For the first time in history, a woman will serve as NASA's chief flight director.
NASA took another giant step for equality this week when it named Holly Ridings as its first female chief flight director! Ridings, who is originally from Amarillo, Texas, will lead the flight directors that oversee human spaceflight missions from Mission Control in Houston's Johnson Space Center. "Holly has proven herself a leader among a group of highly talented flight directors,” says Director of Flight Operations Brian Kelly. "I know she will excel in this unique and critical leadership position providing direction for the safety and success of human spaceflight missions. She will lead the team during exciting times as they adapt to support future missions with commercial partners and beyond low-Earth orbit."
Ridings earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University in 1996 and joined NASA in 1998. Initially serving as a flight controller in the thermal operations group, she was selected as a flight director in 2005. Ridings described what a flight director job entails in an interview two years ago: "For the team on the ground that we call the flight control team, the person responsible and in charge of that team is the flight director. You have a person in charge of the power system, the communications system, the robotic system, and so that group of people makes up the flight control team, and the flight director is responsible for leading them. It’s a very big job!"
During her time as flight director, Ridings supervised several high-profile missions, including ISS Expedition 16 in 2007; Space Shuttle mission STS-127 in 2009; and the first SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft mission to the space station in 2012. Even with such vast experience, everything doesn't always go according to plan. "If you do it long enough," Ridings says, "I mean thousands and thousands of hours in mission control, you end up seeing problems." That's when having a strong team matters most according to Ridings: "[W]hen there’s a crisis people really understand that, and everybody focuses, so actually it sounds really difficult but in some ways it is easier because you have that focus where you are trying to solve problems."
Now, as chief flight director, Ridings will manage the 32 flight directors and flight directors in training that supervise human spaceflight missions, including missions to the International Space Station (ISS). She's also looking ahead to further work with the planned Orion exploration program, which will pave the way for a crewed Mars mission in the decades to come, and she'll be involved in partnerships between NASA and private commercial space missions.
For Ridings, the diversity of the projects is one of the things she loves most about working at NASA. "As we get further along in exploration we’ll all have opportunities to train and learn new programs and vehicles," she says. "We’ll have our own exploration and all the commercial stuff, so we’ll move around different programs, which is great. You never get bored, every day is different, and it’s always interesting."
In the NASA video below, you can learn more about mission control and the role of flight directors from Flight Director Mary Lawrence.
Books and Resources About Groundbreaking Women of NASA
Mae Jemison famously became the first black woman in space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992 but years before that historic journey, she was a little girl who dreamed of dancing in space. Her mother told her, "If you believe it, and work hard for it, anything is possible." Little Mae's curiosity, intelligence, and determination, matched with her parents' encouraging words, paved the way for her incredible success at NASA. This inspirational introduction to a trailblazing astronaut will encourage children to reach for the stars and never give up on their dreams.
Margaret Hamilton loved numbers, and to her, the best part of math was when it could solve a problem in the real world! Her love of math introduced her to computers, and then to a job at NASA, where they were planning a mission to the moon — and computers were going to be a part of it. Hamilton hand-wrote the code for the Apollo missions, and when a last-minute problem cropped up as Apollo 11 prepared for a lunar landing, it was Hamilton's forward-thinking code that saved the day! This lively look at a computer pioneer is a great way to show young readers that math really can take you to the stars.
When Kathy Sullivan was growing up, she hated the question "What do you want to be when you grow up?" — because whenever she named an exciting job, people told her it wasn't for girls. But she was determined to change that, so when she was a teenager, she learned to fly a plane, and in 1978 she became one of the first women to be selected by NASA. And when she finally got to space in 1984, she made her mark as the first American woman to perform a spacewalk. This inspiring story ends with a note from Sullivan and capsule biographies of other American women space pioneers. It's perfect for budding astronauts, or for anyone who refuses to believe something "isn't for girls."
Katherine Johnson loved to count, and despite the prejudices against both women and African Americans, she was determined to find a way to make her love of math into a career. As one of NASA's "human computers," Johnson hand calculated elaborate equations... including the trajectories that helped launch the Apollo 13 mission to the moon. When disaster befell the Apollo 13 mission, it was Johnson's flight-path calculations that brought the astronauts safely home. This inspiring biography of the mathematician catapulted to fame by Hidden Figures celebrates a love of math and encourages kids to follow their passions. For another picture book about Johnson and her colleagues, check out Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race.
This gorgeously illustrated collected biography honors inspirational women who helped fuel some of the greatest achievements in space exploration from the nineteenth century to today! Galaxy Girls pays tribute to fifty pioneering women past and present, from mathematicians to engineers to test pilots to astronauts. Each capsule biography is paired with striking full-page original artwork from the students of the London College of Communication. Perfect for inspiring the space leaders of tomorrow, this stunning book gives this band of heroic sisters and their remarkable and often little known scientific achievements long overdue recognition.
Before people could orbit the Earth or fly to the moon, there was a group of "human computers": dedicated female mathematician who used pencil and slide rule to calculate how to launch rockets. Four African-American women, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, were critical to the story of space flight — and yet their story was largely untold. In this young readers edition of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, tweens will learn how these women, so little appreciated in their time, changed both NASA and America for the better. Younger readers can check out the picture book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race for ages 5 to 9.
This photobiography of the first American woman in space gives a unique peek at the life of Sally Ride! Ride was a competitive tennis player, a book lover, and — believe it or not — an underachiever (at least according to her high school classmates.) After she made history as an astronaut, she also served as an advocate for space exploration and girls and women in science. This book written by Ride's partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, which is full of both personal and media photographs and illuminating and intimate anecdotes, provides a revealing look at this pioneer of space travel.
There are few figures as inspiring as an astronaut: not only are they daring adventurers, they're also intelligent, dedicated scientists! In this book from the Women of Action series, kids will read about trailblazing women from ten different countries who dreamed of traveling to space. Including important figures like the Mercury 13, Valentina Tereshkova, Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Chiaki Mukai, Kalpana Chawla, and many more, this book shares the obstacles they faced, the wonders they saw, and the influence they've made on the world. For any science-lover or would-be space traveler, this book is full of inspiration.
The weather may be cold, but that's not going to stop Lottie from doing some stargazing! Lottie Dolls are based on the body of a 9-year-old girl and come with accessories that support a wide range of interests. Stargazer Lottie comes with a space-themed outfit, books about space, and even her own tiny telescope! This 7.5" doll is just the right size to join kids on all their adventures.
Build a tribute to some of the ground-breaking women who took American into space with this much-anticipated set from LEGO Ideas! This fan-designed set features astronomer Nancy Grace Roman; computer scientist Margaret Hamilton; astronaut and physicist Sally Ride; and astronaut, physician and engineer Mae Jemison, each as part of a vignette depicting their role with NASA. It's a wonderful way to inspire the women in STEM of future generations!