Holding nearly sixty years of experience in space sciences, astrophysics and more, Dr. Pete Worden’s influence knows no bounds within the space sector. As the Executive Director of Breakthrough Starshot and the previous Director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, he is an internationally recognized expert on science and space issues, including civil and military. He is a trailblazer in building partnerships between the international private sector and governments. 


He has also served as a research professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona. The co-author of over 150 scientific research papers in astrophysics and space sciences. During three NASA space science missions, he served as a scientific co-investigator, including the 2013 Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph launch. Worden was awarded the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal for 1994’s Clementine Mission to the Moon. 


He is the recipient of the 2009 Federal Laboratory Consortium Laboratory Director of the Year and earned the 2010 Arthur C. Clarke Innovator’s Award.




Dr. Worden was first a Research Professor of Astronomy, including Optical Sciences and Planetary Sciences at the prestigious University of Arizona. His main research developed large space optics for national security, scientific purposes and near-earth asteroids. He also researched topics related to space exploration and solar activity in nearby stars.

In addition, Worden consulted DARPA for space-related topics. Under Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), he also served as a Congressional Fellow as the chief advisor on NASA and space issues in 2004.


After 29 years, Worden left the United States Air Force in 2004. His last position was as the Director of Development and Transformation, at the Air Force Space Command, and Space and Missile Systems Center. There, his role included responsibilities for developing new directions for Air Force Space Command programs. He was also influential in initiating a major Responsive Space Program, helping to create space systems and launchers tailored for military effects over hours.


In 1971, he earned his B.S. degree from the University of Michigan. Later Worden entered the Air Force after graduating from the University of Arizona with a Ph.D. in astronomy. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Worden worked in all stages of the Strategic Defense Initiative’s development and international negotiations. He served in the Executive Office of the President twice during that period. Under George Bush’s administration, he held the position of staff officer for initiatives in the National Space Council; he was also crucial in spearheading efforts to revitalize earth monitoring programs and U.S. civil space exploration.

When Worden controlled the 50th Space Wing, he was responsible for over 60 DoD satellites and oversaw 6,000 people at 23 worldwide locations. 



Dr. Worden was a crucial innovator and promoter of small satellites in the early years of development. While working at BMDO and SDIO, he played an influential role in developing the DC-X and the Clementine mission. Clementine was a small, low-cost, and rapidly developed satellite used to test sensor and propulsion technology for missile interceptors and it also mapped the Moon.


Worden also institutionalized and championed innovative management and engineering techniques at BMDO. He focused on rapid prototyping, with the motto, “build a little test a little,” a “badgeless” work environment, and a flat organizational structure.


After becoming NASA Ames Research Center director, he actively developed Ames’ rapid prototyping of small spacecraft. He also “engineered” innovative agreements between NASA Ames and various public and private sector partners. Worden also recognized the critical importance of revitalizing NASA (along with the entire U.S. aerospace sector). He actively and regularly recruited and empowered younger workers, including workers from other agencies and international backgrounds.


Breakthrough Starshot


After retirement, Worden wanted to realize more dreams within the private space sector. In 2015, Yuri Milner and Stephen Hawking launched the Breakthrough Initiatives. Pete Worden was noted as the Breakthrough Prize Foundation’s Chairman, overseeing the Breakthrough Initiatives.


Breakthrough Starshot seeks to demonstrate ultra-fast, light-driven nanocrafts ability and establish the basis for the first launch to Alpha Centauri — hopefully within the next generation. The project has the potential to generate important supplementary benefits for astronomy, including solar system exploration and detection of Earth-crossing asteroids.


Learn more about Breakthrough Starshot at the link!