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For release: 08/06/04
Release #: 04-207  

NASA Marshall Center's Lewis Wooten is leader to Space Station team and students in his classrooms


Every experiment conducted on the International Space Station is planned weeks in advance, down to the minute it will be performed by the crew. Making sure it all comes together is Lewis Wooten, manager of the mission design group for the Payload Operations and Integration Department at the Marshall Center. Wooten also spends many evenings teaching and mentoring his students as an adjunct professor of mathematics at Alabama A&M University.

Photo: Wooten (NASA/MSFC)


Every experiment conducted on the International Space Station is planned weeks in advance down to the minute it will be performed by the crew. Making sure it all comes together is Lewis Wooten and his team.

The quarter-century NASA veteran manages the mission design group for the Payload Operations and Integration Department at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The Payload Operations Center is the science command post for the International Space Station - the orbiting research complex that NASA and 15 other nations are building. Wooten's team determines all plans and schedules the specific, detailed timelines for research on the Station.

As a detailed planner himself, Wooten is a firm believer that young people should carefully plan their careers - a message he delivers firsthand to students at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. Since 1981, Wooten has been an Alabama A&M adjunct professor of mathematics, spending many evenings teaching and mentoring his students, both past and present.

"I advise students to pursue a career in something they are passionate about, what they love, and in a field in which they feel they can make a contribution," says Wooten. "If they have a love of science, engineering and space, NASA is one of the best places in the world to be."

It's always where he wanted to be, since a young boy in Whigham, Ga. He still remembers what first ignited his interest in space - watching the astronauts land on the Moon.

"I was glued to the television set on that Sunday afternoon when man landed on the Moon -- while all of my friends and siblings were out playing softball," recalls Wooten. "I stayed up late that evening to watch Neil Armstrong put his foot on the lunar surface. Watching those series of events made me dream of being a part of it. In my hometown, working for NASA was considered an impossible dream by many of us. So being a part of NASA is a dream come true for me."

Wooten graduated from Whigham High School in 1972. His father, Ira, has since passed away, but his mother, Daisy, still lives in the small town to this day. Wooten went on to earn a bachelor's degree in pure mathematics in 1976 from Fort Valley State University in Fort Valley, Ga., as well as a master's degree in applied mathematics in 1980 from Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta.

After graduation, Wooten joined the Marshall Center as an aerospace engineer. He served as an orbital analysis engineer on the first three Spacelab missions, was the payload activity planner for the ASTRO-1 Spacelab mission, and was a payload operations director for several Spacelab missions carried into space in the Space Shuttle's cargo bay in the 1980s and early 1990s.

It's just one of many hats Wooten has worn over the years at the Marshall Center. In the late 1990s, he served as flight director for NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory - the world's most powerful X-ray telescope - coordinating the activities of the technical and science operations teams during the mission. Launched in 1999, Chandra has achieved numerous scientific firsts, revealing new details on all categories of astronomical objects including distant galaxies, planets, black holes and stars.

Most recently, Wooten has been assigned to a major NASA science mission, Gravity Probe B, an experiment to test Einstein's theory that space and time are slightly distorted by the presence of massive objects such as planets and stars. Launched in April, the spacecraft eventually will spend a year gathering the science data needed to test one of the fundamental questions of physics.

Wooten has been splitting his time between home and the Gravity Probe B mission office at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. As mission director for the initial orbit check phase of the mission, Wooten led the overall mission operations development activities in preparation for the mission itself.

Last month, Wooten was one of six Marshall Center employees selected for NASA's Senior Executive Service Candidate Development Program. The program offers a structured approach to prepare for openings in NASA's Senior Executive Service - the personnel system that covers most of the top managerial, supervisory and policy positions in the executive branch.

His work has garnered several awards, including an Outstanding Leadership Medal and a Marshall Center Director's Commendation for his work with the Chandra X-ray Observatory. He also received an Exceptional Achievement Medal for Leadership as the lead payload operations director for the ATLAS-2 Mission - the Space Shuttle-borne remote-sensing laboratory that studied the Earth's atmosphere and the Sun's influence on it and our climate system.

Wooten works to instill that same determination for excellence in today's youth. He spends his spare time helping his wife in her new organization called Bridge the Gap, Inc. The organization provides mentoring, career counseling and advice to people.

"I see the Vision for Space Exploration - calling for NASA to return humans to the Moon, then travel to Mars and beyond - as an excellent opportunity for young people," says Wooten. "There are many difficult problems to solve, and there will be some exciting times and some challenging times ahead, but the journey will be well worth it. I tell young people that they are the generation who will ultimately make it happen."

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