Emily Nelson is the new chief flight director for NASA. Photo via NASA.org

The Mission Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston has a new chief flight director.

In her new role, Emily Nelson leads the group that directs human spaceflight missions. She succeeds Amarillo native Holly Ridings, who held the job from 2018 to 2022. Ridings now is a leader of NASA’s Gateway Program, which is working to establish the first space station that orbits the moon.

“Emily’s tenure leading our flight control teams has proven that she is remarkably knowledgeable on the realities of human spaceflight and eminently composed when facing daunting challenges,” Norm Knight, NASA’s director of flight operations, says in a news release. “She is unequivocally the right person to lead our flight director office as we endeavor to push the boundaries of human spaceflight exploration.”

Nelson manages 31 flight directors and directors-in-training who oversee a human spaceflight missions involving the International Space Station and Artemis missions to the moon.

Nelson, born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised in Austin, earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1998. She joined NASA in 1998 as a flight controller in the space station’s thermal operations group.

She became a flight director in 2007. Since then, she has served as lead flight director for several missions, including the station’s fourth utilization and logistics flight with the space shuttle Atlantis in 2010 and a series of spacewalks to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer. She had been NASA’s deputy chief flight director before being named acting chief flight director following Ridings’ departure.

In 2018, Nelson completed a record-breaking 735th shift as a flight director at Mission Control.

The human body undergoes specific challenges in space. A new film from TRISH explains the unique phenomenon and how research is helping to improve human life in space. Photo courtesy of NASA

Houston-based organization premieres space health tech documentary

watch now

A Houston space health organization has launched a film that is available to anyone interested in how space affects the human body.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, which is housed out of Baylor College of Medicine in consortium with Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced a new documentary — “Space Health: Surviving in the Final Frontier.” The film, which covers how space affects humans both physically and mentally. It's free to watch online.

“This documentary provides an unprecedented look into the challenges – physical and mental – facing space explorers and the types of innovative research that TRISH supports to address these challenges,” says Dr. Dorit Donoviel, TRISH executive director and associate professor in Baylor’s Center for Space Medicine, in a news release. “We hope the film inspires students and researchers alike to see how their work could one day soon improve the lives of human explorers.”

The documentary interviews a wide range of experts — scientists, flight surgeons, astronauts, etc. — about all topics related to health, like food, medicine, radiation, isolation, and more. Some names you'll see on the screen include:

  • Former NASA astronaut Nicole Stott
  • Active NASA astronaut Victor Glover
  • NASA Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders
  • Inspiration4 Commander Jared Issacman
  • TRISH-funded researchers Level Ex CEO Sam Glassenberg and Holobiome CEO Philip Strandwitz

“Understanding and solving the challenges that face humans in space is critical work,” says Dr. Jennifer Fogarty, TRISH chief scientific officer, in the release. “Not only does space health research aim to unlock new realms of possibility for human space exploration, but it also furthers our ability to innovate on earth, providing insights for healthcare at home.”

TRISH is funded by NASA’s Human Research Program and seeks both early stage and translation-ready research and technology to protect and improve the health and performance of space explorers. This film was enabled by a collaboration with NASA and HRP.

Orion — NASA's program that will take astronauts to the moon by 2024 — has a new leader. Photo courtesy of NASA

NASA names new female exec to human spaceflight program

ready for take off

NASA is preparing to return to the moon by 2024 — and the organization just tapped the woman who will lead the program.

Catherine Koerner was announced last week as the manager of NASA's Orion Program, the spacecraft that will be used for the moon-bound Artemis missions. According to a press release, Koerner's position was effective Tuesday, September 8, and will be based at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.

"I'm honored to be selected as the Orion Program Manager. Orion is a key element of the agency's Artemis infrastructure, and I look forward to leading the team responsible for developing and building America's deep space human spacecraft," Koerner says in the release. "Next year we'll be launching the Artemis I test flight — a major milestone — and the first of the Artemis mission series on our way to putting the first woman and the next man on the Moon."

Catherine Koerner is leading the Orion Program from Houston's Johnson Space Center. Photo courtesy of NASA

Prior to this position, Koerner led the Human Health and Performance Directorate team at Johnson, and she's also served as flight director, space shuttle manager for the Missions Operations Directorate, deputy manager of the Vehicle Office and manager of the Transportation Integration Office for the International Space Station Program, per the release.

In her new role, Koerner will be oversee design, development, and testing for the Orion spacecraft and any other ongoing projects within the program.

"Cathy brings to Orion a diverse background in engineering and human health, two key components for the Artemis program that will see the spacecraft send our astronauts to the Moon, ushering in a sustainable presence on the lunar surface," says Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, in the release. "Working with our partners, her leadership will guide the program to achievements that will inspire and benefit humanity."

Lueders was recently named to her position in June, and both these appointments are a part of NASA's plans to scale its human spaceflight team. NASA also just called for recruitment in Mission Control at JSC.

"Cathy brings 30 years of human spaceflight experience to the challenging task of managing the Orion program," says JSC Director Mark Geyer in the release. "I am confident she will lead Orion into flight and into a sustainable future."



Koerner succeeds Mark Kirasich, who is currently leading NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters. Howard Hu, who was acting Orion program manager, will serve as Orion deputy program manager.

Orion, the Space Launch System (SLS), and Exploration Ground Systems programs are foundational elements of NASA's Artemis program. Artemis I will be the first integrated flight test of Orion and the SLS next year. Artemis II will follow as the first human mission, taking astronauts farther into space than ever before. On Artemis III, astronauts will set foot on the Moon by 2024.

NASA is now hiring. Photo via nasa.gov

NASA is hiring flight directors at Houston's Johnson Space Center

mission control

NASA has put out the virtual "now hiring" sign at Johnson Space Center. United States citizens have until Thursday, September 10, to apply for the position of flight director.

Now that American astronauts are once again launching off from American soil, NASA is amping up its flight director staff, according to a news release. Applications are open online for the flight director position, which oversees flights to the International Space Station from mission control at JSC.

"NASA flight directors need a unique mixture of confidence and humility, innovation and organization," says Holly Ridings, chief flight director at JSC, in the release. "The situations you have to deal with are occasionally very tough, and the stakes are always very high. But if you are able to handle that responsibility, there is nothing like knowing that you played a key role in the historic work that NASA does on a day-to-day basis."

Flight director candidates must be U.S. citizens and have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in engineering, biological science, physical science, computer science, or mathematics, per the release. Additionally, they also will need related experience — more details are available online.

The selected flight director hires will be announced later in the fall, and then will begin extensive training with NASA.

This summer, NASA and SpaceX's launch of astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley market the first American liftoff in nearly a decade.

Following the mission, NASA named its new human spaceflight director, Kathy Lueders. In that announcement, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine alluded to the missions that are in the works for human spaceflight.

"We have our sights set on the Moon and even deeper into space, and Kathy is going to help lead us there," Bridenstine said.

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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.