Alaska Aerospace CEO departs for new position

Mark Lester

Alaska Aerospace Corp., which manages the Pacific Spaceport Complex in Kodiak, will be making a leadership transition as Chief Executive Officer Mark Lester departs for another position in the Lower 48.

Lester confirmed his decision Thursday, stating it had been announced at a June 2 board meeting in Anchorage. 

“It’s kind of bittersweet, but it was a family decision to move south,” Lester said. 

Lester will assume a new role as vice president of launch operations for the Tucson, Arizona-based Phantom Space Corporation as it breaks ground on a 32,000-square-foot rocket factory.

Phantom Space announced Lester’s new role at the company in a June 15 news release.

"Space transportation is at the same nascent evolution point as air transportation was in the early 20th century — it's constrained by few options, largely experimental and novelty in nature, and inaccessible by most," Lester said in the news release.

"My aim is to propel Phantom Space and the overall commercial space launch industry into a new era of safe, routine, and on-demand access to space for the masses.”

Lester took over as Alaska Aerospace Corp.’s CEO in 2019 from Craig Campbell, who retired in May of that year. He had been appointed president of the public corporation in August 2018, working under Campbell.

John Cramer will serve as interim CEO while the board of directors searches for a permanent candidate, according to Lester.

Cramer recently retired as an executive team advisor, but has been involved with AAC for years. He served as chief of staff for the corporation before he was named the first president of AAC subsidiary Aurora Launch Services in July 2018.

“He is very familiar with the organization and has experience with the state,” Lester said. “It will be great to have him ride a steady transition as the board does a national search.”

Lester said he hopes he has done a good job of moving Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska along in its mission. One of the most significant achievements, Lester said, was the successful launch of Astra’s 3.2 rocket, which reached orbit in December.

“It’s great to have seen a commercial launch here at Kodiak, from day one making the space port a multiuse facility and it has been a long time coming,” Lester said. “We have a growing list of other companies interested in launching here.”

Another goal he has worked toward was ensuring AAC hired more Alaskans.

“We’ve made a lot of progress in hiring more Alaskans here,” Lester said. “It used to be that 70% came up from the Lower 48. Now that’s changed,” he said, adding that a large section of the AAC workforce at the spaceport comprises Alaskans.

“Building up Alaska’s economy and granting new jobs in the local area makes a lot of sense,” Lester said.

The spaceport complex serves as an area where private companies, as well as U.S. and foriegn military clients, can stage polar orbital rocket launches and tests. 

“The former Air Force and patriot in me loves what Kodiak brings to the nation as an asset,” Lester said. “The nation needs Kodiak for both national security and commercial spaceport ...and space is an exciting arena right now.”

AAC announced its new search on Thursday and plans to close the search July 17, according to its posting. The position would be based in either Anchorage or Kodiak.

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