Kathy Lueders, NASA’s 1st female spaceflight chief, will guide a US return to the moon

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The first woman to be in charge of NASA’s human spaceflight program will oversee the first mission to land a woman on the moon, and she’s expecting “really big things” to come from the next generation of young, female space enthusiasts. 

Kathy Lueders, who until now led NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, will take the helm of all crewed spaceflight activities at NASA as the associate administrator for the agency’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. The promotion, which NASA announced June 12, came about two weeks after Doug Loverro resigned from the position. 

“When Jim asked me if I would take this role, you know, I didn’t really think about being first,” Lueders said during a teleconference with reporters on Thursday (June 18), referring to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “I was more overwhelmed with the potential tasks in front of me,” she said.

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Lueders said her husband was the one who pointed out to her that no other woman has ever held the job before. “That made me stop and really think about all of the other ‘firsts’ that have been out there that really have paved my way,” she said. “In fact, today is the day that Sally Ride was the first U.S. woman in space. And so that’s one of many firsts,” she added.

During Thursday’s teleconference, Bridenstine formally introduced the agency’s new human spaceflight chief and laid out the work that lies ahead for Lueders and her team. “We have a big agenda to go back to the moon by 2024 with the next man and the first woman,” Bridenstine said. “I really believe that Kathy Lueders is the type of person that we need leading here in order to achieve those outcomes.”

As the manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, Lueders oversaw the SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission that launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) last month. Before that, she served as the ISS program’s transportation integration manager, overseeing cargo resupply missions. Her NASA career started in 1992, when she became the second woman to ever work in the propulsion lab at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility in New Mexico.

“What’s been amazing to me over the last few days is seeing all the tweets, Snapchats, Instagrams, all the notes from all the girls out there. That really helped me realize the power of my being first, what that means to them. They will see themselves in me,” she said. “I’m very honored by that, and I’m expecting really big things from them. You better get going!”

While Lueders seems happy to serve as an inspiration to young women who are interested in pursuing space-related careers, she pointed out that women aren’t the only people who have been underrepresented in the space industry. 

“I think when we can see ourselves in the people that are out there, it makes us realize we can do it. And that’s very, very important for not only girls out there but for all groups of people that are out there.”

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