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Holly Ridings On Breaking A Glass Ceiling At NASA


This is Lulu's Log, stardate September 30, 2018, where we consider matters of space, the stars and the universe.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: NASA is celebrating its 60th anniversary tomorrow by blasting through a glass ceiling. The space agency has just appointed its first-ever female chief flight director, Holly Ridings. Ridings joins me now via Skype. Congratulations.

HOLLY RIDINGS: Thanks. I'm excited to be here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me, as the director of human space flight missions, you know, what does that entail? What goes into it?

RIDINGS: Yeah, being the chief flight director - it's an amazing job. And you actually do a little bit of everything, right? So running the team, first and foremost - responsible for the safety of the crewmembers that are on orbit 250 miles up from us right now. We are the ones sitting in the Mission Control centers, taking care of the crewmembers, keeping them safe, operating the vehicles. Many of them you can send commands to from the ground, make all of the systems work, keep all of the communications systems running and make a lot of the decisions about, you know, when you launch, when the crew comes home, what they do on orbit every day.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. And I just want to talk a little bit about how science has been a field where women have been historically underrepresented. We looked at some figures. In 1996, women made just under a third of NASA's total workforce. And that percentage hasn't changed very much since. Why do you think that is?

RIDINGS: I'm a little bit surprised to hear it hasn't changed since 1998 in terms of the total. If you went to the control center, you know, very often, you'll see a team on the floor that's 50 percent women, more than that. Although, you know, I do accept and understand that as you progress, there's, you know, some choices that we see here, you know, where folks make those when they get married and have children. And so, you know, I think that's one of the places that we can all really work on going forward.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you feel that they promoted you to this role - is significant and sends a message? Or are you just sort of like, hey, you know, I earned it - this is where I am now?

RIDINGS: It's actually a little bit of both, right? I mean, I've always been, like, do your best, and it'll all work out like it's supposed to, right? You know, have grit and do something you enjoy. And you want to learn, and you want to have fun. At the same time, you know, I must acknowledge that it is significant - right? - to be the first of anything and to be trusted to represent is really an amazing opportunity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So who was your mentor? You know, we all know that mentoring is so important in how you progress in a difficult field.

RIDINGS: I'm actually very lucky in that I've had quite a few mentors. You know, if you go all the way back to elementary school, you know, we used to watch the shuttle launches in the cafeteria. And I had a, you know, science teacher in the sixth grade. You know, I cite her. Her name was Ms. Daniel (ph). And then later in life, in college, I again was fortunate to have a professor at Texas A&M, where I went to school - every time we went in with a question, he'd flip through his Rolodex and pick up a phone and, you know, call somebody at NASA.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to ask you a little bit more about NASA. Where do you see it headed? Well, basically, I'm asking, will I be able to go to the moon someday?

RIDINGS: Yeah. Well, I certainly hope so because I'd like to go with you, right?


RIDINGS: You know, and in all seriousness, I mean, I definitely hope and envision a world where we do have accessibility, you know, where it becomes part of our human ecosystem just like today getting on an airplane and flying across the ocean. But I certainly hope you get to go to the moon someday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Me too. Holly Ridings is NASA's new chief flight director. Congratulations, and thank you very much.

RIDINGS: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.