Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Associated Press
For the first time in NASA's 60th anniversary, the space agency has been wiping out a woman to lead the mission control mission at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Holly Ridings, a Texan mother, has worked at NASA for 20 years. She was appointed head of flight director on Thursday, the first woman to ever hold this position.
"Holly has proven to be a leader among a group of highly talented flight drivers," said Brian Kelly, NASA's director of flight operations, in a statement. "I know that she will excel in this unique and critical leadership position that directs the safety and success of human space flights."
Ridings will manage all 32 flight directors and flight directors-in-training, who are in charge of keeping the astronauts and the International Space Station safe by leading teams of controllers, researchers, engineers and support staff in downtown Houston.
If something goes wrong, flight leaders must be able to make decisions in a fraction of a second while keeping a person's life in their hands. In 1970, for example, during the Apollo 13 mission, Gene Kranz was in charge of a huge team on site that helped bring the three astronauts home after an explosion of the oxygen bottles forced them to break their journey to the moon.
Ridings became director of the board in 2005 and led several missions to the space station. She replaces Norm Knight, who was the main flight leader in 2012.
She holds a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the Texas A & M University.
Ridings takes over the helm during a transition period for the space agency.
Since taking office last year, President Donald Trump has called on the United States to return to the moon as a stepping stone to Mars.
The proposed budget of $ 19.9 billion from Trump for the next fiscal year appeals to NASA with the launch of Americans around the moon in 2023. It would also set aside $ 504.2 million in the coming year to work on the base on a $ 2.7 billion Lunar Orbital Platform gateway – actually a mini space station in orbit around the moon where astronauts could live and work.
Officials have said that the gate should be fully functional by 2026, with human missions to the lunar surface that are expected shortly thereafter.
Ridings "will lead the team during exciting times as they adjust to support future missions with commercial partners and outside a job with a low orbit around the earth," Kelly said.
Alex Stuckey covers NASA and the environment for the Houston Chronicle. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter.com/alexdstuckey.