The new director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center expressed optimism about the growth of the local aerospace industry at an Aug. 18 luncheon hosted by the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership.

Vanessa Wyche, the first Black woman to lead a NASA center, began her work as director in May. She outlined various initiatives in which the center is involved, emphasizing how important community partnerships will be to future growth, during the BAHEP event in the Hilton Houston NASA Clear Lake ballroom.

“We are part of an ecosystem is how I see it, and working together is how we will be able to bring more commercial opportunities to this area,” she said Aug. 18. “I’m looking forward to us working and identifying ways that we can help as NASA to bring more companies to the area.”

As director, Wyche is leading a center that is central to NASA’s human spaceflight missions and home to the nation’s astronaut corps, International Space Station mission operations and the Orion Program, per a June 30 news release from NASA. The center’s total budget was more than $5.5 billion in fiscal year 2020, and more than $2.2 billion of the budget was spent in Texas, according to data Wyche presented Aug. 18.

NASA announced an acquisition plan in the spring to ensure continuous human presence in low-Earth orbit through the Commercial LEO Destinations project. Wyche said there will be many opportunities locally for involvement as the center works with commercial partners to establish a commercial human spaceflight economy.

“We’re trying to attract everyone that we can,” she said. “I am very optimistic about the future. We’re doing more in space now than we have ever really been.”

Wyche is a 31-year NASA veteran and served as deputy director for nearly three years before stepping into the director role, per the news release. The South Carolina native and Clemson University alumnus also previously worked as director of the center’s Exploration Integration and Science Directorate, and served as a flight manager for multiple space shuttle missions, per the release.

The Bay Area houses numerous major commercial space hotspots. The center, and Space Center Houston, are located on E. NASA Parkway. Houston Spaceport, located at Ellington Airport, is just north of the Houston Aerospace Support Center, and the HASC is home to the EDGE Center, where San Jacinto College students learn and train for aerospace-related jobs.

The path forward for the space economy is rooted in forging partnerships among the academics, industry leaders and government officials working and learning in these centers, Wyche said.

NASA aims to engage in one-on-one, community-building sessions with local stakeholders to find out what their needs are, where their interests lie and if those interests might align with NASA’s missions. Wyche and her team aim to make it easier and more accessible to partner with government entities, she added.

She encouraged those interested to reach out to Sam Gunderson on NASA’s partnerships team to find out more about community engagement.

“We can help you with our critical expertise, and that gives us a mutual benefit of sharing our workforce,” she said. “Great things are happening at the spaceport, and we will continue to work together.”

Empowering the local workforce will be essential in commercial space growth, Wyche said Aug. 18, and she saw the necessary excitement to do so from the EDGE Center program graduates she met recently. There will be unique opportunities in Houston to involve up-and-coming companies as the commercial space industry grows, she said.

Houston officials have announced various new developments to the spaceport that have already broken ground or will be commencing later this year, including Collins Aerospace and Intuitive Machines. BAHEP President Bob Mitchell said the developments announced in 2021 alone will create more than 2,000 local jobs within the next three years, and that is just to start.

“There's going to be plenty of jobs for this region,” he said at the Aug. 18 luncheon.