Thought Leader 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.

Upcoming Thought Leader Series presentation

Thought Leader Series: Applications of lessons learned from human space flight tragedies
7 p.m. Feb. 25

Space exploration takes courage, tenacity and innovation.

Tragically, it also claimed the lives of 17 brave souls in the Apollo 1 fire, the Challenger explosion and Columbia disaster. Join us for the next installment of our Thought Leader Series 7-8:30 p.m. Feb. 25 as experts discuss the applications of lessons learned from human space flight tragedies.

This free event has limited seating and requires a separate ticket which must be presented at the door for entry.

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Thought leaders

Wayne Hale spent 32 years with NASA before retiring in 2010. He served as the Space Shuttle Program manager or deputy for five years and was a shuttle flight director for 40 missions.

Lon Miller currently serves as the vice president and general manager at Jacobs, an international firm that provides technical and engineering services. Before joining Jacobs, Miller was the associate center director at NASA Stennis Space Center.

Julie Kramer White has been the NASA Johnson Space Center deputy engineering director since 2017. She served as chief engineer for the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Exploration Vehicle for 11 years and began her career in 2000 serving as an orbiter vehicle engineering officer.

Apollo 1

Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee all perished when a spark ignited the oxygen inside the Apollo 1 capsule they were testing Jan. 27, 1967.

Grissom was the second American in space when he flew on Liberty Bell 7 as part of the Mercury Program. White was the first American to walk in space during Gemini IV. Chaffee was a naval aviator and aeronautical engineer; Apollo 1 was to be his first mission as an astronaut.

Their sacrifice was devastating and threatened to end the nation’s young space program. Instead, it galvanized everyone in the Apollo program.

It drove them to create safer solutions, ensuring that Grissom, White and Chaffee would be part of humanity’s greatest achievement.


Jan. 28, 1986, the Challenger and its seven-member crew were lost 73 seconds after launch when a booster failure resulted in breakup of the vehicle. Judith Resnik, Dick Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Christa McAuliffe, and Gregory Jarvis perished during the mission.

The disaster resulted in a 32-month hiatus in the shuttle program while experts investigated the incident.

As a result, NASA initiated a total redesign of the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters. NASA also created a new Office of Safety, Reliability and Quality Assurance.
Additionally, NASA added another orbiter, Endeavour, to the space shuttle fleet to replace Challenger, and NASA worked to put more satellites in orbit using expendable launch vehicles rather than the shuttle.


On Feb. 1, 2003, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere, killing crew members Rick Husband, William McCool, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon, Kalpana Chawla, David Brown, and Laurel Blair Salton Clark.

After the disaster, Space Shuttle flight operations were suspended for more than two years.

Several technical and organizational changes were made, including adding a thorough on-orbit inspection to determine how well the shuttle’s thermal protection system had endured the ascent, and keeping a designated rescue mission ready in case irreparable damage was found.

Except for one final mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope, subsequent shuttle missions were flown only to the International Space Station so that the crew could use it as a haven in case damage to the orbiter prevented safe reentry.

Learn more about these tragic missions and how they affected the space program Feb. 25.

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Past Thought Leader Series presentations

Thought Leader Series: International Space Station

Jan. 24

An Evening With Glynn Lunney

Nov. 15, 2018

STS-95: John Glenn’s Second Spaceflight

Nov. 8, 2018

Apollo – The Golden Age of Spaceflight with astronaut Walt Cunningham

Oct. 5, 2018

NASA Johnson Space Center Director Mark Geyer

Sept. 10, 2018

Leading Women of NASA with Debbie Conder, Catherine Koerner and Vanessa Wyche

Aug. 24, 2018

Astronaut debrief: Expedition 54/55

Aug. 7, 2018

Movie premiere and Q&A with EVA 23 astronauts Luca Parmitano, Chris Cassidy and former ISS Chief Engineer Chris Hansen

July 14, 2018

Pioneers of Space Exploration with retired astronauts Dr. Shannon Lucid, Dr. Rhea Seddon and Dr. Anna Fisher

June 28, 2018

Alan Stern and David Grinspoon discuss the New Horizons mission

May 12, 2018

ESA Director General Johann Woerner

April 19, 2018

A Conversation with Apollo 13 Astronaut Fred Haise

March 16, 2018

Dr. John Logsdon talks John F. Kennedy, Project Apollo and the 21st Century Space Program

Feb. 21, 2018

Astronaut debrief: Expedition 52/53

Jan. 31, 2018

Q&A with author Andy Weir

Nov. 17, 2017

45th Anniversary of Apollo 17 Remembered

July 20, 2017

Apollo Lunar Surface Exploration – EVA and Lunar Rover

July 20, 2017

Saturn Booster Operations – Saturn V Launch and S-IVB Trans-Lunar Insertion

July 20, 2017

Apollo Landing and Recovery Operations and Astronaut Post-Landing Quarantine

July 20, 2017

Mars Exploration Forum with NASA Johnson Space Center Director and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Director

Jan. 20, 2017

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