2018 in review

February 1st, 2019

Good for some, bad for others but certainly a year to remember

By Mary Alys Cherry

The year 2018 will be remembered in various ways across the country. A good year for some. But for others, not so good.

Certainly not by the residents of eastern North and South Carolina, or those in Panama City and Mexico Beach, Fla., whose lifestyles were ripped apart by hurricanes; or California residents who lost their homes, cars and most everything they owned to fires. Or in nearby Santa Fe, where 10 lost their lives in a shooting at Santa Fe High.

For the Bay Area, 2018 was a year of change – especially at NASA, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary, along with the 20th anniversary of the International Space Station and plans to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon this coming July.

Added some new faces, too. NASA Headquarters welcomed a new administrator, Jim Bridenstine, a new deputy administrator, Jim Morhard, and a new chief financial officer, Jeff DeWit, in 2018.

The year also brought several changes at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. JSC Director Ellen Ochoa retired in May and Deputy Director Mark Geyer became center director. Soon thereafter, Vanessa Wyche was named deputy director. Six new flight directors also were selected – Allison Bolinger, Adi Boulds, Jose Marcos Flores, Pooja Joshi Jesrani, Paul Konyah III and Rebecca J. Wingfield.

CREW INTRODUCED

A cheering crowd filled Teague Auditorium to nearly overflowing as JSC Director Geyer and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana joined the new NASA administrator, who flew down from Washington to introduce the “Commercial Crew” – the nine astronauts who will fly on American-made commercial spacecraft to the International Space Station and return to American soil for the first time since the Space Shuttle was retired.

The nine who will crew Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon are Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover.

Then the administrator returned again in the fall with Vice President Pence and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, for a tour of the center.

SEVERAL HONORED

The year got off on a happy note with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner named recipient of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership’s Quasar Award, followed by retiring Acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot being presented the National Space Trophy by the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Foundation.

Among the many coming in for honors this past year were two Space Center Rotary past presidents — Scott Rainey, who was elected Rotary District 5890 governor for 2020-2021; and Suzie Howe, a former district governor, who was presented the Distinguished Service Award for raising $3.7 million for Rotary.

Lunar Rendezvous was back for its 53rd annual festival, selecting Gene Hollier as king and Sabrina Curran as queen while volunteers raised $126,000 for college scholarships and help for area non-profits at the festival events.

A few months later, the Clear Creek Education Foundation raised $75,000 at its annual gala, while honoring League City Mayor Pat Hallisey as Citizen of the Year, BAHEP President Bob Mitchell with the George Carlisle Distinguished Service Award and eight others.

And, the American Heart Association raised $220,000 at its annual Go Red for Women Luncheons while the Assistance League of the Bay Area was busy providing new school clothes for 2,725 needy students.

CCISD ‘EXEMPLARY’

The Clear Creek School District got an A or Exemplary rating from the Texas Education Agency for the school year and tightened up school security even more after the deadly shooting at nearby Santa Fe High.

Work on the rebuild of both Clear Lake High and Clear Creek High was finally completed as Clear Creek ISD made plans to add a new school in League City, Florence Campbell Elementary. Other projects include the $19 million addition of 18 classrooms at Stewart Elementary in Kemah and $16 million in improvements to Clear Lake City Elementary.

The University of Houston-Clear Lake added two new buildings as its enrollment continues to grow, while College of the Mainland passed a $40 million bond to construct new buildings and upgrade others on its Texas City campus.

San Jacinto College is also enlarging its three campuses as it enrolled a record 30,509 students this past school year.

MEDICAL CHANGES

We lost a hospital and gained a hospital.

Our beautiful Bay Area Regional Medical Center in Webster shut down with 900 employees laid off – but quicker than you could blink your eye, UTMB in Galveston stepped in and leased the building for 15 years. The “UTMB-Clear Lake Campus,” as it will be called, is expected to open in a month or two after a year’s absence from the medical scene.

