RoundupReads Meet Gateway’s Rob Ashley

Meet Gateway’s Rob Ashley

by Kate Halloran | 2023-07-28

The first time Rob Ashley remembers watching television, he saw astronauts David Scott and James Irwin land on the Moon during Apollo 15. Five decades later, as the mission manager for Gateway’s Deep Space Logistics (DSL) Project at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Ashley is supporting the next generation of lunar surface missions under Artemis.

Gateway is humanity’s first space station in lunar orbit, where astronauts will live and prepare for lunar surface missions. On the Gateway logistics project, Ashley oversees the team that provides project insights and surveillance of the end-to-end mission execution to ensure the highest probability of mission success for deliveries around the Moon.

A man stands on cliffs in front of a lighthouse on the ocean.
Gateway's Rob Ashley stands near Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth, Maine. Credit: Robert Ashley


Where did you grow up and when/how did you become interested in a career at NASA?

I grew up in Florence, South Carolina, a smallish city in the northeastern part of the state. A couple of my most vivid childhood memories involve NASA and the Apollo program. My father was in the military, and we lived in Turkey when I was four. My fifth birthday on Aug. 1, 1971, was on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean on our way back to the United States. We didn’t have a TV in Turkey, so as it turns out, my first memory of watching television after our return home was of news footage of the Apollo 15 Moon landing.

A few years later, my mother took my brother and me on a road trip to Florida, hitting all of the major tourist hotspots including Kennedy Space Center. As I grew older, I didn’t really have much thought of working for NASA. I went to college at Clemson University in South Carolina. During my senior year in 1988, a friend said NASA was hiring in the ramp-up for return to flight after the Challenger accident. It sounded exciting, so I submitted my application. And the rest, as they say, is history.

How long have you been at NASA?

I have been at NASA for 34 years, starting right after college. I graduated from Clemson in December 1988, loaded up a (small) trailer with all my belongings, and headed to Florida. I started work in January 1989, and I’ve spent my entire career at Kennedy, raising my three children in Merritt Island.

What has been your favorite memory while working at NASA?

If I had to narrow it down to just one, I would have to go with a memory from the last International Space Station assembly mission I worked, Utilization Logistics Flight 4. It launched on space shuttle mission STS-132, on May 14, 2010. At the time, it was scheduled to be the last flight of the orbiter Atlantis before Space Shuttle Program retirement, but Congress later added one additional flight to the manifest.

The primary element on the flight was the Russian Mini Research Module 1 (now known as Rassvet), which was the first and only Russian module delivered to the space station by a shuttle. The module was built by RSC-Energia Corp., and when it was delivered to the Space Coast for final integration before launch, a team of about 30 Energia engineers, technicians, and managers traveled with it.

Energia performed a post-delivery checkout at Astrotech’s facility in Port Canaveral before delivering it to the Space Station Processing Facility to begin shuttle integration. As the station mission manager at Kennedy, I had the privilege of “taking receipt” of the module at the facility, where our team weighed it, performed final closeouts, and installed it in the payload canister for delivery to the launch pad and installation into the orbiter’s payload bay.

On the day of launch, we hosted five Energia managers and lead engineers in the firing room. After the final “go/no-go” poll for launch, I stepped off the net and escorted our guests to watch the launch from just outside the Launch Control Center. Seeing their excitement, pride, and gratitude as the shuttle lifted off from the pad makes that experience rise above all the other great memories I’ve had over my many years with NASA.

What excites you most about Gateway and its role in Artemis missions?

I can’t think of anything more exciting than being a part of the Artemis mission to return humans to the surface of the Moon to establish a foothold and basecamp to prepare for the next giant leap – sending humans to Mars. The highlight of my career (so far) has been the 15 years I spent working in the International Space Station Program on the mission teams that prepared elements of the space station for launch. To be part of building NASA’s next great space station, Gateway, an outpost in lunar orbit to serve as the staging platform for crew, landers, and supplies necessary for returning humans to the surface of the Moon, seems to me like the perfect way to close out my career with NASA.

Being surrounded by such a high-performing group of people, what’s a great piece of advice you would give to someone interested in your role?

You can’t be a leader without any followers. Be the kind of person that people will want to follow, not have to. In my experience, people want to follow those that they trust and feel have their best interests at heart. I feel fortunate to have been part of some amazing teams, working on some exciting missions that left me with great memories, great friendships, and an indelible sense of accomplishment. If you aspire to lead others, the best advice I have is to make it your mission to help those who come after you leave with the great memories and the same feelings of accomplishment that I’ve been blessed to have.

What are five words your friends/family would use to describe you?

So many to choose from, so I’ll go with all positive ones. I hope some of those words would be loyal, sincere, fair, considerate, grateful.

What is one of your favorite pastimes?

I’m a huge fan of family road trips. I caught the bug from two trips during my early childhood. While living in Turkey, my parents took us on a more than 4,000-mile driving tour of Europe, starting with a car ferry across the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece. From there, we went on to many of the great European cities including Athens, Rome, Paris, Zurich, Munich, Prague, Vienna, Zagreb, and Istanbul, before returning back to Ankara.

Then, when I was 10, my dad borrowed my uncle’s motor home and took us on a trip around the United States. We left from South Carolina and drove through all the Gulf and southern border states, up the West Coast to Oregon, and east through Idaho and Montana. There, we turned south through the central part of the country all the way back to South Carolina. Although not on the same scale as those, in recent years I’ve taken my kids, Quentin (25), Wyatt (23), and Sofia (21), on “mini road trips” from Boston to Bar Harbor, Maine, and back, and from Seattle down the coast of Oregon, inland to Crater Lake, Lake Tahoe, and Yosemite, before wrapping up in San Francisco.