Charlie Blackwell-Thompson

Launch Director, Exploration Ground Systems NASA

Charlie Blackwell-Thompson serves as launch director for NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems Program, based at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida. She will oversee the countdown and liftoff of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft during its first flight test, called Artemis I. Named to the position in January 2016, Blackwell-Thompson is NASA’s first female launch director. Her role includes leading and managing the launch operations planning and execution for the Exploration Ground Systems program and Exploration Systems Development Division, or ESD. She also serves as the cross-program lead to the Launch Integration team responsible for integration and coordination of launch operations across the three programs: SLS, Orion and EGS. In her role as launch director, she manages the development of all launch countdown plans, philosophy, and launch and scrub turnaround procedures and schedules, as well as training approaches. 

Prior to being named launch director, Blackwell-Thompson served as the program’s Test Management Branch chief. The branch manages test, launch, and recovery operations for EGS and the ESD. She also served as the chief of Launch and Landing through the retirement of the Space Shuttle Program (SSP), before taking a leadership position within the Ground Processing directorate at Kennedy upon the SSP completion. 

During the SSP, Blackwell-Thompson held numerous launch countdown leadership positions. She served as one of three certified NASA test directors for launch of the space shuttles. In addition, she served as the chief NASA test director from STS-130 until program completion. She also served as the assistant launch director for STS-133 and through numerous tanking tests. 

Blackwell-Thompson joined NASA in 2004 as a NASA test director in the Launch and Landing Division. She has been involved with the prelaunch processing operations and launch countdown since Return to Flight. She is also a qualified tanking test director and served in that position for STS-116, STS-117 and STS-118. In addition to her shuttle launch countdown duties, she supported the planning efforts for launch operations in the Constellation Program. 

Blackwell-Thompson graduated from Clemson University in 1988 with a degree in computer engineering. She came to Kennedy after graduation in 1988 as a payload flight software engineer for The Boeing Company. She was responsible for the test and checkout of the avionics systems for many payloads, including the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite (UARS), the Gamma Ray Observatory (GRO), and multiple Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) and Spacelab missions. Blackwell-Thompson went on to work as the lead in the Electrical Integration Office, responsible for the electrical systems checkout for payload flight hardware, as well as the integration of that hardware into the shuttle. She served as the lead electrical engineer for multiple Hubble Space Telescope servicing missions, as well as the research double module (RDM) that flew on STS-107. Prior to coming to the Launch and Landing Division, Blackwell-Thompson served as the ground operations integration lead engineer for the Orbital Space Plane. 

Blackwell-Thompson is the holder of multiple patents related to launch vehicle interface standardization concepts, and command and control methods and systems. She has received numerous awards, including multiple Space Flight Awareness Team Awards, the astronaut’s Silver Snoopy for her work on the Hubble Space Telescope, the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal, the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, and the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement Stellar Award. 

Blackwell-Thompson is a native of Gaffney, South Carolina, where she graduated from Gaffney High School. She now resides in Merritt Island, Florida, with her husband and three children.