Space Foundation CEO Tom Zelibor

Tom Zelibor

Tom Zelibor, who has led the Space Foundation for five years through a major expansion and helped it survive the COVID-19 pandemic, will retire next spring after the 2023 Space Symposium.

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The Colorado Springs-based nonprofit last month extended his contract, which would have expired April 30, until the organization can complete a national search and find a replacement.

He will stay in the role until after the group's annual symposium, the largest convention hosted in Colorado Springs, which last month attracted more than 235 exhibits and 11,000 attendees from 43 countries. Next year's event is scheduled for April 17-20 at The Broadmoor hotel.

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"Today's Space Foundation is a very different organization than it was five years ago. We have grown to meet the challenges of the increasingly competitive and complex space economy," Zelibor said in a news release.

"I love what we at Space Foundation do, what we stand for and the impact we make. Leading this organization is an incredible honor, and I look forward to the great things we will do next."

After becoming CEO, Zelibor wanted to triple the size of the organization and become less financially dependent on the symposium by beefing up fundraising, marketing and workforce development.

Nearly three years later, the pandemic forced the foundation to postpone its 2020 symposium until August 2021; it lost nearly $6 million in revenue, shifted much of its programming to online delivery and cut its staff by nearly 20.

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Zelibor helped the foundation land a major donation from the El Pomar Foundation in Colorado Springs that included part of a building that houses the organization's headquarters and forgiving a $4.1 million loan.

He launched an effort to raise $50 million for a major expansion of the foundation's Discovery Center, a museum dedicated to space, science and technology; launched the Space Commerce Institute to help space entrepreneurs; and grew the organization's staff to a record 90 people.

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The retired Navy rear admiral served in a variety of space-related posts during his nearly 30-year military career, including director of global operations for U.S. Strategic Command, Navy deputy chief information officer, director of the Navy's Space Information Warfare, Command and Control Division and commander of Naval Space Command.

He served as dean of the College of Operational and Strategic Leadership at the Naval War College, was director of the eSpace Incubator at the Center for Space Entrepreneurship in Boulder and CEO of Boulder-based Flatirons Solutions.

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