Sylvia Doughty Fries is Director of the Office of Special Studies in the Office of the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Office of Special Studies provides executive staff and research support to the NASA Advisory Council, NASA's most senior continuous external advisory body. She had been a member of the NASA Advisory Council from 1981-1983, when she came to NASA to direct the history program, which has been in continuous existence since the agency was first established. From 1983 to 1990 Dr. Fries was NASA's Chief Historian and director of the History Division.
A native of Germany, Dr. Fries was raised and educated in Washington D.C. She received her bachelor's degree in English from Hollins College and her doctorate in the history of ideas from The Johns Hopkins University in 1969. She then pursued an academic career, teaching European and American cultural history at Vassar College, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Maine at Brono.
Meanwhile the focus of her research and writing evolved from 18th century ideas of urban life to the ideological origins of federal science and technology policy during the late 1960s. It was the later interest which led to her involvement with NASA, which began in 1978 when she was asked to serve on the NASA History Advisory Committee, a standing committee of the NASA Advisory Council. Her publications include The Urban Idea in Colonial America (1977) and "2001 to 1994: Political Environment and the Design of NASA's Space Station Systems," Technology ar~d Culture (July 1988), winner of the James Madison Prize of the Society for History in the Federal Government. Dr. Fries has prepared numerous historical background papers for the agency's management.