Trailblazer of the Week

Daniel R. Ellis

22 January 2021

Since he was a kid, Daniel R. Ellis always had a passion for space. In elementary school he took a tour of Lockheed Martin’s facility where he was able to see flight hardware, including an Atlas rocket that was in production. Harnessing this awe with the support of his family, Ellis began his career in the aerospace industry.

“That tour was the first thing that piqued my interest about aerospace,” says Ellis, the Contracts Lead at Lockheed Martin Space for the Lunar Trailblazer mission. “Years down the road, while I was pursuing my undergraduate degree, my brother-in-law, who also has a career in aerospace, further drove my passion. It was through many great discussions with him about his own career working with various spacecraft that I quickly realized aerospace was the career field that I wanted to pursue. From then on, I began pouring all efforts into becoming a part of the largest defense contracting company in the world with the support of my wife and family.”

As a Contracts Negotiator Senior, Ellis’ job covers a broad range of management tasks, including supporting and executing future business and existing contracts. For any given contract, he participates in strategy development while also identifying and mitigating contractual risks throughout the life cycle of a program. He is the main interface internally and externally for all contractual actions, and loves to provide innovative solutions to complex problems related to programs.

“My biggest fulfillment of this job is to be a part of something that is bigger than myself,” says Ellis. “Contract management provides me with the platform of constantly being challenged while also providing value to my team.”

Ellis specifically supports Commercial Civil Space (CCS) at Lockheed Martin where he works in the Deep Space Exploration (DSE) market segment, which handles all deep space and planetary missions. As one of NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx), Lunar Trailblazer contracted Lockheed Martin to build its spacecraft.

“Two SIMPLEx missions have been added to the DSE portfolio, including the Lunar Trailblazer mission,” Ellis says. “I was fortunate to be selected as the contracts lead for the program.”

A Colorado native born and raised in Littleton, Ellis has been fortunate to have both educational and aerospace career opportunities while remaining in his home state. He first received his BS in Business Management at the University of Northern Colorado, and then obtained an MS in Leadership in Organization with a concentration in Project Management at the University of Denver.

“Beyond my master’s degree I have been able to further my career growth by becoming a Certified Professional Contract Manager through the National Contract Management Association,” Ellis adds.

Prior to Lockheed Martin, Ellis worked at United Launch Alliance (ULA), an American aerospace company that specializes in rocket manufacturing and launch. Early in his career at ULA, he traveled to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to support a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station and had the opportunity to tour the Atlas V rocket within the Vehicle Integration Facility. Once again, seeing first-hand the rocket that had inspired him as a child and a mission coming to fruition made a huge impact on Ellis.

“That experience of seeing a mission in action validated all of the hard work I had put into having a career in aerospace,” says Ellis. “That opportunity was one of many that showed me how important it is to persevere through all the challenges you will face, and having positive influences and mentors in your life makes that perseverance a less challenging feat.”

For Ellis, STEM is a field that challenges the status quo and raises the expectation for excellence, which he acknowledges can be intimidating for students and early career scientists to navigate. He reiterates the importance of mentorship and shares how it may not come from one sole individual, but rather a self-curated collective of support.

“Never give up, even when you are feeling discouraged,” he assures. “My advice for those individuals who are up for the challenge would be to find a mentor that will push you through the tough times. As I reflect on my career, I look back at all the mentors that guided and supported me at different stages in my life. Whether it was a friend, a family member, a professor, a co-worker, or a leader, it is important to realize that diversity among mentorships is the key to growing personally and professionally. I am truly grateful for all the mentors that I have had. Now being a mentor to others myself, I strive to instill what I have learned and experienced along the way to my mentees.”

In his free time, Ellis can be found outdoors spending time with his family or practicing his golf swing.

“I love exploring new hiking trails in the mountains with my wife and dog, Maverick,” he shares. “My family is a big part of my life, so most of my down time is spent with them. I also love to golf and try to get out on the course as much as possible.”

With outer space being about as “outdoors” as it gets, it’s been very gratifying for Ellis to be a part of this program knowing that Lunar Trailblazer will pinpoint where lunar ice is located, which will aid future exploration and NASA’s Artemis program to establish a human presence on the Moon. It is most exciting for him to consider what the future of space may look like and how the Lunar Trailblazer mission will directly impact and support those future efforts.

“I have a lot of pride being a part of something that is going to shape the aerospace industry for generations to come,” says Ellis. “It is a very exciting time to be involved in space!”



Daniel R. Ellis is the Contracts Lead with Lockheed Martin Space for the Lunar Trailblazer mission and is our Trailblazer of the Week!

Trailblazer of the Week is an ongoing series showcasing the diversity of experience and expertise that supports the collective determination of the Lunar Trailblazer mission.

By Emily Felder
Emily Felder is a Pasadena City College student and Caltech intern working on science communication for the Lunar Trailblazer mission.