WISE Program Manager

Joan Howard

Joan Howard is the Ball Aerospace program manager for the WISE spacecraft development and the flight system integration and test. “The team had great chemistry, and we all made it our goal to keep it fun over the life of the program, despite the occasional technical challenges,” she says.

Joan has 30 years of experience in the development of high tech hardware for both military and NASA programs. She has been with Ball Aerospace since 1996 and previously worked at Loral Infrared and Hughes Aircraft in the development of infrared sensors.

What do you do as Ball’s program manager for the WISE program?
I’m like an orchestra leader. I make sure everyone is headed in the right direction and in sync with one another and steered toward the finish line all at the same time. This applies both inside the company and externally. We have had about 100 people working the WISE program at Ball or about 20-to-40 people at any given time so it takes a lot of orchestration. Every program manager has his or her own style. I am an instrument person by background so on this program, I play the role of the instrument interface engineer.

How did you get your start in Aerospace?
I have degrees in both physics and electrical engineering. I started out in the industry working on the Strategic Defense Initiative or Star Wars as it came to be known. Since my arrival at Ball in 1996, I have honed my expertise in that regard.

What are the most interesting or fulfilling aspects of working the WISE program?
For me it’s the science goal. I love talking about the science and what we expect to accomplish following the launch of WISE. Whether I’m in an airport or at a dinner party I can’t wait to tell people about the mission. Closer to home, it’s getting the job done and having program people happy while they are doing the work. If at the end of the day the job is complete and successful and people are still smiling it’s been a successful program.

What question are you asked most frequently about WISE?
I am most often asked, “How big is WISE?” And truthfully, it’s a pretty small spacecraft for a full mission. It looks amazingly like R2-D2 the droid from the Star Wars movie - especially with its aperture cover on. It always makes people smile.

How will the WISE mission assist the James Webb Space Telescope mission scheduled for a 2014 launch?
If you’re going to go look for something it’s good to have a map. And right now the maps are not detailed enough for the JWST mission. So WISE will provide a map so scientists don’t have to go hunt and peck for everything. It’s one of many things the mission will accomplish.

Who inspired you in the aerospace business?
I had a boss at Hughes Aircraft, Skip Crawford, who had worked on every infrared system that company had ever made and he tried to teach me everything he knew. He didn’t just work for a paycheck – he truly loved coming to work everyday and that was inspirational.

What would you still like to achieve in your career?
Assuming the launch is successful, this will be a major highlight. There aren’t many women program managers in this business, and I would really to see more women get this kind of opportunity. And equally important I’d like to continue to do interesting work – that’s critical.

What do you do in your spare time?
I play volleyball, work on improving my house, and plan my retirement. When I retire I want to write books about women who were early homesteaders. That’s what’s on my reading stand right now – along with books by author Ken Wells.

What is one thing we don’t know about you?
I knit and love to do crewel work. People think of me as an action person so they don’t typically think of me like that. And I very much want to be a grandmother and but daughter is not cooperating!





EPOXI/Deep Impact





Green Propellant Infusion Mission


Hubble Space Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope


F-35/Lightning II


Operational Land Imager

New Horizons/Ralph



Replicated Diffractive Optics/MOIRE









Suomi NPP



WorldView spacecraft series