Back in March 2019, the Houston Forward Times highlighted the historical appointment of Vanessa Wyche as she became the first African American female Deputy Director of NASA Johnson Space Center, a position that she had held since 2018.
Fast forward to June 2021, and Wyche has once again made history, as she has risen through the ranks at NASA and has become the first African American female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Johnson Space Center is the home of America’s astronaut corps, Mission Control Center, International Space Station, Orion and Gateway programs and its more than 10,000 civil service and contractor employees. In her new role, Wyche is responsible for overseeing a broad range of human spaceflight activities, including development and operation of human spacecraft, commercialization of low-Earth orbit and Johnson Space Center’s role in landing the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the Moon.
Wyche had been serving as the acting director of Johnson Space Center since May 3, and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson named her as the director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston after her years of service at the agency.
“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,” said Wyche. “As the home to America’s astronaut corps, International Space Station mission operations, the Orion and Gateway programs, and a host of future space developments, Johnson is a world leader in human space exploration and is playing a key role in the next giant leaps in American excellence in space. 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.”
Wyche started her career in Washington, D.C. as an engineer with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration evaluating medical devices. She joined NASA Johnson Space Center in 1989, in the Space Life Sciences Directorate as a project engineer. Wyche has held several key center leadership positions at NASA, including assistant center director, associate director of EISD and acting director of Human Exploration Development Support. She also served in the Constellation Program as director of operations and test integration and in the Space Shuttle Program as a flight manager for several space shuttle missions. She was manager of the Mission Integration Office, and she completed a detail in the Office of the NASA Administrator.
Many of her primary responsibilities, included developing projects to perform biological studies on astronauts at NASA, to overseeing entire Space Shuttle missions as a flight manager, to leading an organization of scientists and engineers developing plans for human missions to the Moon and Mars. All these positions helped prepare her for her most recent position as deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, where they trained astronauts to go into space to the International Space Station, partnered with SpaceX and Boeing on developing new spacecraft to launch astronauts to the space station, and developed a new spacecraft called Orion and other systems and technologies to explore the Moon and then take humans to Mars.
Wyche continues to serve as an inspiration for all young girls, especially young Black girls, who have similar passions for the area of STEM as she had growing up.
Growing up in South Carolina, and being the youngest of five children, Wyche’s father, mother, and older siblings all taught her various things that have helped her to succeed and reach the heights in which she has accomplished thus far, especially in the area of STEM.
As a young and extremely inquisitive young girl, Wyche asked tons of questions and found herself taking things apart to see how they worked and how they were constructed. Because her father and mother were both educators, they would always encourage Wyche to do well in school, which motivated her to do very well in math and science. Her father was also a carpenter, and her grandfather was a farmer, so as she followed her dad around, she learned how to work with mechanical and electrical things.
Wyche learned everything she possibly could, and upon graduating from high school a year early, she went on to attend college at Clemson University.
In school, Wyche initially majored in biochemistry but was not excited about that field of choice. She knew she liked solving problems and analyzing things, so she had a talk with her professors and to her brother, who was majoring in engineering. They all suggested that she give engineering a try, so she changed her major to engineering, eventually earning a Bachelor of Science in engineering and a Master of Science in bioengineering, both from Clemson.
Wyche believed that the experiences she had with her family, as well as the confidence they instilled in her, were all the motivation she needed to ascend to the heights she has to date.
The advocacy as a passionate promoter of STEM in the community that Wyche regularly displays through her support of numerous STEM-outreach activities via her affiliations with The Links, Incorporated, Boy Scouts of America and Jack and Jill of America, are more than enough reasons for the Houston Forward Times to celebrate this history-making African American woman once again, who continues to blaze the trail for future leaders in the area of STEM.