And, it will not be the only hospital getting a name change. The facility, which we used to know as Houston Methodist St. John Hospital, is now called Houston Methodist Clear Lake.

Down in Texas City, Mainland Medical Center completed a $5 million expansion of its Emergency Department, adding 6,200 square feet of space and 13 new private patient rooms.

Damages to John Sealy Hospital in Galveston last January were estimated at $7.8 million – a huge amount when you consider that there was very little fire damage. The damages were from smoke which enveloped the entire multi-story building.

COASTAL SPINE

As thousands of area residents continued to recover from the waters of Hurricane Harvey, rebuilding their homes and lives, Gov. Greg Abbott came to visit, bringing $153 million for storm debris removal costs for League City, Friendswood, Dickinson and several other areas hard hit by Hurricane Harvey.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers has taken Dr. Bill Merrill’s Ike Dike idea and is currently working on eventually building a Coastal Spine to protect the Galveston Bay area and other parts of the coast. Hearings have been held in Seabrook and Galveston to get residents’ comments and ideas. When the final study is completed in a year or two, the plans will be sent to Congress for funding.

Harris County overwhelmingly passed a massive $2.5 billion flood mitigation bond to help prevent future flooding, while Exploration Green, which had already helped save many Clear Lake City homes from flooding during Hurricane Harvey, had its grand opening April 28 and continued its work.

Both Norman Frede Chevrolet and One Stop Tents and Events celebrated their 50th anniversaries this past year, while South Shore Harbour Resort & Conference Center celebrated its 30th anniversary and The Clothes Horse in League City celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Costco, the world’s second largest company behind Walmart, came to town, opening a large store in Webster.

SAD NEWS

Sadly, we lost some outstanding citizens. President George H.W. Bush, 94, and his wife, Barbara, 92, who have made Houston their home for many years, died this year, as did Bob McNair, who brought the Texans to town; and four astronauts, including 2 of the 12 men who walked on the moon. Among those “slipping the surly bonds of Earth” were moonwalkers John Young, 87, and Alan Bean, 86; Bruce McCandless II, 80, who died in late December of 2017, still famous for his floating in space photo; and Don Peterson, 84, who made the first spacewalk from the Space Shuttle.

For some, 2018 will be a year they will hope to forget.

Former Republican Congressman Steve Stockman of Clear Lake was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after being convicted on 23 counts of illegally diverting $1.25 million in campaign donations for his own personal use in a series of illegal acts that prosecutors called “a white-collar crime spree.”

Also, Galveston County Constable Jerry Fisher of League City recently found himself on the wrong end of DWI arrest.

And, amid all the ups and downs of the world and many Bay Area changes, the Webster Presbyterian Church, where two famous astronauts – Buzz Aldrin and Sen. John Glenn — once worshipped, celebrated its 125th anniversary Dec. 2.

JSC director Geyer speaks of America’s space leadership role today, in the future

October 1st, 2018

By Mary Alys Cherry and Kathryn Paradis

Knowing the human tendency to overlook the value of many outstanding things in our daily lives – things that become “old hat” – Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer reminded Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership members of the great value of the International Space Station, which has been circling the Earth for the past 18 years.

“Station is an incredible international achievement,” he said as he opened his address, “and I want to talk about the different pieces that make ISS so special. People may not be aware of the details surrounding the amount of utilization that is happening every day on Space Station.

“There are payload experiments – things we are pushing the envelope on – on how to live and work in space, which is really going to be important when we go to the moon and on to Mars. A Mars journey could take three years or longer. We’re learning about how the human body behaves and how it changes. We’re learning how to mitigate those things through exercise and nutrition. There’s an incredible amount of work that goes on every day; plus, we get some cool pictures!”

It also has helped the United States and Russia become space buddies, he explained.

