NASA names new Flight Directors

by Chris Bergin

NASA has named nine new flight directors who will join a unique group of individuals that lead human space flights from Mission Control, Houston.

It is the second largest such class ever selected, and brings to 30 the number of active Space Shuttle and International Space Station flight directors.

The new class includes the first African-American and the first two Hispanics to be assigned as flight directors, and adds three women to the four already leading Mission Control teams.

“This is one of the most diverse classes of flight directors we’ve ever selected,” said Jeff Hanley, chief of the Flight Director Office. “These nine individuals represent the depth of talent we have among Space Shuttle and International Space Station flight controllers, as well as the changing nature of the flight control cadre. Since Christopher Kraft became the first flight director more than 40 years ago, only 58 men and women have had the privilege to guide U.S. human space flights.”

Leading a team of flight controllers, support personnel and engineering experts, a flight director has the overall responsibility to manage and carry out Space Shuttle flights and International Space Station expeditions. A flight director also leads and orchestrates planning and integration activities with flight controllers, payload customers, International Space Station partners and others. The selection process began in August 2004.

“There were many outstanding people to consider — both civil servants and contractors — in the Mission Operations Directorate, the Johnson Space Center and NASA,” Hanley added. “These are just a few of the dedicated people who applied, but there will be more opportunities for the rest on the horizon as we meet the challenges of the Vision for Space Exploration.”

All of the nine new flight directors have served as flight controllers, either for NASA or its contractors. The flight director class of 2000 was the largest class with 10 members. The largest before that was the 1983 class with eight members.

— Kwatsi Alibaruho’s hometown is Maywood, Ill. He holds a bachelor of science degree in avionics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Alibaruho joined NASA in 1995 as a Space Station Life Support Systems officer. He served as deputy chair of the operations committee source board for the NASA Orbital Space Plane, and most recently was group lead of the Space Station Life Support Systems Group.

— Robert Dempsey calls Detroit his hometown. He earned bachelor of science degrees in astronomy and physics at the University of Michigan in 1984, and a master’s degree and a doctorate in physics from the University of Toledo, Ohio, in 1986 and 1991, respectively. Dempsey worked for Computer Sciences Corp. as a resident astronomer on the Hubble Space Telescope from 1992 to 1997, and for United Space Alliance as a Command and Data Handling flight controller from 1997 to 2003. He joined NASA in 2003 as a Communications and Tracking Officer for the International Space Station.

— Richard Jones is from El Paso, Texas, and received a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from Texas A&M University in 1991. He joined NASA in 1988 as a cooperative education student at Kennedy Space Center. In 1991 he joined JSC’s Flight Design and Dynamics Division, analyzing and designing Space Shuttle entry trajectories. From 1997 to 2003, he worked as a Flight Dynamics Officer in Mission Control, responsible for Shuttle launch, on orbit and entry trajectory operations. Since 2003, he has been the group lead for of the Orbit Flight Dynamics section.

— Ginger Kerrick also was born in El Paso. She received a bachelor of science degree in physics from Texas Tech University in Lubbock in 1991, followed by a master’s in physics in 1993. She began working at JSC as a summer intern in 1991, and began her first permanent job in 1994 as a materials research engineer in the Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance Directorate. Since 1995, she has worked in the Mission Operations Directorate as a Space Station systems instructor. After working as a crew support engineer at the Mission Control Center, Moscow, she became the first non-astronaut spacecraft communicator. She has been the lead Space Station CAPCOM and was deputy chief of the CAPCOM branch at the time of her selection.

— Michael Moses was born in Fulda, Germany, but grew up in Rockwood, Pa. He earned a bachelor of science degree in physics from Purdue University in 1989, a master’s in space sciences from Florida Institute of Technology in 1991, and a master’s in aerospace engineering from Purdue in 1995. Moses began working at JSC in 1995 as a Rockwell Space Operations Co. employee, and transitioned to United Space Alliance as a flight controller in Mission Operations’ Systems Division. He began working for NASA in 1998 as an ascent/entry Propulsion Officer, and was the Propulsion Systems Group lead from 2001 to 2003. Moses transferred to the Shuttle Electrical Systems Group in 2003, and served as group lead until this new assignment.

–Holly Ridings, a native of Amarillo, Texas, earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University in 1996. Ridings joined the space program in 1997 through participation in a student program at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. She moved to a permanent position at JSC later that year, working for United Space Alliance as a Thermal Operations and Resource Officer, supporting console operations for the Space Station thermal control systems. She joined NASA in 1998 and continued her role as a thermal operator until 2003. At that time, she became the lead for the Space Station Motion Control Systems Group and has served in that capacity until this new assignment.

— Michael Sarafin was born in Herkimer, N.Y. He received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical and aeronautical engineering from Clarkson University, Potsdam, N.Y., in 1994. He joined NASA in 1993 as a Space Shuttle software engineer, developing cockpit display and Global Positioning System navigation requirements. Sarafin has been a Guidance, Navigation and Control Officer, supporting 30 Shuttle flights in Mission Control, since 1995.

— Brian Smith is from Upper Darby, Pa. He earned a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering from Villanova University in 1993, a master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1996, and a master’s in aerospace engineering from the University of Houston in 2004. Smith was a hardware engineer for L-3 Communications Systems East, Camden, N.J., from 1993 to 1998 developing Space Station communications systems hardware. He joined United Space Alliance in Houston, Texas in 1998 and worked with engineers at the Naval Research Laboratories in Washington, D.C., and flight controllers at JSC designing, building and testing systems for a Space Station Interim Control Module until 2001. He has been a Communications and Tracking Officer for the Space Station since 2001 logging more than 3,000 hours of mission support.

— Dana Weigel, originally from Baltimore, Md., received a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University in 1993. From 1994 to 2004, Weigel worked for Barrios Technology as an Extravehicular Activity (EVA) Officer, supporting crew training and console operations for Hubble Space Telescope and the International Space Station. She has been an EVA Officer in Mission Control since 2000, transitioning to the NASA workforce in 2004. She is the return-to-flight lead for EVA operations focusing on inspection and repair of Space Shuttle thermal protection systems.

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