Thomas Zurbuchen: Where is the NASA Executive Now?

If there’s one thing nobody can deny, it’s that Thomas Zurbuchen has been partly responsible for the success of not just the James Webb Space Telescope but also many other NASA projects. After all, as evidenced in Netflix’s ‘Unknown: Cosmic Time Machine,’ he served as their Head of Science Programs for years and thus always did what was necessary to make things work. So now, if you simply wish to learn more about him —with a focus on his background, his career trajectory, his evident passions, as well as his present standing— we’ve got the details for you.

Who is Thomas Zurbuchen?

It was reportedly back when Switzerland native Thomas was growing up as the child of a Free Church preacher that he developed an interest in STEM, only for it to expand as the years passed. He thus attended both school and university against his parents’ wishes, from where he ultimately earned a primary diploma, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. in Physics, with a minor in math. Then, a mere two weeks upon completing his studies, this former Consultant for Contraves (1992-1994) turned proud University of Bern graduate (1987-1996) relocated to the US for good.

Thomas, or Dr. Z, subsequently landed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as a Research Fellow, just to gradually rise the ranks until he evolved into a full professor in the fall of 2003. Though the astrophysicist didn’t stop here, he actually expanded his wings in the business field too — in fact, he eventually held the title of Senior Counselor for Entrepreneurship (2013-2015). Moreover, he became a Board Member for several organizations, including Mobile Sign Language Systems (2007-2010), The Universities Space Research Association (2007-2012), and Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies (2007-2012).

As if that’s not enough, Thomas was even an Advisor to the Leadership Team at the Zürich-based D One consultancy (2011-2016), plus a Trutee at Northern Michigan University (2013-2016). This was reportedly around the same time the Swiss locally established his own business strategy consulting company ZTrandsform, only to completely shut it down upon landing a spot at NASA. The truth is he even gave up his position as a professor at the University of Michigan, his Board of Member title at Shift (2014-2016), plus his job as a Talent Acquisition Specialist at eLab Ventures (2014-2016) to join the space program as Associate Administrator.

Thomas Zurbuchen Has Evolved Into a Public Speaker Today

It was actually in October 2016 when Thomas “Dr. Z” Zurbuchen arrived at NASA’s headquarters in Washington DC, where he immediately proved he deserved to be there as an executive thanks to his passion for exploration, innovation, and entrepreneurial supervision. Hence it’s no surprise he crossed the milestone of their longest continually serving Head of Science with six years under his belt before announcing his retirement effective December 31, 2022. Within this period, the astrophysicist admittedly proudly oversaw 37 launches and kickstarted 55 new missions, but arguably his biggest achievement was the James Webb Space Telescope.

Therefore, today, the mid-50-year-old family man is simply searching for his next true calling while continuing with his intense exploration and innovative ways as a resident of Park City, Utah. Yet apart from reflecting on both his incredible past as well as the possible future, Thomas has also evolved into a public speaker — his topics range from leadership to research to space. In other words, the astrophysicist is gradually finding the perfect balance between all aspects of life these days, and as he said in his Instagram post above, he’s “excited to continue to figure out what is next and to spend more time in nature!”

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