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Breaking barriers: Vanessa Wyche becomes first African-American woman to be named Director of Johnson Space Center

She grew up in South Carolina and was the first person in her family to go through integrated schools. Now, she leads 10,000 employees at NASA.

HOUSTON — Thirty-one years with NASA brought Vanessa Wyche to this moment. She is now the first African-American woman to be named Director of Johnson Space Center. She now leads more than 10,000 employees at the agency.

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"When I got the call from the administrator, I told him, 'Yes, sir. I am thrilled and honored to have the job.' And then I also let him know that I had to not squeal, because I didn't want everyone to be alarmed," she said.

Breaking barriers has always been a part of Wyche's life. She grew up in the Deep South and was the first person in her family to go through all integrated schools.

"I was a little girl growing up in South Carolina. I never thought I'd work at NASA," she said.

She landed the job at NASA in 1989.

"I began my career doing small payloads doing experiments on astronauts," Wyche said.

Now, she said she's looking forward to the exciting tasks ahead, including NASA's partnership with SpaceX and helping Boeing get ready for its next crewless test flight.

"The other big activity we have been working on in our local area of supports is the commercialization of low-Earth orbit...Having the ability for commercial industry to build their own free-flying space stations to do research aboard the ISS as well as flying private astronauts to the International Space Station," Wyche said.

Her to-do list also includes developing the Orion Spacecraft and going to the moon.

Even as she makes history herself, Wyche is always looking to the future of NASA.

"I want all young people to pursue a career in STEM because I want them to come and work at the Johnson Space Center," she said.