two pictures side by side. at left is the space station with earth below, visible as a crescent on the left. at right is dana weigel smiling in front of an american flag and the nasa flag

NASA’s Dana Weigel (right) will be program manager for the International Space Station (visible at left).
(Image credit: NASA)

A woman will take charge of the International Space Station program at NASA for the first time.

NASA’s Dana Weigel was named incoming permanent program manager for the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday (Feb. 26), succeeding Joel Montalbano. As Weigel takes office on April 7, Montalbano will be promoted to deputy associate administrator of space operations, agency officials said in a release.

Weigel is deputy ISS program manager right now and has served for 20 years at NASA in roles including manager of the space station vehicle office (2014 to 2021), deputy chief of the flight director office (2012 to 2014), and flight director (2004 to 2014).

“Dana’s depth of expertise and International Space Station Program experience will be instrumental as we continue to explore low Earth orbit for the benefit of all humanity,” Vanessa Wyche, the director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said in the statement.

Related: Track the ISS: How and where to see it

Weigel will be the seventh ISS program manager in the 30 years the position has existed, and the first woman in a permanent position. Past managers, according to NASA and the Defense Media Network, were Randy H. Brinkley (1994 to 1999); Tommy W. Holloway (1999 to 2002); William Gerstenmaier, who is now with SpaceX (2002 to 2005); Michael Suffredini, now with Axiom Space (2005 to 2015); Kirk Shireman, now vice-president for moon exploration at Lockheed Martin (2015 to 2020); and Montelbano, who has held the position since 2020.

Weigel will be responsible for the “overall management, development, integration, and operation of the orbital complex,” NASA officials stated. The station has been continuously occupied since November 2000 and has hosted 276 individuals representing 22 countries so far, according to agency statistics.

She takes the helm of the program as the ISS looks to rapidly expand private participation in both science and astronaut missions, while planning for a possible retirement as soon as 2030. NASA has funded a set of private space stations that will take over ISS science in low Earth orbit; the ISS has done 3,000 experiments as of September 2023 ranging from medicine to manufacturing, according to Science. Officials are also soliciting a private vehicle that will deorbit the ISS when the new stations are ready.

But Congress and private companies are concerned about a growing gap in low Earth orbit science on NASA’s part, saying that China’s Tiangong space station will be the only alternative. (NASA cannot engage in bilateral work or coordination with China under a 2011 directive known as the Wolf amendment, unless Congress gives express permission.)

In recent years, private astronaut missions have flown to the ISS via Axiom Space. NASA is also bringing up its astronauts via commercial crew vehicles: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon since 2020, and potentially Boeing’s Starliner as soon as April 2024.

Montalbano, in his new role as deputy associate administrator of the space operations mission directorate, is tasked with meeting “the nation’s goals of establishing a low Earth orbit economy and to maintain America’s leadership space,” NASA officials said in the same release.

Prior to being named ISS program manager, Montalbano was deputy program manager for eight years between 2012 and 2020. He has been with NASA as a civil servant since 1998 and notably, served as a NASA flight director from 2000 to 2008.

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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth’s reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, “Why Am I Taller?”, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada’s Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada’s Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada’s Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace

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