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Johnson Space Center Directors

Thirteen directors have served at Johnson Space Center since it was opened in 1962.
Several JSC directors posed for a group photograph at Johnson Space Center in August of 2002. Check out the portrait and meet the directors.
View portrait with caption

Robert R. Gilruth: Nov. 1961-Jan. 1972

Robert R. Gilruth
  • On Sept. 19, 1961, NASA announced that the $60 million manned space flight laboratory would be located in Houston on 1,000 acres of land to be made available to the government by Rice University.
  • Gilruth was named the first director of the MSC, and transferred his headquarters to Houston effective March 1, 1962.
  • Gilruth declared an “Open House” for the weekend of June 6 and 7, 1962 and welcomed the public to the new NASA/MSC. Some 52,000 people toured the center and viewed displays depicting the past, present and future hardware of the space program.
  • The MSC was renamed to JSC on February 17, 1973 in honor of the late president Lyndon B. Johnson.
  • Gemini IV, launching on June 3, 1965, became the first flight controlled from Houston’s Mission Control Center.
  • Apollo 11’s Eagle landed on the Moon on July 20, 1969, becoming the first of six successful Apollo Moon landings. The Apollo program met the late President John F. Kennedy’s goal, provided invaluable spaceflight experience for NASA and inspired the nation. Three more Apollo missions landed on the Moon during Gilruth’s tenure.

Christopher C. Kraft Jr.: Jan. 1972-Aug. 1982

Christopher C. Kraft Jr.
  • Two Apollo missions landed on the Moon in 1972.
  • The United States’ first manned space station, Skylab, operated from May 14, 1973, to February 18, 1974.
  • On July 17, 1975, the first international space docking took place during the Apollo-Soyuz project.
  • Space Shuttle Columbia launched for the first time on April 12, 1981.

Gerald D. Griffin: Aug. 1982-Jan. 1986

Gerald D. Griffin
  • In 1983, the first Tracking and Data Relay Satellite was put into orbit by STS-6.
  • JSC was selected as NASA’s lead center for development of a U.S. space station.
  • From June 18 to June 24, 1983, Sally Ride served as a mission specialist aboard STS-7, becoming the first American woman to fly in space.
  • As a mission specialist aboard STS-8, which flew from Aug. 30 to Sept. 5, 1983, Guion Bluford Jr. became the first African-American to fly in space.

Jesse W. Moore: Jan. 1986-Oct. 1986

Jesse W. Moore
  • The Challenger accident occurred on January 28, 1986, just five days after Moore was named as center director. The disaster claimed all seven crewmembers of STS-51L, including Christa McAuliffe, who was to become the first teacher in space.
  • Prior to becoming JSC Director, Moore served in numerous roles at NASA Headquarters, including Deputy Director of the Solar Terrestrial Division, Director of the Space Flight Division, Director of the Earth and Planetary Exploration Division, and Deputy Administrator for Spaceflight.
  • Following his time as JSC Director, Moore served as special assistant to the General Manager at NASA Headquarters.

Aaron Cohen: Oct. 1986-Aug. 1993

Aaron Cohen
  • The space shuttle returned to space when STS-26 lifted off on September 29, 1988.
  • In October 1988, Cohen signed a document that would lead to the development of a privately funded visitor complex near JSC — today’s Space Center Houston.
  • Cohen submitted proposals for the development of a Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) — a larger facility to train astronauts for spacewalks.

Carolyn L. Huntoon: Jan. 1994-Aug. 1995

Carolyn L. Huntoon
  • A Life Scientist, Dr. Huntoon assumed the Center Director’s job after 25 years as a scientist and manager at the Center.
  • From STS-60 to STS-71, Dr. Huntoon oversaw 11 Space Shuttle missions, which included the first Russian Cosmonaut on a Space Shuttle, the first Hubble Repair Mission, and the first rendezvous and the first docking with the Russian space station, Mir.
  • The new Mission Control Center, opened in July 1995, 30 years after the historic Gemini IV flight, the first mission controlled by Houston MCC.  The new facility, used by both the Shuttle and Space Station programs, decreased costs through 30 percent lower manpower levels than previously required for the Shuttle only support.
  • Dr. Huntoon initiated the Center’s support of the International Space Station.  This included refocusing the efforts of all major Center elements to support both the Shuttle and the Space Station.
  • The new Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory was dedicated and named the Sonny Carter Training Facility, which was instrumental in developing many current Extravehicular Techniques.

