UT Dallas Alumnus Appointed Director of U.S. Geological Survey

James Reilly in space

Dr. James F. Reilly BS’77, MS’87, PhD’95 (Courtesy photo by NASA)

The U.S. Senate recently confirmed University of Texas at Dallas alumnus and former astronaut Dr. James F. Reilly BS’77, MS’87, PhD’95 as the next director of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The Senate approved his appointment by voice vote April 9.

Created by an act of Congress in 1879, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is the only science agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior. It provides scientific information to describe and understand the Earth; minimize loss of life and property from natural disasters; manage water, biological, energy and mineral resources; and enhance and protect quality of life.

Reilly earned all of his degrees from the Department of Geosciences in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

When Reilly entered graduate school in 1977, he was selected to participate as a research scientist specializing in radiometric dating of granites as part of a scientific expedition to a little-known, inhospitable area of West Antarctica. Dr. Robert Stern, professor of geosciences who supervised part of Reilly’s master’s degree, said Reilly’s results “added significantly to our knowledge of the geology of Antarctica.”

Jim’s experiences at UT Dallas and in the geosciences department helped prepare his career path. He got a strong, broad education in the geosciences with us and also learned the importance of teamwork.

Dr. Robert Stern,
professor of geosciences

“Jim’s experiences at UT Dallas and in the geosciences department helped prepare his career path,” Stern said. “He got a strong, broad education in the geosciences with us and also learned the importance of teamwork. I’m sure his success in Antarctica also helped his confidence — that is not an easy place to work!”

Beginning in 1979, while he continued his graduate studies, Reilly was employed as an exploration geologist with two Dallas-based companies, where his work involved the search for oil and gas offshore and other areas. During this time, he used and adapted new imaging technologies for deep-water engineering projects and biological research. As part of this work, Reilly spent the equivalent of 22 days in deep submergence vehicles in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This integration of the geological with the biological and environmental aspects of his research demonstrates the commanding scientific breadth that will enable Jim to interact with the wide range of specialists represented in the USGS, and will provide insights for establishing priorities for its future research directions,” said Dr. Richard Mitterer, emeritus professor of geosciences at UT Dallas who wrote a letter in support of Reilly’s nomination to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Reilly was selected for NASA’s astronaut program in 1994, and went on his first space mission in 1998, with additional trips in 2001 and 2007. A mission specialist, Reilly spent a combined 853 hours in space, including five spacewalks lasting more than 31 hours, during which he helped assemble the International Space Station. He retired from NASA in 2008.

“Jim Reilly has worked in the three most hostile places — Antarctica, the deep sea and outer space,” said Mitterer, who has known Reilly since he was an undergraduate and supervised his doctoral research project. “He is the only human being who has traveled to, and worked in, all three of these hostile places and safely returned. Jim does not fear to go where few have gone before.

“He is an excellent scientist, a team player who interacts well with others, a proven leader and an outstanding person,” Mitterer said. “Jim will be an exceptional leader for the U.S. Geological Survey.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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