Timothy Hughes (F’94): Hoyas in Space

Timothy Hughes (F'94)

In the realm of science and technology, ties between diplomacy and business are increasing. The lightning-fast pace of new and evolving technology is driving new lines of business--lines that government policy often has a hard time keeping up with.

“As tech evolves, the public policy landscape needs to change,” said Timothy Hughes (F’94), senior vice president and general counsel for Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), a rocket launch services provider which has developed a family of launch vehicles intended to increase the reliability of access to space while reducing costs.

As a student, Hughes always wanted to work in national politics, and after graduating from the School of Foreign Service in 1994, and getting a law degree from The College of William and Mary, he worked first for the Secret Service and then a national law firm, before getting the opportunity he wanted on Capitol Hill.

Following the Space Shuttle Columbia Disaster in 2003, Hughes joined the Committee on Science and Technology in the U.S. House of Representatives in order to focus on the shuttle accident and its causes. He became the primary professional staffer writing the bill that led to The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004. This law has governed the way that commercial spaceflight is handled in the U.S. for the past 10 years.

After his work on the 2004 act, Hughes was approached by Elon Musk, billionaire business magnate, engineer and investor, who invited him to join his new rocket company, SpaceX. The company is now the first private entity to ever successfully launch a private spacecraft and to link it with the space station.

SpaceX made headlines last year when it won a NASA contract to carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station. They are currently working to be the first entity in history to launch a rocket, bring it back from space, land it and be able to reuse it.

“It will be a big deal if we are able to do it. We have been testing these technologies over the past few years, and are still working on sticking the landing,” said Hughes. “Ultimately, the goal [of the company] is to develop the technology to take men and women to Mars.”

space shuttle launch

International Affairs and Space Exploration

Hughes runs legal and government affairs at SpaceX, making his job both national and international in nature. “Our commercial space launch business has a customer base that is truly international. We negotiate deals overseas, work closely with the federal government and interact with Capitol Hill.  I have been able to draw from my experience at SFS in my daily work, because it touches on law, politics business and finance,” he said.

As a recent addition to SFS’s Board of Visitors, Hughes hopes to be able to use his knowledge and experience in the STEM fields to further the school’s mission. He is particularly interested in providing SFS students with greater insight into the link between international affairs and science, technology, and space exploration.

Hoyas’ Space Legacy

Hughes is part of a longstanding legacy of Hoyas making a difference in the fields of space exploration, law and science.  Andrew G. Haley (L’28), known as the world’s first space lawyer, co-founded Aerojet Engineering Corp (later Aerojet General), which designed and developed rocket-assisted and jet-assisted take-off units for aircraft during World War II.

Maj. Gen H.D. Polumbo served as a National Defense Fellow at Georgetown from 1999-2000. A decorated officer, he served as Commander of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force in Afghanistan and holds the distinction as the first Air Force general officer to fly the U-2S in combat.

Other notable Hoyas in the field include the late Frank A. Taylor (L’34), founding director of the National Museum of American History and director of Air and Space Museum from 1969–1971, and John-David F. Bartoe (M’74, PhD’76), astronaut,  astrophysicist and research manager for the International Space Station at NASA's Johnson Space Center.

These Hoya leaders have each had an impact on the field of space exploration, despite taking different paths through foreign service, government and law. The mission of global engagement and the innovative programs of Georgetown will continue to make a mark on this exciting and developing field.

Photos courtesy of SpaceX.