Steve Stich was preparing for flight from the time he could
“By the time I reached fifth grade, I think I had read every
book in the library on rockets and airplanes,” Stich said.
This passion only grew after visiting NASA’s Johnson Space
Center during a middle school field trip, when he set his sights on returning
to Johnson as soon possible. Following his graduation from Texas A&M, Stich
joined Mission Operations at Johnson, fulfilling many jobs throughout his
career including flight director and deputy director of the Engineering
Stich now serves as deputy manager of the Commercial Crew
Program (CCP) at Johnson, where he works with program manager Kathy Lueders at
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to lead the agency’s efforts to return launch
capabilities to American soil.
Stich (left) at the post launch press conference following the launch of DM-1, the successful uncrewed test flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft.
“The great thing about CCP is that I get to take everything
I have learned at NASA to create something completely new,” Stich said. “To
launch humans into space—in a new way—is a great challenge, but at the same
time, it is extremely exciting.”
While the challenge stems from developing and testing new
human-rated vehicles for U.S. launch for the first time since the space shuttle
was designed in the 1980s, the excitement comes in the form of fulfilling two
important NASA missions: providing transportation to the International Space
Station and spurring growth in the commercial space industry.
“This is the first time I can remember a NASA program having
such dual purposes,” Stich said. “We are not only building, testing, and flying
new spacecraft and launch vehicles to station, but also attempting to establish
an entirely new space economy in the process. It is quite revolutionary in
The program will expand the science capabilities of the
space station by increasing the USOS crew size from three members to four and
improving capabilities to bring science up and down on the crew vehicles. At
the same time, CCP has been fostering growth in the commercial space industry
and laying the foundation for future commercial partnerships as NASA approaches
daring missions to the Moon in the 2020s.
To facilitate commercial growth, CCP has been a testing
ground for a new business model with fixed-price contracts and a less-specified
approach to requirements, where NASA sets high-level specifications and safety
requirements and allows commercial providers more flexibility to innovate.
“This is a little bit daring,” Stich said. “This model requires
us to trust our partners. We are still are going to ensure the spacecraft is
safe for the crew, but it’s definitely a daring new approach.”
While NASA has given industry more freedom in development,
CCP is uniting with the providers each step of the way. This has included
everything from offering technical expertise to sharing lessons learned from
NASA’s own development programs.
Steve Stich on console in Johnson's Mission Control Center during a space shuttle mission.
“When you’re not designing a new spacecraft, launch vehicle,
or launch pad, you lose those skills,” Stich said. “It’s been a generation since
we developed the space shuttle, so we are re-energizing the industry and
instilling a new generation of engineers with the skillset that will allow us
to complete daring missions going forward. I am so proud of the team here at
Johnson and across NASA that work the Commercial Crew Program. They put in long
hours and are dedicated to getting our new crewed spacecraft flying to station.
It is an honor to work with such a talented team.”
Preparing a new generation of engineers for spaceflight is
proving to be key for NASA’s lunar ambitions, as commercial companies have
already been selected to develop lunar landers and payload services to ferry
astronauts on the surface of the Moon.
This all aligns with NASA’s goal to enable the
commercialization of low-Earth orbit and turn the agency’s focus to leading
sustainable exploration programs to the Moon and Mars.
“Space station gave us a blueprint for working with
international partners, and Commercial Crew taught us how to create and foster
industry partnerships,” Stich said. “We can now combine both of these models to
enable success for Gateway and Artemis. This will take us forward to the Moon.”
While Stich knows that sending humans to the Moon and on to
Mars is ultimate goal for NASA, he is just as excited about the prospect of launching
astronauts from American soil as early as this year.
“I hope these missions will inspire the nation,” Stich said.
“I grew up reading about the Apollo. Kids growing up today will be reading
about our next great adventures that will launch on Orion, Crew Dragon and
When the next generation of students begin to read about
space, Stich will have left his mark in spaceflight history. And who knows?
Maybe the field trip that inspires those explorers will be on a commercial
spacecraft to low-Earth orbit.
Noah J. Michelsohn, Johnson Space Center
Steve Stich is deputy manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program at the Johnson Space Center.This story is part six of The Directors Series, highlighting Johnson’s mission of Dare. Unite. Explore. Stay tuned for stories from each directorate and find previous stories on the directors website.
Steve Stich, Deputy Manager, Flight Development and Operations for NASA's Commercial Crew Program.