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Joan Higginbotham,
Board of Trustees Member

The Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Board of Trustees are national industry leaders who are passionate about the Foundation’s mission to aid the United States in retaining its world leadership in technology and innovation by supporting the very best and brightest scholars in science, technology, engineering and mathematics while commemorating the legacy of America’s pioneering astronauts.

Joan Higginbotham

Joan Higginbotham is an electrical engineer, rocket scientist and retired astronaut, who holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, a Master of Science Degree in Management from the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), and a Master of Science Degree in Space Systems from FIT. She spent 35 years working with Fortune 500 companies in the aerospace, energy, and retail sectors.

She began her career in 1987, at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, and became the lead for the Orbiter Experiments (OEX) on OV-102, space shuttle Columbia. Higginbotham then served as backup Orbiter Project Engineer (OPE) for OV-104, Space Shuttle Atlantis, where she participated in the integration of the orbiter docking station (ODS) into the space shuttle used during Shuttle/Mir docking missions. She was then appointed Lead, OPE for space shuttle Columbia. In this position, she held the technical lead government engineering position in the firing room where she supported and managed the integration of vehicle testing and troubleshooting. She actively participated in 53 space shuttle launches during her 9-year tenure at Kennedy Space Center.

Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in April 1996, Joan was assigned to STS-116, Discovery, which launched on December 9, 2006. The nearly 13-day mission continued construction of the ISS outpost by adding the P5 spacer truss segment. Higginbotham’s primary task was to operate the Space Station robotic arm. With Joan as the ‘loadmaster’, Discovery delivered a new crew member and transferred more than two tons of equipment and supplies to the station. After a 20-year career with NASA, she retired to pursue activities in the private sector.

In December 2007, Joan joined Marathon Oil Company serving in a variety of roles, including leading a project to develop a multi-year budget and timeline to implement the arc flash analysis for the company’s domestic and international assets. She was then assigned as the Manager of the Corporate Social Responsibility Office where she managed the Bioko Island Malaria Control Project (BIMCP) in Equatorial Guinea, Africa.

Joan joined Lowe’s Companies, Inc., in October 2011, serving in a variety of roles of increasing responsibility; first as Director of Community Relations, where she led the efforts to support communities in the US, Canada and Mexico through corporate contributions totaling more than $32 million annually. As Director of Supplier Diversity, she identified and developed the capability of high potential small and diverse suppliers, matching them with the sourcing and merchandising teams. Finally, as Director of Global Sourcing, she provided collaborative leadership and strategic direction for growing Lowe’s Global Sourcing (LGS) export opportunities in key, emerging countries.

Ms. Higginbotham joined UTC Aerospace Systems on October 2, 2017, as Director of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), focusing on creating a stronger CSR identity that delivered social impact in key markets around the world. She was then assigned to the Customer and Account Management function where she managed the relationships with governmental agencies and companies involved in human space exploration. Later she transitioned to a new role as Director of Open Innovation where she sourced new and innovative technology both internally and externally, to meet current technology gaps and future technology needs.

In 2022, Joan stepped out on faith and opened an aerospace consulting firm, Joan Higginbotham Ad Astra, where she serves as President and CEO.

Ms. Higginbotham has received numerous awards including: World Who's Who of Women, Charlotte's (NC) 50 Most Influential Women, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, Savoy Magazine's Top Influential Women in Corporate America and she appeared in Alicia Key’s Superwoman video. She has been conferred with an Honorary Doctorate in Aerospace Science from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, her alma mater, and an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities from the University of New Orleans. Ms. Higginbotham resides in Charlotte, NC, and is married to the Honorable James E. Mitchell, Jr.


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