Goddard CIO: A computer whiz with a human touch

Linda Wilbanks has never liked to fly, so it's good that her job at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center keeps her grounded on earth.

As the center's acting chief information officer, her job is to make the systems hum for a host of satellites, including the Hubble Space Telescope, and to oversee anything and everything that involves security at the dynamic facility.

"My job is to make sure they have the [information technology] to do the missions they need in a safe and secure environment," Wilbanks said.

She must handle some of the most delicate and complex instruments that NASA officials use for projects that, for example, monitor natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes and fires from space. Her IT budget is more than $400 million a year.

"The work that really interests me is the work we've done from space looking at Earth, the advances in weather forecasting, the benefits we can have from looking down from space," Wilbanks said.

She said she is in awe of the advanced technologies that allow people to travel to space, guide satellites thousands of miles away and support astronauts on the International Space Station.

"Where are we going in space?" she asked rhetorically. "We're definitely going to be living on the moon, moving on to many other planets." But NASA's mission includes more than space exploration, she said. Scientists also seek to learn more about Earth.

The plan to return Americans to the moon and to service the Hubble telescope will use robotics, Wilbanks said. "The benefit to people here on Earth will be huge," she said. "More and more surgery uses robotics. And what we are learning and creating to go into outer space will benefit us here."

Wilbanks' lifelong love of learning supports her vision for the future. Her academic achievements include earning a doctorate in computer science from the University of Maryland, and teaching advanced software engineering there and Towson University. In addition, she has served as Goddard's chief scientist for software assurance and has worked for Unisys Corp.'s Federal Systems Group. Wilbanks is also good at slashing through bureaucratic red tape, her colleagues say.

"Linda shows great dedication to preventing IT regulatory and oversight requirements from getting in the way of doing the core science and engineering missions of the Goddard Space Flight Center," said Paul Hunter, deputy CIO at the center.

Sometimes the highest-ranking woman in a meeting and often the only one, Wilbanks believes more opportunities will emerge for women in the scientific arena.

"NASA is very equitable to females and people of all races," she said. "I have

never felt any problems here at Goddard. I'm a very strong-willed person. When someone throws a roadblock in my way, I work harder to get past it. I have never liked anyone telling me I couldn't do" something.

Wilbanks can leap past these hurdles, but don't ask her to board an airplane — she gets airsick.

***

The Linda Wilbanks file

Job: Acting chief information

officer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

Education: Doctorate in computer science from the University of Maryland; master of engineering science in computer science from Loyola College; bachelor of arts in mathematics from Towson University.

Age: 52.

Personal: A widow with two grown children, Wilbanks met her second husband, Michael, through an Internet dating service. They've been married for a year.

Quote: "My sister pushed me into Internet dating. I had a lot of trepidation. [Michael and I] talked on the phone. He had the qualities I was looking for, someone who loved his children as much as I loved mine, yet someone who was not as intimidating as me. I needed someone who could appreciate what I had accomplished."

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