A Black woman is leading a NASA center for the first time ever

Abu Mubarik July 14, 2021
Vanessa Wyche. Photo credit: Houston Chronicle via AP

Vanessa Wyche has been named as the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, making her the first Black woman to serve as director of a NASA center.

In her new role, Vanessa will be responsible for a wide range of human spaceflight activities, including the development and operation of human spacecraft, commercialization of low-Earth orbit, and Johnson’s role in landing the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the Moon, NASA said on its website.

NASA’s Johnson Space Center is home to America’s astronaut corps, Mission Control Center, International Space Station, Orion, and Gateway programs with more than 10,000 civil service and contractor employees.

“I’m humbled and honored to be chosen to lead the more than 10,000 employees at Johnson Space Center, who work each day to enhance scientific and technological knowledge via space exploration to benefit all of humankind,” Wyche said in a statement. “I look forward to working with everyone as we push forward to the Moon and inspire a new generation of explorers to reach for the stars.” 

“Vanessa is a tenacious leader who has broken down barriers throughout her career,” NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy said in a statement. “Vanessa’s more than three decades at NASA and program experience in almost all of the human spaceflight programs at Johnson is an incredible asset to the agency.”

Until her recent appointment, Wyche was the deputy director at Johnson. She started her career at NASA in 1989 and first served at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. Since then, she has served in various positions such as assistant and deputy director of Johnson; director of the Exploration Integration and Science Directorate, and flight manager of several missions of the retired Space Shuttle Program.

Other roles she has held include an executive officer in the Office of the NASA Administrator, and led additional center-level technical and program organizations. Prior to joining NASA, Wyche worked for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C.

Aside from her extraordinary career progression, Wyche is a recipient of several awards, including two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals and two NASA Achievement Medals. She is also a fellow of the International Women’s Forum.

Wyche is a native of South Carolina and has a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering and a Master of Science in Bioengineering from Clemson University. In 2019, she was inducted into the Thomas Green Clemson Academy of Engineers and Scientists at Clemson University.

Growing up in the Deep South, she became the first person in her family to go through all integrated schools. “I was a little girl growing up in South Carolina. I never thought I’d work at NASA,” said Wyche, who has over the years been encouraging students to pursue a career in STEM. “I want them [students] to come and work at the Johnson Space Center,” she said.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: July 14, 2021


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