Their space friendship began back at the turn of the century when the first international crew, commanded by American astronaut William M. Shepherd, arrived on a Russian Soyuz that launched on Oct. 31, 2000. Since that day, he said there has always been an American onboard Station.
“Station brings a symbol of national leadership in the world. We lead the rest of the world in space. I had a chance to meet with the U.S. ambassador in Russia when I was over there for a launch. He told me that as difficult as relationships are with the Russians, Space Station is the one thing, the one positive thing that we are doing together. That’s important.”

Then he cautioned, “Another thing to remember is that if the United States doesn’t lead in space, there’s another county that cannot wait to lead in space, and that’s China. We know that they are making efforts to do that.”

After briefly talking about the commercialization of space, he took the crowd into the future — the commercial opportunities the ISS offers and plans to build the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in the 2020s to launch the Orion spacecraft on 21-day missions past the moon and back. And, how JSC will continue to be a key part of the integration of that program.

And, what about new NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine? “He is extremely personable and very open, Geyer says. “He really likes to meet with teams and talking with the interns. He’s trying very hard, listening to people. I love working for him; he’s a great guy.”

Geyer, who was introduced by BAHEP Chairman and San Jacinto College Chancellor Dr. Brenda Hellyer, began his NASA career in 1990 at JSC and has been here ever since. He has witnessed much during the ensuing years – both triumph and tragedy. His presentation left many with the feeling, however, that the best is yet to come both for NASA and for Johnson Space Center.

NASA assigns first crews to fly commercial spacecraft

September 1st, 2018

Kennedy Space Center Director Robert Cabana addresses the standing room only crowd at JSC’s Teague Auditorium as NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer look on.

By Mary Alys Cherry

“We’re back,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told a rousing audience in the Johnson Space Center’s Teague Auditorium.

“This is a big deal for our country, and we want America to know that we’re back – that we’re flying American astronauts on American rockets from American soil,” he said as the crowd’s roar reached heights probably not heard around JSC in years.

Sweet words to everyone’s ears, especially the nine astronauts who were introduced as America’s first commercial crew astronauts – those who will help increase commercial companies’ involvement in low Earth orbit and possibly take over operation of the space station some day in the future and allow NASA to focus on deep space exploration.

A NEW ERA
“Today,” Bridenstine continued, “our country’s dreams of greater achievements in space are within our grasp. This accomplished group of American astronauts, flying on new spacecraft developed by our commercial partners, Boeing and SpaceX, will launch a new era of human spaceflight. Today’s announcement advances our great American vision and strengthens the nation’s leadership in space.”

Joining him on stage for the presentation were Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer, Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana, Boeing Defense, Space and Security CEO Leanne Caret and SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell, who each spoke briefly of their hopes for the future before the new NASA chief introduced the astronauts – five who will fly on Boeing’s Starliner and four who will man SpaceX’s Dragon.

NASA introduced the first U.S. astronauts who will fly on American-made, commercial spacecraft to and from the International Space Station – an endeavor that will return astronaut launches to U.S. soil for the first time since the space shuttle’s retirement in 2011. The nine astronauts introduced to crew Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon are, from left, Sunita Williams, Josh Cassada, Eric Boe, Nicole Mann, Christopher Ferguson, Douglas Hurley, Robert Behnken, Michael Hopkins and Victor Glover.

NASA intern and University of Texas student Stephanie Zeller shares a light moment with Sen.Ted Cruz, one of a number of elected officials at the ceremony at JSC’s Teague Auditorium.

“All of us are here today because we stand for something new and profound, built upon an amazing legacy, and it is personal for all of us,” Boeing executive Leanne Caret said. “Today we start a new chapter, and we’re so thrilled to be on this journey.” Both companies bring unique approaches and ideas to the development and testing of their systems, which is why NASA selected both companies in September 2014.

“The 7,000 women and men of SpaceX understand what a sacred honor this was for us to be part of this program, and for us to fly [NASA astronauts],” said SpaceX executive Gwynne Shotwell. “So thank you very much, we take it seriously, we won’t let you down.”

