We just hired six new flight directors to join a unique group of individuals who lead human spaceflights from mission control at our Johnson Space Center in Houston.
A flight director manages all human spaceflight missions and related test flights, including International Space Station missions, integration of new American-made commercial spacecraft and developing plans for future Orion missions to the Moon and beyond.
Only 97 people have served as flight directors, or are in training to do so, in the 50-plus years of human spaceflight. That’s fewer than the over 300 astronauts!
We talked with the new class about their upcoming transitions, how to keep calm in stressful situations, the importance of human spaceflight and how to best learn from past mistakes. Here’s what they had to say…
Allison is from Lancaster, Ohio and received a BS in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue University. She wanted to work at NASA for as long as she can remember. “I was four-and-a-half when Challenger happened,” she said. “It was my first childhood memory.” Something in her clicked that day. “After, when people asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said an astronaut.”
By high school a slight fear of heights, a propensity for motion sickness and an aptitude for engineering shifted her goal a bit. She didn’t want to be an astronaut. “I wanted to train astronauts,” she said. Allison has most recently worked as at our Neutral Buoyancy Lab managing the daily operations of the 40-ft-deep pool the astronauts use for spacewalk training! She admits she’ll miss “the smell of chlorine each day. Coming to work at one of the world’s largest pools and training astronauts is an incredible job,” she says. But she’s excited to be back in mission control, where in a previous role she guided astronauts through spacewalks.
She’s had to make some tough calls over the years. So we asked her if she had any tips for when something… isn’t going as planned. She said, “It’s so easy to think the sky is falling. Take a second to take a deep breath, and then you’ll realize it’s not as bad as you thought.”
Adi is from Chicago, Illinois and graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign with a BS in Aerospace Engineering. He joined us in 2008 as a member of the very first group of flight controllers that specialize in data handling and communications and tracking systems aboard the space station.
Most recently he served as the group lead in the Avionics Trainee group, which he loved. “I was managing newer folks just coming to NASA from college and getting to become flight controllers,” he said. “I will miss getting to mentor them from day one.” But he’s excited to start his new role alongside some familiar faces already in mission control. “It’s a great group of people,” he said of his fellow 2018 flight director class. “The six of us, we mesh well together, and we are all from very diverse backgrounds.”
As someone who has spent most of his career supporting human spaceflight and cargo missions from mission control, we asked him why human spaceflight is so important. He had a practical take. “It allows us to solve problems we didn’t know we had,” he said. “For example, when we went to the moon, we had to solve all kinds of problems on how to keep humans alive for long-duration flights in space which directly impacts how we live on the ground. All of the new technology we develop for living in space, we also use on the ground.”
Marcos is from Caguas, Puerto Rico and earned a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico and an MS in Aerospace Engineering from Purdue University. Spanish is his first language; English is his second.
The first time he came to the Continental US was on a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida as a kid! “I always knew I wanted to work for NASA,” he said. “And I knew I wanted to be an engineer because I liked to break things to try to figure out how they worked.” He joined us in 2010 as an intern in a robotics laboratory working on conceptual designs for an experimental, autonomous land rover. He later transitioned to the space station flight control team, where he has led various projects, including major software transitions, spacewalks and commercial cargo missions!
He shares his new coworkers’ thoughts on the practical aspects of human spaceflight and believes it’s an expression of our “drive to explore” and our “innate need to know the world and the universe better.” But for him, “It’s more about answering the fundamental questions of where we come from and where we’re headed.”
Pooja graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a BS in Aerospace Engineering. She began at NASA in 2007 as a flight controller responsible for the motion control system of the International Space Station. She currently works as a Capsule Communicator, talking with the astronauts on the space station, and on integration with the Boeing Starliner commercial crew spacecraft.
She has a two-year-old daughter, and she’s passionate about motherhood, art, fashion, baking, international travel and, of course, her timing as a new flight director! “Not only have we been doing International Space Station operations continuously, and we will continue to do that, but we are about to launch U.S. crewed vehicles off of U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle in 2011. Exploration is ramping up and taking us back to the moon!” she said.” “By the time we get certified, a lot of the things we will get to do will be next-gen.”
We asked her if she had any advice for aspiring flight directors who might want to support such missions down the road. “Work hard every day,” she said. “Every day is an interview. And get a mentor. Or multiple mentors. Having mentorship while you progress through your career is very important, and they really help guide you in the right direction.”
Paul was born in Manhasset, NY, and has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Louisiana Tech University, a Master’s of Military Operational Arts and Science from Air University, and an MS in Astronautical Engineering from the University of Southern California. He began his career as an officer in the United States Air Force in 1996 and authored the Air Force’s certification guide detailing the process through which new industry launch vehicles (including SpaceX’s Falcon 9) gain approval to launch Department of Defense (DoD) payloads.
As a self-described “Star Wars kid,” he has always loved space and, of course, NASA! After retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2016, Paul joined Johnson Space Center as the Deputy Director of the DoD Space Test Program Human Spaceflight Payloads Office. He’s had a rich career in some pretty high-stakes roles. We asked him for advice on handling stress and recovering from life’s occasional setbacks. “For me, it’s about taking a deep breath, focusing on the data and trying not to what if too much,” he said. “Realize that mistakes are going to happen. Be mentally prepared to know that at some point it’s going to happen—you’re going to have to do that self-reflection to understand what you could’ve done better and how you’ll fix it in the future. That constant process of evaluation and self-reflection will help you get through it.”
Rebecca is from Princeton, Kentucky and has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Kentucky and an MS in Systems Engineering from the University of Houston, Clear Lake. She joined us in 2007 as a flight controller responsible for maintenance, repairs and hardware installations aboard the space station.
Since then, she’s worked as a capsule communicator for the space station and commercial crew programs and on training astronauts. She’s dedicated her career to human spaceflight and has a special appreciation for the program’s long-term benefits. “As our human race advances and we change our planet in lots of different ways, we may eventually need to get off of it,” she said. “There’s no way to do that until we explore a way to do it safely and effectively for mass numbers of people. And to do that, you have to start with one person.” We asked her if there are any misconceptions about flight directors. She responded, “While they are often steely-eyed missile men and women, and they can be rough around the edges, they are also very good mentors and teachers. They’re very much engaged in bringing up the next generation of flight controllers for NASA.”
Congrats to these folks on leading the future of human spaceflight!
You can learn more about each of them HERE.
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