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Meet NASA Women Behind World’s Largest Flying Laboratory


NASA’s DC-8 aircraft – the world’s largest flying science laboratory – began its science missions in 1987 and since then, has flown in service of the science community over places like Antarctica, Greenland, and Thailand. Aircraft like the DC-8 have enabled scientists to ask questions about life on Earth and explore them in a way that only NASA’s Airborne Science program can make happen. After 37 years, the DC-8 will retire to Idaho State University, where it will serve as an educational tool for students. 

As the DC-8 approaches its retirement, we highlight five of the women who have made the aircraft and program a success.    

 Kirsten Boogaard, Nicki Reid, Carrie Worth, Erin Waggoner, and WendyBereda of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, are building the legacy of women who are helping pave the way for the next generation.

A woman hovers over a desk with multiple computer screens, wearing a microphone headset and holding a folder in her hands. Three men out of focus are seated in a row observing the multiple monitors.
Kirsten Boogaard, Deputy Project Manager for the DC-8 aircraft, leads and manages project planning, integration and resources for airborne science missions since 2020.
NASA/Ken Ulbrich

Kirsten Boogaard

Deputy Project Manager

Kirsten Boogaard wears many hats for the DC-8 program, including deputy project manager, mission manager, and assistant mission director.    

Since 2020, she has served as the deputy project manager on the DC-8 Airborne Science laboratory, leading and managing project planning, integration, and resources.  She is one of three women qualified in the mission director role for the flying laboratory. 

“I am really proud of what I accomplish at work,” Boogaard said. “And I am most proud of being able to work full-time and support numerous deployments while having a child.”

Nickelle Reid

Operations Engineer   

As operations engineer, Nicki Reid authorizes the airworthiness for the aircraft by ensuring that the science instruments added onboard sustain the aircraft’s safety. She also serves as the mission director, where she manages communications with the cabin and cockpit crews.    

“It takes a lot of practice to get used to hearing all the different conversations and weeding out what’s important, staying focused, and staying on top of all the action that’s happening,” Reid said.     

For a science mission project, that focus is essential to maintaining efficient communication between scientists and pilots.  Reid has been honing that skill since she started as an intern at NASA Armstrong.

Two women pose and smile at the camera. Both are wearing tan flysuits and sitting at the mission control desk in the interior of an aircraft.
Airborne science missions are not for the faint of heart! Pilot Carrie Worth and Operations Engineer Nicki Reid are all smiles after landing from a successful science flight.
Photo courtesy of Carrie Worth

Carrie Worth


Carrie Worth is part of a team uniquely qualified to fly the DC-8. Her journey to her career as a pilot began as a child.

“When I was a little kid, I saw Patty Wagstaff perform aeronautical stunts at the airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin,” Carrie Worth, NASA DC-8 pilot, said. “I decided then and there that I wanted to be a pilot.”     

Before joining NASA, Worth served 21 years in the U.S. Air Force as a special operations and search and rescue pilot, and then worked as a 747 pilot for United Parcel Service in Anchorage, Alaska. As a woman working in a male-majority industry, Worth is grateful for the supportive work environment at NASA and the DC-8 program.    

“I feel incredibly lucky for the support I have and have had from my male peers,” she said. “I have seen a significant improvement in the [aviation] culture, but there’s still work to be done.”

A woman poses, smiling with her hands on her hips, in front of the mission control desk onboard an aircraft. She is wearing a tan flysuit, and the switch board behind her is crowded with buttons, switches, monitors, cords, and stickers.
Branch Chief of the Research Aerodynamics and Propulsion Branch, Erin Waggoner is all smiles onboard the DC-8 during an airborne science mission deployment.
Photo courtesy of Erin Waggoner

Erin Waggoner

Research Aerodynamics and Propulsion Branch Chief   

In 2011, Erin Wagonner joined the Research Aerodynamics and Propulsion Branch at NASA Armstrong to support sonic boom research. Today, she is the branch chief.   

“I’m thankful for all the mentorship I’ve received throughout my career,” Waggoner said. “Everyone from the maintenance crew to the researchers are very welcoming, willing to share their expertise, and mission-focused.”   

Waggoner’s experience with the DC-8 program inspired her to recognize the value of a team spirit in a successful project.    

“I’ve learned a lot about team dynamics from my time on the DC-8, like how to integrate new members into an existing team,” Waggoner said. “I love being able to encourage young women interested in NASA and aviation, and learning from the women who blazed the trails ahead of me.”

Two women smile close-up at the camera. Both women are wearing bright reflective vests and caps; the woman on the left is wearing sunglasses.
Keeping things running: Wendy Bereda finds a moment to smile with Operations Engineer Nicki Reid on a maintenance day for the DC-8. She has served the DC-8 program for 25 years.
Photo courtesy of Wendy Bereda

Wendy Bereda

Site Supervisor  

Wendy Bereda started working on the DC-8 aircraft in 1999, first as a logistics clerk, later as a project support supply tech. She is now the site supervisor for the maintenance contract at NASA Armstrong. 

“Through the years, I’ve received different accolades, but the one that meant the most to me was given to me by Headquarters for my administrative excellence in finding parts and keeping the DC-8 flying.”     

As a science-driven platform, the DC-8 project is composed of a team driven to provide the best customer service.    

“Our team has so much love for the DC-8,” Bereda said. “We live and breathe to make things happen.  This is why I’m proud to have been a big part of the DC-8 life at Armstrong.” 

Experts like the women above enrich NASA’s legacy of innovation and exploration, and make programs like the DC-8 a success.