Growing up in south Georgia in rural Grady County, Lewis Wooten spent many summer days playing baseball in open pastures or working for local farmers tending peanut and vegetable crops. One historic week in July 1969 changed all that.
“All my friends were out playing ball and wondering where I was,” Wooten says. “I was inside, riveted to the television, watching humans explore the surface of the moon. My universe got a lot bigger that day.”
The Whigham native set a new goal for himself: join NASA and be part of the group exploring the universe. He achieved that goal 11 short years later when, soon after earning a master’s degree in applied mathematics from Atlanta University in Georgia, now known as Clark Atlanta University, he drove through the front gates as a new employee of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
He spent the next 35 years helping pursue scientific discoveries. In the 1980s, Wooten served as an engineer and payload operations director on Spacelab missions, a self-contained lab that flew in the cargo bay of the space shuttles and served as an early model for the International Space Station. He was the flight director of the Chandra X-Ray Telescope in the 1990s, coordinating the technical and science operations teams for the world’s most powerful X-ray telescope. In the new millennium, Wooten managed the avionics integration for NASA’s Space Launch System, the country’s new rocket designed to take astronauts farther into space than ever before.
Earlier this month, NASA assigned Wooten a new challenge, naming him to the Senior Executive Service position of director of the Mission Operations Laboratory at the Marshall Center. He will oversee more than 500 civil service and contractor employees analyzing and developing flight and ground support systems including managing the around-the-clock science operations on the International Space Station.
“I’m constantly reminded by the new people who arrive here at NASA just how exciting it is to be a part of the space program,” Wooten said. “I experienced it myself as I drove onto the center my very first day, and I want to continue assembling a team that will help rewrite textbooks and enable discoveries that will expand our knowledge of our world and our universe.”
Wooten will manage the staff and facilities of the Payload Operations Integration Center, the command post for all space station science and research activities. The position is a Senior Executive Service appointment, which is the personnel system covering most top managerial and policy positions in the executive branch of the federal government.
“I look at this new challenge as a giant puzzle,” Wooten said. “People and projects are the individual pieces and my job is to help make them all fit together. We have a responsibility to push the boundaries of exploration and I just want to contribute my piece to the puzzle as well.”
Wooten holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Fort Valley State University in Georgia and has earned numerous awards with the space agency, including a NASA Medal for Outstanding Leadership, a NASA Medal for Exceptional Achievement, a Director’s Commendation Award, a NASA Certificate of Appreciation, a Marshall Certificate of Appreciation, and many group achievement and special service awards.
Marshall Space Flight Center