George W. S. Abbey: Jan. 1996-Feb. 2001

George W. S. Abbey
  • August 30, 1995, was the first JSC Safety Awareness Day.
  • The National Space Biomedical Research Institute, or NSBRI, was established. The NSBRI consists of many well respected research institutes and solicits proposals for biomedical research.
  • Abbey and JSC aided in the development of the Discovery Pyramid at Moody Gardens in Galveston, Texas. The pyramid celebrates space exploration and encourages young visitors to be interested in science.
  • In February 1996, JSC was designated the lead center for space station development and shuttle operations.
  • The new NBL began operations in January 1997, replacing the Weightless Environment Training Facility.
  • The Longhorn Project was launched on February 5, 1997. The project brought longhorn cattle to the grounds of JSC, enabling students to learn about livestock and agricultural issues.
  • Construction began on the International Space Station: a Russian Proton rocket placed the Zarya Module in orbit in November 1998. The next month, the STS-88 mission saw Space Shuttle Endeavour attach the Unity Module to Zarya.

Roy S. Estess (Acting Director): Feb. 2001-March 2002

Roy S. Estess
  • The International Space Station grew by leaps and bounds, becoming self-sufficient — fully operational without a shuttle present.
  • In 2001, a total of 18 spacewalks were conducted –12 from shuttles and six from the ISS — which set a new record for number of spacewalks performed in a single year.
  • In April 2001, the station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2, was deployed on the ISS, bringing a new range of technological abilities to the station.
  • Seven flawless shuttle missions were flown during Estess’ tenure as acting director. All of these flights but one were dedicated to space station assembly and maintenance, with the other mission servicing the Hubble Space Telescope.

Jefferson D. Howell Jr.: March 2002-November 2005

Jefferson D. Howell Jr.
  • Howell oversaw a series of successful Shuttle missions.
  • In April 2002 STS-110 delivered the S-Zero section of the Station’s main truss.
  • STS-111 took experiment racks and equipment to the Station as well as a replacement wrist-roll joint for the Canadarm2 two months later. It also delivered the Expedition 5 crew, and returned home with the three members of Expedition 4, who had spent almost 196 days in space.
  • STS-112, in October 2002, delivered the S-One section of the Station’s main truss.
  • STS-113 added another section to the main truss and took aloft the Expedition 6 crew. It brought home Expedition 5 crewmembers, who had spent almost 185 days in space.
  • Howell guided JSC through the difficult days after the Feb. 1, 2003, loss of Columbia on STS-107 as the center contributed to the investigation of the accident and began the process of return to Shuttle flight.

Michael L. Coats: November 2005-December 2012

Michael L. Coats
  • From STS-121 to STS-135, Coats oversaw 20 space shuttle missions that carried on the program’s return to flight, completed assembly of the International Space Station, performed the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission and flew the final shuttle mission.
  • During the 21 expeditions under Coats’ leadership the International Space Station expanded to a six-person crew in 2009, was completed in 2011 and saw advancements in research and technology, which have already demonstrated benefits to human life in the areas of human health, telemedicine, education and observations of Earth from space.
  • Coats led the JSC team through a time of transition with the cancellation of the Constellation Program, completion of the Space Shuttle Program, stand up of the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle Program (Orion) for future deep space exploration by humans and ushering in commercial spaceflight providers for low-Earth orbit flights.
  • During his tenure JSC celebrated its 50th anniversary and held its first Innovation Day to help foster internal collaboration and technology advancement.

