Published: March 8, 2017

Lisa HardawayAlumna leaves behind a legacy of innovation, advocacy, and amazing pictures of Pluto.

Lisa Hardaway, an industry trailblazer and active CU Boulder aerospace alumna has died. She was 50 years old.

A 20-year veteran of Ball Aerospace, she played critical roles on projects that advanced our knowledge of the universe – including the first ever close up photos of Pluto, taken by NASA’s New Horizons space probe.

"Lisa was a true technical expert at the forefront of the industry," says Penina Axelrad, professor and chair of the Ann and H.J. Smead Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences.

Her team at Ball Aerospace developed ‘Ralph’, the visible and near-infrared light telescope and camera system on New Horizons. The instrument had to be designed to withstand the extreme temperature fluctuations and radiation of space for more than nine years as it journeyed to Pluto. The equipment was wildly successful, as the stunning images it returned clearly show.

They also delivered the device underweight and smaller than required, freeing up space on the probe for additional fuel now being used to extend New Horizons’ mission – pushing it into the Kuiper Belt.

However, Lisa was more than just an engineer, she was also an advocate for CU Boulder aerospace – serving as chair of the department’s External Advisory Board. As a PhD graduate and industry employee, she was able to bridge the gap between academia and business on board initiatives, according to Axelrad. Encouraging women and underrepresented groups in aerospace was also a major passion.

"The students, faculty, and staff of aerospace were always on her mind. She sought to increase the number of minority students and always promoted programs that improved their environment," says Ron Blackwelder, who served with Hardaway on the board.

Lisa was generous with her time in speaking to women in aerospace, both encouraging them and creating opportunities to pursue their passions. In 2015, her efforts won national recognition when she received the Engineer of the Year award from the National Women in Aerospace Association. Axelrad received an educator award from the group that year and joined Lisa at the official celebration.

"She deeply impacted so many lives and was an incredible role model," Axelrad says. "It was a real honor to share the experience with her. Her loss has brought profound sadness to the department."

Lisa Hardaway is survived by her husband, James, and two children, Jaella, 15, and Nathan, 12.