Texas native becomes first female to lead NASA’s Mission Control flight directors

  • Vice President Mike Pence, center, listens to NASA Deputy Chief Flight Director Holly Ridings, right, and NASA Flight Director Rick Henfling during a tour of the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center in Houston on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. NASA chose 12 new astronauts Wednesday from its biggest pool of applicants ever, selecting seven men and five women who could one day fly aboard the nation's next generation of spacecraft. (Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP) Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Associated Press / Michael Ciaglo

    Vice President Mike Pence, center, listens to NASA Deputy Chief Flight Director Holly Ridings, right, and NASA Flight Director Rick Henfling during a tour of the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center in Houston on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. NASA chose 12 new astronauts Wednesday from its biggest pool of applicants ever, selecting seven men and five women who could one day fly aboard the nation’s next generation of spacecraft. (Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP)

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    Vice President Mike Pence, center, listens to NASA Deputy Chief Flight Director Holly Ridings, right, and NASA Flight Director Rick Henfling during a tour of the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center

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    Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Associated Press

  • Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, (left) fields questions while sitting beside Holly Ridings, NASA Flight Director (right) during a press conference involving NASA and SpaceX officials to discuss the upcoming SpaceX Demonstration Mission after a flight readiness review of a Dragon spacecraft flying to the International Space Station, at Johnson Space Center, Monday, April 16, 2012, in Houston. Photo: Michael Paulsen, Houston Chronicle / © 2012 Houston Chronicle

    Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, (left) fields questions while sitting beside Holly Ridings, NASA Flight Director (right) during a press conference involving NASA and SpaceX officials to discuss the upcoming SpaceX Demonstration Mission after a flight readiness review of a Dragon spacecraft flying to the International Space Station, at Johnson Space Center, Monday, April 16, 2012, in Houston.

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    Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, (left) fields questions while sitting beside Holly Ridings, NASA Flight Director (right) during a press conference involving NASA and SpaceX officials to discuss the upcoming SpaceX

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    Photo: Michael Paulsen, Houston Chronicle

  • Holly Ridings is at her Flight Director console in the space station flight control room in the Mission Control Center at NASA's Johnson Space Center on Nov. 17, 2008, for day four of the space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-126 mission. Photo: Credit: NASA / NASA-JOHNSON SPACE CENTER

    Holly Ridings is at her Flight Director console in the space station flight control room in the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center on Nov. 17, 2008, for day four of the space shuttle Endeavour’s STS-126 mission.

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    Holly Ridings is at her Flight Director console in the space station flight control room in the Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center on Nov. 17, 2008, for day four of the space shuttle

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    Photo: Credit: NASA


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Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Associated Press

Vice President Mike Pence, center, listens to NASA Deputy Chief Flight Director Holly Ridings, right, and NASA Flight Director Rick Henfling during a tour of the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center in Houston on Wednesday, June 7, 2017. NASA chose 12 new astronauts Wednesday from its biggest pool of applicants ever, selecting seven men and five women who could one day fly aboard the nation’s next generation of spacecraft. (Michael Ciaglo/Houston Chronicle via AP)

less

Vice President Mike Pence, center, listens to NASA Deputy Chief Flight Director Holly Ridings, right, and NASA Flight Director Rick Henfling during a tour of the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center

… more

Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Associated Press

For the first time in NASA’s 60-year existence, the space agency has tapped a woman to lead the Mission Control flight directors at Houston’s Johnson Space Center.

Holly Ridings, a 44-year-old Texas native, has worked at NASA for 20 years. She was named chief flight director Thursday, the first woman to ever hold this position.

"Holly has proven herself a leader among a group of highly talented flight directors," said Brian Kelly, NASA’s director of flight operations, in a statement. "I know she will excel in this unique and critical leadership position providing direction for the safety and success of human spaceflight missions."

Ridings will manage all 32 flight directors and flight directors-in-training. These individuals are in charge of keeping the astronauts and the International Space Station safe by leading teams of controllers, researchers, engineers and support personnel at the Houston center.

If something goes wrong, flight directors have to be able to make split-second decisions while holding someone’s life in their hands. For example, in 1970 during the Apollo 13 mission, Gene Kranz was in charge of an enormous team on the ground that helped bring the three astronauts home after an oxygen tank explosion forced them to abort their trip to the moon.

Ridings — who has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University — became a flight director in 2005. Her predecessor, Norm Knight, became chief flight director in 2012.

The Texas native steps into her leadership role at a time of transition for the space agency.

Since taking office last year, President Donald Trump has pushed for the U.S. to return to the moon as a stepping stone toward Mars.

Trump’s $19.9 billion proposed budget for the next fiscal year tasks NASA with launching Americans around the moon in 2023. It also would set aside $504.2 million in the coming year to begin working on the foundation on a $2.7 billion Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway — basically a mini-space station orbiting the moon where astronauts could live and work.

Officials have said the gateway should be fully functional by 2026, with human missions to the lunar surface expected soon after.

Ridings "will lead the team during exciting times as they adapt to support future missions with commercial partners and beyond low-Earth orbit," Kelly said.

Alex Stuckey covers NASA and the environment for the Houston Chronicle. You can reach her at alex.stuckey@chron.com or Twitter.com/alexdstuckey.

via Houston Chronicle https://ift.tt/2D4AaYl

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