Dr. Ellen Ochoa: January 2013-May 2018

Michael L. Coats
  • Ochoa, a veteran astronaut, was JSC’s first Hispanic director, and its second female director.
  • Ochoa helped maximize use of the International Space Station (ISS), enable success of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), develop the Orion spacecraft for future missions and build the foundation to send human missions to Mars. She also emphasized the importance of the JSC workforce including initiatives on diversity and inclusion.
  • JSC embarked upon a change initiative, JSC 2.0, to advance human space flight by being lean, agile, and adaptive to change, bringing about streamlining and innovation in organizational structure, processes, technology infusion, and partnerships.
  • Ochoa’s 2.0 efforts resulted in the Class 1-E Certification Process which allows employees to move very quickly through the flight certification process and deliver custom-built hardware only 10 months after receiving project approval. This process has allowed astronauts to benefit from hardware flown to the space station within months versus years.
  • The Orion program successfully completed Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), in December 2014, with the spacecraft reaching an altitude of 3600 miles and demonstrating heatshield and parachute performance among hundreds of flight test objectives.
  • In July 2015, four veteran astronauts were selected to train for launch aboard new commercial crew capsules being built by Boeing and SpaceX that are intended to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.
  • The first One-Year Mission on ISS of Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko was completed in March 2016, providing valuable information for future human space exploration.
  • With support from JSC, Space Center Houston opened Independence Plaza in January 2016, showcasing the original Boeing 747 Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, NASA 905, carrying the space shuttle replica Independence.
  • A new Human Health and Performance building was completed in 2017.
  • More than 18,000 people applied for the astronaut program. Twelve new astronauts were selected in 2017.
  • During Ochoa’s tenure, JSC witnessed a solar eclipse across America, a memorable Super Bowl in the city of Houston, a World Series win by Houston’s hometown team the Astros and endured one of the greatest natural disasters in American history – Hurricane Harvey. Her steadfast leadership ensured JSC was prepared for all that came its way.

Mark S. Geyer: May 2018-May 2021

  • Geyer was JSC’s 12th director, a position he assumed on May 25, 2018.
  • During Geyer’s tenure, more human space flight programs were led from JSC than ever in history: the International Space Station, Orion, and Gateway. Johnson also shared leadership of the Commercial Crew Program with the Deputy Program Management Office located in Houston.
  • Additionally, more human spacecraft were in development in the U.S. during Geyer’s tenure than ever before: Orion, the SpaceX Crew Dragon, the Boeing Starliner, the Gateway, and the Human Landing System. JSC is central to the development, planning, training, and operation of all of these missions.
  • As director, Geyer revised the center’s vision statement to Dare | Unite | Explore: We dare to expand frontiers. We unite with our partners to complete bold missions. We explore space to benefit humanity.
  • As director, Geyer led JSC through the longest government shutdown in American history. He also led the center and its programs during an unprecedented pandemic, while the nation experienced economic challenges, racial injustice, and inequality. Additionally, Geyer helped return launch capability to American soil. This included the successful launches and landings of NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 and Crew-1 and the successful launch of Crew-2.
  • Geyer provided oversight of the Orion program, which is key to the success of NASA’s Artemis program that aims to land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface. During his tenure, Geyer facilitated great progress with Gateway, an outpost orbiting the Moon that will provide vital support for a long-term human return to the lunar surface, as well as a staging point for deep space exploration.
  • Geyer helped integrate the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, which secures the service of commercial partners to quickly land science and technology payloads on the lunar surface, into JSC’s complement of advanced spaceflight programs.
  • Geyer was also key to establishing the Commercial Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) Development Program Office at JSC. It was established to enable NASA’s vision of a self-sustaining market in LEO.
  • Geyer stepped down from his position leading the center to focus more time on his health and family in light of a cancer diagnosis.

Vanessa Wyche: June 2021-present

  • Wyche is the 13th director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to America’s astronaut corps, Mission Control Center, International Space Station, Orion and Gateway programs, and its more than 11,000 civil service and contractor employees.
  • She is responsible for overseeing a broad range of human spaceflight activities, including development and operation of human spacecraft, commercialization of low-Earth orbit, and Johnson’s role in landing the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the Moon.
  • Under Wyche’s leadership, Johnson was recognized by Forbes and Statista as the No. 1 best employer among Texas’ major employers.
  • Read her full biography.
  • Follow Wyche on Twitter: @V_Wyche and on LinkedIn: Vanessa Wyche