In a development that may inspire new generation women engineers, NASA has selected Catherine Koerner to lead the development and operations of the agency's newest spacecraft that will carry astronauts on Artemis missions to the Moon and return them safely to Earth.
Koerner began her new position as Orion Programme Manager effective from Tuesday, NASA said.
"Orion is a key element of the agency's Artemis infrastructure, and I look forward to leading the team responsible for developing and building America's deep space human spacecraft," Koerner said on her appointment.
"Next year, we'll be launching the Artemis I test flight -- a major milestone -- and the first of the Artemis mission series on our way to putting the first woman and the next man on the Moon."
Koerner will be based at NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston. Most recently, she led the Human Health and Performance Directorate team at Johnson, which works to optimise astronaut performance and reduce health risks associated with human spaceflight.
"Cathy brings to Orion a diverse background in engineering and human health, two key components for the Artemis programme that will see the spacecraft send our astronauts to the Moon, ushering in a sustainable presence on the lunar surface," said Kathy Lueders, NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations.
"Working with our partners, her leadership will guide the programme to achievements that will inspire and benefit humanity," she said.
A native of Schaumburg, Illinois, Koerner earned bachelor's and master's degrees in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
As the Orion programme manager, Koerner will be responsible for oversight of design, development and testing of the Orion spacecraft, as well as spacecraft manufacturing already under way at locations across the country and in Europe for ESA (European Space Agency).
Koerner succeeds Mark Kirasich, who is currently leading NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.
Howard Hu, who was acting Orion program manager, will serve as Orion deputy program manager, NASA said.
Orion, the Space Launch System (SLS), and Exploration Ground Systems programs are foundational elements of NASA's Artemis program.
Artemis I will be the first integrated flight test of Orion and the SLS next year.
Artemis II will follow as the first human mission, taking astronauts farther into space than ever before.
On Artemis III, astronauts will set foot on the Moon by 2024.