By Richard Tew/NASA correspondent for The Post Newspaper
Recently, Ronak Dave, JSC’s 105th flight director began his first shift in the storied Mission Control Center.
Joining a pool of just over 30 flight directors, Ronak Dave recently received his flight director’s pin and announced his team call sign “Momentum Flight,” in front of family, friends and fellow flight directors.
Hailing from New York and growing up in nearby New Jersey, Dave says he developed an interest in engineering early in life.
“I always had an engineering mind,” said Dave. “NASA was something I always wanted to do; I didn’t know how or what.”
While he was in school, Dave says he stumbled upon former NASA Flight Director Chris Kraft’s autobiography. Kraft is credited with helping establish the Mission Control Center, and helped influence its culture in the early 1970’s. Kraft would eventually become the director of flight operations for NASA.
“That really resonated with me,” said Dave. “I could see a lot of the skills I had fit into that environment.”
Dave says he began to read other books which helped him learn more and more about the goings on in the Mission Control Center.
He says his family has always been supportive of his path to NASA.
“There’s probably still model rockets in my house, buried in a box somewhere,” said Dave.
His interest in the space program helped influence his decision to attend Purdue University in Indiana where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Aeronautical Engineering.
“I partially choose Purdue because of the relationship they have with NASA,” said Dave.
It was through an internship Dave got his first taste of life inside a flight control room.
In 2011, Dave was hired as a flight controller, a position he held until he was selected for flight director school. In May of 2022, he was selected as a flight director and entered a training class to learn the responsibilities of the position. Dave says the hundreds of hours working as a flight controller on the various ongoing projects and missions on the International Space Station served him well.
“The takeaway for me was getting the time on console, working with the space station and seeing how the whole process and the vehicle are living, breathing things,” said Dave.
While in flight director training, each director goes through intensive scenario training. These training simulations called “Sims,” are in addition to training on specific operations to help equip directors address the unlikely event something might go aboard the ISS, which orbits some 240 miles above the Earth’s surface.
“We do flight simulations every day,” said Dave.
Dave says the years of training and experience flight controllers and directors receive helps each member of the team know who to turn to for specific expertise and also for team leadership.
“We are all a team and every team has a leader,” says Dave.
Looking towards the future of space flight, Dave says both advancements in technology and the long term contributions of astronauts on board the ISS are paving the way for the innovations of tomorrow.
“I think we are at an extraordinary juncture of human space flight,” said Dave. “If you look at the last five and ten years, the growth we’ve seen has been exponential. I expect that going forward. It’s really exciting and humbling to be at the tip of the spear with human space flight, and to know that I, my class and our office will be leading the team’s safe operation to the International Space Station,” said Dave.
Dave said he’s looking forward to future low Earth orbit NASA missions, commercial partners of the upcoming Artemis missions, landing on the Moon and “exploring even further beyond that.”
Photo cutline: NASA Flight Director Ronak Dave is the 105th flight director in the space agency’s history. Photo by NASA.