designed our concept from scratch, as APL did not have legacy experience in deep space as JPL did. We tried to keep the concept as simple as we could. JPL had a significant heritage and looked like the easy winner. 

The moment came when both teams had to present their designs, approaches, and costs to the NASA associate administrator. The stakes were high for both APL and JPL. APL had four presenters: one for project management, one for science, one for trajectory design, and I presented the technical design. Our presentation went smoothly and we survived the Q&A with strong, concise answers. We had a point design with good margins and real cost quotes from vendors. JPL's presentation was more of a study of parametrics, without a design. In the end, our approach was one-third of JPL's and met NASA's requirements. 

We were awarded the mission, the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR). We executed the mission successfully and even landed on the asteroid Eros at the end. Since that moment, APL has done NASA missions to Mercury (MESSENGER), Pluto (New Horizons), and even the Sun (STEREO and Parker Solar Probe). For APL, deep space started with NEAR and I am proud to be a part of it. 

Please note: Inductee spotlight is as of the year of their induction.