UCF is launching a national search for the next director of the Florida Space Institute.

Ray Lugo ’79, who has led the UCF-based institute for the past eight years, is leaving to become president and chief operating officer at the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space. The nonprofit manages all operations aboard the International Space Station. The industrial engineering alum’s last day at UCF is Oct. 29.

“We hate to lose Ray, but we know he will bring the expertise he’s shown UCF to the ISS, which is a win for space research worldwide,” says Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president for Research and dean of the College of Graduate Studies. “We wish him well on his next adventure and will move quickly, but carefully to find FSI’s next director.”

FSI is a valuable partner in space research at UCF and throughout Florida as a State University System institute. In 2021, FSI led the university in generating $44 million in grant and contract awards. FSI’s 23 researchers and affiliated faculty are working on an array of projects, from those supporting NASA’s Artemis mission to several with private industry that are pioneering new techniques and equipment to advance space exploration.

FSI’s Deputy Director Julie Brisset, who joined the institute in 2016, will serve as interim director until a new director is named. Brisset is leading several projects for NASA and private industry. She has a doctorate in physics from University of Braunschweig in Germany and a master’s in aeronautics and space engineering from University of Munich. She was named a Luminary Award recipient in 2018 and has been recognized for mentoring students.

UCF Pegasus Professor Joshua Colwell, former deputy director of the center who became chair of the physics department this past spring, will lead the search committee.

The committee will be comprised of representatives from FSI, the broader UCF community and other stakeholders such as industry partners. The committee will make recommendations to Klonoff, who expects to name a new director in early 2022.

“I have had the great honor of serving the university that set me forth on this journey,” Lugo says. “UCF/FSI is well positioned to continue its ascension to lead a space mission. I’ll miss UCF/FSI, but I am sure our paths will cross sooner rather than later.”

FSI supports space research, development, and education activities. The institute also support the development of Florida’s space economy — civil, defense, and commercial. Since 1996, FSI has been an institute of the State University System of Florida. FSI is made up of researchers, educators and staff from member universities in Florida. FSI research ranges from studying the Earth’s upper atmosphere to the origin of the planets and from the workings of asteroids to propulsion technologies for high-Mach aerospace vehicles. FSI administratively houses the Florida Space Grant Consortium (FSGC) for NASA and operates the Space Research Initiative (SRI) for the State of Florida.