Dr. Debra Needham is a planetary scientist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. Originally from Houston, TX, 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. For her dissertation, Dr. Needham investigated the formation and distribution of lava channels on planetary surfaces in the inner solar system, using analytical models to determine the relative efficiency of mechanical and thermal erosion mechanisms during channel formation.

After completing her dissertation, Dr. Needham joined the Lunar and Planetary Institute as a postdoctoral fellow, where she used petrological models to investigate the composition and distribution of the South Pole-Aitken impact melt sea. In 2015, Dr. Needham joined the Planetary Geodynamics Group at Goddard Space Flight Center, where she continued her investigation of lava flow emplacement processes, conducting field work in analog sites in Hawaii and Iceland to gain insight into how lava interacts with surfaces not only on Earth but also on the surfaces of the Moon and Mars.

Dr. Needham joined the planetary science group at Marshall Space Flight Center in 2016, where she continues her research of volcanic eruptions on Earth, the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Io, through studies of eruption and lava flow dynamics, lava – substrate interactions, and eruption – atmosphere interactions. In addition to science, Dr. Needham serves on the Spacecraft and Payload Integration and Evolution team and the Advanced Concept Office team to recruit, design, and integrate scientific payloads for launch aboard NASA’s Space Launch System. Dr. Needham works with these engineering teams to promote and advocate for science as NASA ventures deeper into our solar system.


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


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