May Presentation

Skylab to Gateway: The Legends and Leaders in Space Exploration​

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Skylab 1 launch, Space Center Houston hosted an in-person Thought Leader Series during the Skylab 50th Anniversary Evening Celebration on May 19. Panelists explored the technical challenges and findings of America’s first space station that paved the way for long-duration space exploration. The discussion concludes with an audience Q&A session.


Vanessa Wyche, Ph.D.

Director, NASA Johnson Space Center

Vanessa E. Wyche is the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, home to America’s astronaut corps, Mission Control Center, International Space Station, Orion, and Gateway programs and its more than 11,000 employees. She is responsible for overseeing a broad range of human spaceflight activities, including development and operation of human spacecraft, commercialization of low-Earth orbit and Johnson’s role in exploring the Moon and Mars.

Wyche previously served as deputy director at Johnson and has held numerous program and institutional leadership positions, including flight manager of several missions of the retired Space Shuttle Program. A strong supporter of diversity and inclusion, Wyche advocates mentoring at all levels and is a passionate promoter of science, technology, engineering, and math. She’s received numerous awards and honors, including the Presidential Rank Award and an honorary doctoral degree from Coastal Carolina University. Wyche was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer. A native of South Carolina, Wyche earned a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and Master of Science in Bioengineering from Clemson University.


Joe Kerwin, M.D.

NASA Astronaut

Dr. Joe Kerwin received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1953; a Doctor of Medicine degree from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois in 1957; and attended the United States Navy School of Aviation Medicine in Pensacola, Florida; and was designated a U.S. Navy Flight Surgeon in 1958.  

He served as NASA’s Johnson Space Center science-pilot for the Skylab 2 (SL-2) mission. He was subsequently in charge of the on-orbit branch of the Astronaut Office, where he coordinated astronaut activity involving rendezvous, satellite deployment and retrieval, and other Shuttle payload operations. Dr. Kerwin continued his leadership efforts and served as the Director of Space and Life Sciences at JSC from 1984 to 1987.  

Dr. Kerwin served as President of the Life Sciences Special Business Unit of Wyle Laboratories, Inc. of El Segundo, California, formerly known as KRUG Life Sciences, and served on the Board of Directors of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) as an industry representative. 

Mike Barratt, M.D.

NASA Astronaut

Michael Barratt came to the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in 1991. He served as a project physician and flight surgeon supporting Space Shuttle and Shuttle-Mir missions and contributed heavily to the development of the onboard medical system for the International Space Station (ISS).

Dr. Barratt was selected into the NASA astronaut class of 2000 and has continued to train, work medical and life sciences issues for the crew office, and fly aboard the Soyuz TMA-14 (Expeditions 19/20) and STS-133 missions. Barratt continues to train as an active member of the astronaut corps and works heavily with the Commercial Crew and Artemis Programs in applying medical standards to new vehicle design and operations.

Dr. Barratt serves as associate editor for Space Medicine for the journal ‘Aerospace Medicine and Human Performance’ and senior editor of the textbook ‘Principles of Clinical Medicine for Space Flight’. He teaches space medicine for academic programs as well as the US Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and serves as adjunct faculty for the Masters in Extreme Medicine Program at the University of Exeter.

Holly Ridings

Deputy Program Manager, NASA Gateway Program

Holly Ridings is the deputy program manager for NASA’s Gateway Program, an international collaboration to establish humanity’s first space station around the Moon. Ridings’ responsibilities broadly cover leading teams to build and launch this foundational infrastructure in deep space that will help establish a permanent human presence at the Moon and chart a path for human missions to Mars.

Prior to Gateway, Ridings served as NASA’s first female chief flight director from 2018-2022, leading NASA human spaceflight operations through the first commercial crew missions to the International Space Station and the preparation for the Artemis I mission. Over the course of her career in human spaceflight operations, she has spent thousands of hours in Mission Control supporting the assembly and operations of the space station. Ridings began her NASA career in 1997 at the Goddard Space Flight Center before becoming a flight controller in NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston, where she led various teams supporting the International Space Station. A native of Amarillo, Texas, Ridings earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University.

About the series

Ignite your curiosity and grow your passion for space and science at our monthly Thought Leader Series. The best and brightest minds examine the significance of historic missions, share the latest news in space exploration and look ahead to the future of space travel. This immersive series takes guests beyond our walls to provide inspiring, engaging and educational learning experiences.

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