Dr. Debra Needham is a planetary scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where she investigates surface processes such as volcanic eruptions and lava flow emplacement on the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Earth. She also works with several teams of engineers to integrate science into developing exploration opportunities such as the Deep Space Gateway and lunar surface missions.

Originally from Houston, Texas, Dr. Needham (née Hurwitz) earned her BA in Geology from Pomona College in 2007, her MS in Geosciences from Brown University in 2009, and her PhD in Geosciences from Brown University in 2012. Dr. Needham joined the Heliophysics and Planetary Science Group (ST-13) at Marshall Space Flight Center in 2016, where she continues her research of volcanic eruptions on Earth, the Moon, Mars, and Venus, through studies of eruption and lava flow dynamics, lava – substrate interactions, and eruption – atmosphere interactions. Her work investigating ancient lunar volcanic eruptions as a source for lunar volatiles was published in 2017 in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, where it engendered significant excitement in the media. The article was covered in nearly 50 news articles around the globe, including Time and Newsweek, as well as media outlets in Australia, France, Ireland and northern Europe. This work is leading to new exciting investigations and discoveries that will influence future missions to the lunar surface.

In addition to scientific investigations, Dr. Needham serves on the Spacecraft/Payload Integration and Evolution (SPIE) team at MSFC to connect science mission teams with Marshall Space Flight Center engineering teams in order to successfully integrate scientific payloads for launch aboard NASA’s Space Launch System. Additionally, Dr. Needham works with the Advanced Concept Office at Marshall Space Flight Center to identify and incorporate scientific instrumentation in future habitat and lunar lander design concepts. Furthermore, she works with the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Ground Test team at Johnson Space Center to identify architectural capabilities needed to address high priority science objectives in cislunar space operations. Dr. Needham works with these engineering teams to promote and advocate for science as NASA ventures deeper into our Solar System.

Dr. Needham also serves as a leader in the planetary community. She is helped organize NASA’s Deep Space Gateway Science Workshop, which brought the planetary community together to define high priority science objectives that can be addressed in cislunar space. She has also assisted in organizing planetary science’s largest annual international conference, the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, for four of the past six years. Dr. Needham was also elected to be an officer of the Geological Society of America’s Planetary Geology Division, which coordinates and sponsors planetary geology community events, conference sessions, and student awards.

Dr. Needham also volunteers to serve her local community through advising local student research projects, judging the Innovative System Project for the Increased Recruitment of Emerging STEM Students (InSPIRESS) student research competition at University of Alabama Huntsville, staffing booths at community events such as NASA in the Park and International Observe the Moon Night, and presenting as a lunar scientist and as a SLS ambassador to students at local schools.

Debra Needham, PhD


ST13 / NSSTC 2064

320 Sparkman Dr.

Huntsville AL 35805

Phone: (256) 961-7503

debra.m.hurwitz at nasa dot gov


BA, Geology, Pomona College, 2007

MS, Geosciences, Brown University, 2009

PhD, Geosciences, Brown University, 2012

Curriculum vitae:

Click here for a full CV.


Click here for publications using NASA ADS