SEVERAL APPEARANCES
The stage presentation was one of several appearances by Bridenstine during a three-day visit to JSC. On his first morning, the 43-year-old Michigan native got a up-close look at the Orion mockup that is being readied for its major safety test in April to verify that its launch abort system can steer the capsule and astronauts inside it to safety in the event of an issue with the Space Launch System rocket when the spacecraft is under the highest aerodynamic loads it will experience during ascent for deep-space missions.

Next, he met with a select group of local reporters, answering a variety of questions about the future of the space station, the Gateway moon orbiting project that involves returning to the moon and is seen as a stepping stone to Mars, and the delays on the James Webb Telescope.

“NASA is doing things it has not done before, using government resources never done before,” he told reporters in a sit-down roundtable session, “and we want to be sure we do not have another gap.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, left, looks over the work being done in Building 9S at Johnson Space Center for the launch of the Orion mockup.

Bridenstine started his visit here at a reception at Space Center Houston where he addressed aerospace executives, local business people and elected officials, discussing a change in national space policy providing for an American-led integrated program with private sector partners for a return to the moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond.

The new policy, he said, calls for the NASA administrator to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.”

Bridenstine emphasized the importance of the word “sustainable” in the policy. He said, “When we talk about going to the moon, this time to stay, we want the entire architecture between Earth and the moon to be sustainable — in other words ‘reusable.’ We want tugs that are going back and forth from low Earth orbit to lunar orbit to be reusable. We want the lunar landers to be reusable so that they can go back to the surface of the moon over and over again.

“That entire architecture is going to be built on an American backbone. We will have critical infrastructure developed by NASA, by those in this room and at Johnson Space Center, that will give us a sustainable infrastructure on the moon… When we go to the moon this time, we’re going to stay.”

NASA names six new JSC flight directors

September 1st, 2018

2018 Class of Flight Directors: Allison Bolinger, Pooja Jesrani, Adi Boulos, Paul Konyha, Rebecca Wingfield, Marcos Flores. Photo Date: July 9, 2018. Location: Building 30s, WFCR. Photographer: Robert Markowitz

NASA has selected six women and men to join the elite corps of flight directors who will lead mission control for a variety of new operations at the agency’s Johnson Space Center here.

Already the new flight directors are beginning extensive training on flight control and vehicle systems, as well as operational leadership and risk management, before they will be ready to sit behind the flight director console in mission control supporting NASA’s astronauts. When they do, they will become part of a group that numbers fewer than 100. This class will bring the total number of flight directors the agency has had to 97 since Christopher C. Kraft became the first flight director in 1958.

“This is an outstanding group of future tactical leaders for the Flight Operations Directorate,” said Brian Kelly, director of Flight Operations at Johnson. “We are excited to have them come on board.”

Joining the 26 active flight directors currently guiding mission control, this group will have the opportunity to oversee a variety of human spaceflight missions involving the International Space Station, including integrating American-made commercial crew spacecraft into the fleet of vehicles servicing the orbiting laboratory, as well as Orion spacecraft missions to the Moon and beyond.

“The job of flight director is not an easy one, and we make these selections very carefully,” said Holly Ridings, acting chief of the Flight Director Office at Johnson. “We had a great group of applicants, so we were able to choose six individuals who have worked in many areas of human spaceflight. They’ll bring a lot of good experience to the role that will serve NASA well as we undertake new and exciting missions.”

As flight directors, they will head teams of flight controllers, research and engineering experts, and support personnel around the world and make the real-time decisions critical to keeping NASA astronauts safe in space. The new flight directors are:

Allison Bolinger
Bolinger, from Lancaster, Ohio, began her career at NASA as an intern in 2001, before earning her bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Purdue University in 2004. Upon becoming a full-time NASA employee after graduation, she supported spacewalks in a variety of functions, including as a lead spacewalk flight controller for space shuttle Endeavor’s final mission, and several spacewalks since. Most recently, she has served as the deputy chief of the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, managing the facility’s daily operations.

