Space – Akron’s Stephen Koerner Named Deputy Director of NASA Johnson
“It’s hard to imagine a more exciting time to be at NASA, and I am honored to have the opportunity to assume this new role,” Koerner said. “I hope to provide value to the agency, to the center and to Vanessa.” In his new position, Koerner assists in 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 landing the first woman and first person of color on the surface of the moon.
Koener served as director of Johnson’s Flight Operations Directorate since 2019, overseeing the organization that includes the astronaut office, the flight director’s office, Mission Control, human spaceflight trainers and training facilities, as well as Johnson’s aircraft operations division. After graduating in 1987, Koerner attended the University of Akron to study mechanical engineering, which at the time was a five-year program that included a one year internship.
Koerner said he was always a human spaceflight enthusiast, and particularly remembered the Space Shuttle Challenger accident that occurred in 1986 when the shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing the seven crew members. Koerner was a junior at Stow High School at the time. “Unbeknownst to me, the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston had a cooperative program where they were trying to bring in interns from around the country,” Koerner said. “They had a relationship with University of Akron, so in my junior year when it came time to pursue an internship, an opportunity to work for Johnson presented itself. I hadn’t thought about NASA before, but certainly jumped on that opportunity.”
“Steve’s fingerprints on human spaceflight go back almost three decades, and his experience and knowledge base make him a natural choice for the position,” Wyche said. “As the Johnson Space Center continues its excellence in human spaceflight and embarks on new endeavors, Steve’s experience as a technical leader with business acuity makes him an invaluable asset to the center.” He will now assist Wyche in leading one of NASA’s largest installations, which has more than 10,000 civil service and contractor employees – including those at White Sands Test Facility in Las Cruces, New Mexico – and is responsible for a broad range of human spaceflight activities.
“I remember driving from Stow to Houston and seemed surreal. I didn’t think about the long-term implications, but looking back, it was certainly a milestone,” he said. The internship essentially became a yearlong job interview, and NASA hired Koerner right out of college, starting full time in 1992 as a space shuttle flight coordinator.
“So being in that, and just pausing to think about it, it makes me realize how blessed I’ve been,” he said. “And then seeing us resume flights from Kennedy Space Center last year was a monumental moment.” He supported 41 space shuttle flights from Mission Control, before moving into leadership roles that led him to become manager for the Mission Operations Directorate’s International Space Station Operations. He became deputy director of the Mission Operations Directorate in 2007 and remained in that position for 10 years, helping to see the office through a merger with the Flight Crew Operations Directorate that resulted in the creation of the current Flight Operations Directorate. Koerner said his most exciting experiences lately have been walking out with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley when they did their first launch in a SpaceX rocket last year.
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