Vanessa Wyche

“Absolutely amazing” is how I would describe my career at NASA. Having the ability to have a profession in one’s area of interest is rewarding, but being able to do that and work at NASA—well, that’s pretty awesome. I began my NASA career at Johnson Space Center (JSC) as a project engineer assisting researchers from universities with developing hardware to conduct biomedical experiments on space shuttle astronauts. How cool is that! As a young girl fascinated by science and how the human body works, I never could have imagined I would have this opportunity—this is a dream come true.

Growing up, I liked to figure out how things worked. I opened and tinkered with my toys and got pretty good at fixing things. Until one morning when I attempted, unsupervised and unauthorized, to fix my grandmother’s TV set and literally received the shock of my life—and a major scolding as well. However, instead of being deterred, my curiosity was piqued. Unfortunately, there weren’t resources in my community for youth who were interested in engineering. My elementary and middle schools did not even have science laboratories.

My parents were both Educators who exposed their children to a variety of activities (sports, music, dance, scouting, religion). Although we did not have science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)-related camps, they supported whatever educational passions we pursued. One Christmas they gave my brother a chemistry set and we did experiments in the backyard. This was the beginning of two future engineers (my brother is a chemical engineer).

As a child, I was not very familiar with NASA. While I was in college studying to be an engineer, I learned one of the Challenger astronauts, Dr. Ronald McNair, was from a town in South Carolina only 35 miles from my hometown. Dr. McNair’s achievements marked an awareness of the endless possibilities available to me, including working at NASA. I was inspired to pursue my dream of obtaining a Master of Science in Bioengineering. My first job was working for the Food and Drug Administration as a medical device evaluator, determining the effectiveness and safety of hardware and systems used in diagnostics, treatment and prevention of diseases. Although the work was rewarding, I was elated when I had the opportunity to transfer and work at NASA.

My career began as a Project Engineer in the Space Life Sciences Directorate developing biomedical hardware to fly on the Space Shuttle. That progressed to Project Manager for suites of hardware systems for medical and microgravity experiments. This led to responsible positions in human spaceflight systems engineering and operations, including Flight Manager for several missions in the Space Shuttle Program, and Director of Operations and Test Integration in the Constellation Program. Previously, I served as Acting Director of JSC’s Human Exploration Development Support until my recent assignment as Assistant to the Center Director supporting tactical operations and strategic planning for JSC.

I’ve had the thrilling opportunity to develop hardware flown on the Space Shuttle and to the Russian-Mir Space Station, supporting training and data collection on astronauts—before, during and after flight. I’ve also been responsible for the development and integration of hardware and systems, including ensuring astronauts were trained for research missions on the Space Shuttle and for missions which assembled the International Space Station.

With the support of NASA, I conduct outreach at schools, churches, and via organizations such as Boy Scouts, Jack and Jill of America, and the Links, Incorporated to inspire interest in STEM fields. For the past two years, I’ve spearheaded a partnership between JSC’s African American Employee Resources Group and the Port City Chapter of the Links, Inc. to sponsor a science fair at a Houston elementary school. Engineers from across JSC and of various backgrounds volunteer to help children design and conduct experiments, as well as assist with hosting the fair. Perhaps some of these children will be inspired to pursue careers in STEM fields.

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my life is “don’t let your environment define you.” Even though I did not have the facilities and an accessible role model, because of my determination to pursue my dream, I enjoy a most rewarding career.

photo of Vanessa Wyche

Biography

Vanessa E. Wyche is Assistant to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) Director. She assists Center leadership with policy development, staff relations, strategic planning, and management integration of technical, mission support and communications activities. Ms. Wyche graduated from Clemson University with a Bachelor’s of Science in Materials Engineering and a Master’s of Science in Bioengineering. Before joining JSC in 1989, she worked for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington D.C. Over the span of her career with NASA she has held several key leadership positions: in the Space Shuttle Program as a Flight Manager; in the Constellation Program as Director of Operations and Test Integration; as Acting Director for the Human Exploration Development Support Directorate, and recently as Associate Director of Exploration Integration and Science. In recognition of her management, leadership and innovation skills, Vanessa has received numerous honors, notably, a NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, two NASA Achievement Medals, a JSC Innovation Award, a Rotary Stellar Nomination and she is a 2014 Women@NASA awardee. As a strong supporter of Innovation and Inclusion (I&I) at JSC, Ms. Wyche is a member of JSC’s I&I Council and co-Executive sponsor of the Emerge Employee Resource Group for early career employees. She also advocates mentoring and is a passionate promoter of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) fields in her community. Ms. Wyche leads efforts to oversee an annual science fair at an underserved elementary school and supports numerous STEM outreach activities through her affiliations with The Links, Incorporated, Boy Scouts of America and Jack and Jill of America. Ms. Wyche resides in Houston, Texas with her husband and they are the proud parents of one son, who is currently attending Howard University in Washington, DC.