NASA has named Emily Nelson its new chief flight director, leading the group that directs human spaceflight missions from the Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Norm Knight, the agency’s director of flight operations, selected Nelson to replace Holly Ridings, who held the position from 2018 to 2022, and now helps lead the agency’s Gateway Program, an international partnership to establish humanity’s first space station orbiting the Moon. Nelson has been the acting chief flight director since Riding’s departure.
“Being a flight director is about accepting great responsibility and exercising excellent leadership and judgment – responsibility for the mission, for your team, and for the astronauts we fly,” Knight said. “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. She is unequivocally the right person to lead our flight director office as we endeavor to push the boundaries of human spaceflight exploration.”
In this role, Nelson manages 31 active flight directors and flight directors-in-training who oversee a variety of human spaceflight missions involving the International Space Station, including integrating American-made commercial crew spacecraft into the fleet of spacecraft servicing the orbiting laboratory, as well as Artemis missions to the Moon.
“We are thrilled to announce Emily as chief fight director as her program and operations experience will continue to ensure the safe and successful completion of every mission as we prepare to transition to a commercialized low Earth orbit where NASA will be a customer of many,” said NASA Johnson Director Vanessa Wyche. “Emily’s dedication to mission excellence makes her the ideal choice to lead the teams that will send our astronauts around the Moon on Artemis II, and as we prepare for operations on the lunar surface via the Artemis campaign that will land the first woman and person of color on the Moon.”
Nelson, born in Okinawa, Japan, and raised in Austin, Texas, earned a Bachelor of Science 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 was selected as a flight director in 2007, becoming the 70th flight director in NASA’s history. Since then, she has served as the lead flight director for several missions including the station’s fourth utilization and logistics flight with the space shuttle, Atlantis, in 2010, a complex series of spacewalks to repair the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, and five space station long-duration expeditions. She previously served as deputy chief flight director while continuing to support real-time operations from mission control.