Adi Boulos
Boulos grew up in Palos Hills, Ill., and Fair Lawn, N.J., and holds a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. He began his career at NASA in 2008 and was one of the first flight controllers managing the space station’s core system computer networks in a position, known as Communications RF Onboard Networks Utilization Specialist. In addition to serving as a CRONUS specialist flight controller and as a CRONUS instructor, Boulos also worked with the Orion Program on spacecraft system recovery processes after major malfunctions.

Jose Marcos Flores
Flores, who considers Caguas, Puerto Rico, to be his hometown, interned at multiple NASA centers while working on his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez. He came to Johnson Space Center full time in 2010 as a systems engineer, helping to develop a new space station simulator. He went on to become a flight controller managing the station’s power and external thermal control in a position known as Station Power, ARticulation, Thermal, and Analysis (SPARTAN). He also earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Purdue University.

Pooja Joshi Jesrani
Jesrani was born in England but immigrated to Houston during childhood. Jesrani began interning with United Space Alliance before graduating from The University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering in 2007. In her work with USA and later NASA, she has supported the space station flight control team in many positions, including managing the life support and motion control systems, and then as a capsule communicator (CAPCOM), speaking directly with the astronauts in space. Recently, Jesrani has been working to integrate mission operations for upcoming commercial crew flights.

Paul Konyha III
Konyha, was born in Manhasset, N.Y., and finished high school in Mandeville, La. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1996 until 2016, when he retired as a lieutenant colonel after holding a number of operations, engineering and leadership positions for numerous space systems. Since then, he has led the design, test, operations and disposal of all Department of Defense payloads on crewed spacecraft for the DOD’s Space Test Program office at Johnson Space Center. Konyha holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Louisiana Tech University and master’s degrees in military operational art and science, and science and astronautical engineering from Air University and the University of Southern California, respectively.

Rebecca J. Wingfield
Wingfield, from Princeton, Ky., interned at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center before graduating with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Kentucky in 2007. She joined the flight control team at Johnson Space Center in 2007 as a contractor with United Space Alliance, overseeing maintenance tasks that the astronauts perform in space. She went on to become a CAPCOM, speaking to the crew on behalf of the control team, and a chief training officer, preparing space station crews for their missions. She also holds a master’s degree in systems engineering from the University of Houston – Clear Lake.

Learn more about careers at NASA at: www.nasa.gov/careers

NASA Announces new deputy director of Johnson Space Center

August 12th, 2018

Vanessa Wyche has been named deputy director of the Johnson Space Center, becoming the first African American to hold the post.

In her new job, she will assist JSC Director Mark Geyer in leading one of NASA’s largest installations, which has nearly 10,000 civil service and contractor employees – including those at White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico – and a broad range of human spaceflight activities.

“Vanessa has a deep background at JSC with significant program experience in almost all of the human spaceflight programs that have been hosted here,” Geyer said in making the announcement. “She is respected at NASA, has built agency wide relationships, throughout her nearly three-decade career and will serve JSC well as we continue to lead human space exploration in Houston.”

Wyche recently served as director of the Exploration Integration and Science Directorate (EISD) and completed a detail as the JSC deputy director in February 2018.

“I am incredibly humbled to take on this role at JSC, and also excited to assist Mark with leading the home of human spaceflight”; Wyche said. “I look forward to working with the talented employees at JSC as we work toward our mission of taking humans farther into the solar
system.”

The South Carolina native is a graduate of Clemson University, where she earned both her B.S. in Materials Engineering and a Master of Science in Bioengineering. Wyche is the recipient of two NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals and two NASA Outstanding Leadership Medals.

Before joining JSC in 1989, Wyche worked for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C. She began her career with NASA in the Space Life Sciences Directorate as a project engineer. She has held several key center leadership positions 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.

For more information about Wyche, visit: