Nicole Rayl

Associate Director for Flight Programs, Heliophysics Division, Science Mission Directorate

Nicole (Nicki) Rayl is the Associate Director for Flight in the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.  In this role, she leads the flight portfolio for 12 spaceflight missions in development and 20 operating missions.

The Heliophysics Division manages a portfolio of space systems and scientific research dedicated to studying the Sun, heliosphere, and planetary environments as elements of a single interconnected system. 

Nicki joined NASA at the Ames Research Center in 2004 as a Payload Manager for life science payloads on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station.  From 2004-2013, Nicki was a payload and project manager, responsible for numerous flight payloads, hardware developments, ground facilities and technology demonstrations, ranging from cell biology, microbiology, plant biology to invertebrate and vertebrate biology and human research. Nicki led the development of the GeneLab initiative, as well as the U.S./Russian collaborative project for Bion-M1 and enabled international cooperation through the U.S./Russian Joint Working Group and the International Space Life Sciences Working Group.

Prior to her current role, Nicki was the Acting Chief Technology for SMD and the Space Biology Program Manager, a position she has held from 2013-2021. In that capacity, she developed and implemented research and engineering developments for NASA’s non-human biological research, to further understand the basic mechanisms of adaptation or acclimation to spaceflight. 

Before joining NASA, Nicki worked as a field marine ecologist and scientific diver, focusing on invertebrate biology and invasive species models. She has a bachelor’s degree from UC Davis in Environmental Biology/Marine Ecology. 

In her spare time, Nicki enjoys the outdoors with her husband and two small children.

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Space Science – Heliophysics Big Year

Originally aired: May 25, 2023