50 Years Forward
Fifty years ago a trio of brave explorers set out on a
voyage that would forever change our perspective of who we are and the role we
play in the universe. In a decade characterized by conflict, strife and a quest
for understanding, the brave crew of Apollo 11 united the world in a moment of
awe. A moment when we realized the challenges we face will never be as great as
the bond we share.
“When NASA originally planned the Apollo missions, I don’t
think the agency realized the impact the images would make,” said Mark Geyer,
director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “When we saw Earth from the Moon, we
realized how truly unique our planet is and how blessed we are to live on it.”
“It gave us hope,” added Vanessa Wyche, deputy center director
Geyer and Wyche are taking the lessons of Apollo and using
them to lead Johnson during an unprecedented era of human spaceflight. As NASA
approaches 20 years of habitation on the International Space Station, it is
also preparing to launch crews on three new vehicles, including the Orion
spacecraft which will be taking the first astronauts back to the moon),
developing a commercial economy in low-Earth orbit and beginning to establish a
sustainable human presence at the Moon with NASA's Artemis program.
Geyer speaking to the Johnson team at an all-hands meeting where he rolled out the center vision of Dare. Unite. Explore.
While the scope of these missions is large, and the
challenges are fierce, Geyer and Wyche have been able to leverage their diverse
backgrounds and a strong foundation of collaboration to form an unstoppable
The pair met while working on the Constellation Program and
established a strong relationship before taking unique paths to the center
director’s office. Geyer served as the program manager for the Orion Program
and deputy center director of Johnson before assuming the role as Johnson’s
12th center director. Wyche served as the director of the Exploration
Integration and Science Directorate prior to her selection as the deputy center
director under Geyer.
“We have worked together for a long time, and as a great
deputy she will challenge me,” Geyer said. “It is important in any relationship
to have an open dialogue, be able to question each other and feel comfortable
pushing back on decisions because it makes both of us better.”
Their relationship mirrors the partnership model that NASA has
adapted in an effort to commercialize low-Earth orbit and accomplish a
sustainable human presence on the Moon with international and commercial
Wyche speaking to a large audience about NASA's missions at Space Center Houston.
As these partnerships continue to take shape with lunar
missions in mind, Johnson is in a unique position to tie together lessons from
international partnerships, with space station, Orion and commercial
partnerships, with commercial crew to lead missions to the Gateway and the
“We define the mission,” Geyer said. “Johnson will always
have a unique role as the integrator between the actual operator [crew] and the
systems that get the crew to those exciting and yet hazardous destinations.”
This will require Johnson to explore the different
capabilities and requirements necessary to sustainably accomplish these
missions so NASA’s partners can help develop new ideas and innovations, which
will lead to reduced costs and enable the agency to complete more missions
“Each partnership brings us challenges and opportunities,”
Geyer said. “We benefit from their experience, their passion and their ability
to innovate, and they learn from our experience pushing the envelope and having
the overarching mission in mind. We learn from each other and benefit from the
strengths of both teams.”
Geyer speaking with astronauts prior to a crew announcement.
Even as Johnson leads the integration between the mission
and the partners to stitch together the international and commercial
partnerships required to accomplish these goals, center leadership recognizes
that there will still be major technical responsibilities and components that
only the Johnson team can accomplish.
“Going forward, we are going to have to continue pushing the
boundaries of technology,” Wyche said. “There are things that companies may not
have the expertise to do or the ability to profit from at first, and they will
look to us to help them solve critical challenges and enable those capabilities
While NASA plays a vital role in establishing a vision and
leading technical capabilities, one of the greatest roles the agency plays is
igniting a passion for exploration and inspiring the next generation.
Whether landing on the Moon, establishing new providers or
leading the construction of the space station, NASA has always defined missions
that challenge the nation and the world to dream big and follow our lead. The
center has worked on a daring mission for the past 20 years with continued
habitation on the space station, developing and proving technologies that allow
humans to live and work off the Earth.
Wyche presenting at her alma mater Clemson University.
Continuing to push these boundaries led Geyer to establish a
new center vision statement of “Dare. Unite. Explore.” in 2018. The vision is a
call to take these lessons and apply them to even more daring destinations in
the solar system as we continue to utilize the space station for groundbreaking
“‘Dare. Unite. Explore.’ means that we can’t sit back on
what we have done,” Geyer said. “We have to think into the future in a daring
way and ask how this center can keep the United States and NASA first in the
In addition to commercial partnerships, this effort includes
developing various strategy teams to prepare the center for the future. The
teams assess future work requirements and envision Johnson’s upcoming roles,
plan milestone celebrations to unite the Johnson team and assess risk and
decision velocity to prepare for an accelerated mission tempo.
By planning for the future now, Johnson is preparing to
inspire the world from a position of leadership once again as NASA returns to
the Moon and establishes the groundwork for daring missions to Mars.
Geyer, Wyche and the NASA team preparing to walk in the Houston Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Wyche, who is too young to remember the Apollo 11 Moon
landing, but has always had a great appreciation of the phenomenal
technological achievement and impact of the mission recently learned of a more
personal connection while reading a high school report her niece wrote: It
covered Wyche’s father’s reflections on the lessons he learned during his life.
“He said that it was the images of the Earth from the Apollo
missions that inspired him to get involved in the civil rights movement,” Wyche
said. “Here was a man that was raised in the depression, served in World War II,
was an educator, raised five children, and when asked to reflect on the important
moments in his lifetime he mentioned the Apollo program and how those missions
brought hope to humanity.”
Geyer reflects on his own personal memories as a child and
the moments he watched in awe as the Gemini and Apollo astronauts launched on
their voyages and eventually walked on the Moon. Half a century later, he is
leading the team that will launch the next chapter of exploration.
“As a kid, I didn’t realize all the work that goes into
these missions,” Geyer said. “But it makes the accomplishments even more
satisfying when we get there. When we go back to the Moon, it won’t be the same
as Apollo, but in some ways it will be more challenging, and the long-term impact
on the world will be even greater.”
What Geyer and Wyche both know is that the next 50 years
will be just as daring as the last. And those giant leaps start here, in
Noah J. Michelsohn, Johnson Space Center
Mark Geyer is center director of NASA's Johnson Space Center and Vanessa Wyche is deputy center director of NASA's Johnson Space Center.This story is part eight 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.
Mark Geyer, Center Director of NASA's Johnson Space Center.
Vanessa Wyche, Deputy Center Director of NASA's Johnson Space Center.
Geyer meets with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner prior to an event at JSC during Black History Month put on by the African American Employee Resouce Group.
Wyche meets with lawmakers at NASA day at the Texas Capitol in Austin, Texas.
Geyer welcomes employees back to work following the partial government shutdown.
Geyer and Wyche have worked to foster a strong partnership with the University of Houston Clear Lake.
Geyer and Wyche at the 2017 Johnson Open House.
Wyche riding in the parade at the 2019 Houston Pride Parade.
Geyer accepts the key to the city on behalf of NASA's Johnson Space Center at the 2019 Freedom Over Texas Festival.
Wyche meeting Ariana Grande at a tour of Johnson's Mission Control Center.
Geyer at the dedication of Kranz Junior High.
Geyer poses with Mayor Sylvester turner in front of NASA's Orion Spacecraft after accepting a key to the city on behalf of Johnson Space Center.