As a recent University of Wyoming graduate, Ryan Landon Prouty watched the birth of the International Space Station from the Moscow Control Center in 1998. As the first shuttle mission left the space station, it captured photos.
“It was the first glimpse that all of us had seen of the International Space Station,” Prouty said.
Prouty, then a communications and tracking officer for the space station, sat among the U.S. team while the Russian flight controllers worked in another room.
They all heard the announcement at once: “We now have an International Space Station.”
“All you could hear was cheering and clapping and yelling and laughing from all different corners of this amazingly historic building of the Moscow control center where Yuri Gagarin flew from,” she recalled.
Prouty now manages the Mission Integration and Operations Office for the International Space Station program and has received prestigious NASA awards.
She’ll visit her hometown of Casper later this month and will serve as guest speaker for the Historic Bishop Home’s June 22 Historical Throwback Event fundraiser “Out of this World,” which will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Her talk will compare space travel then and now as well as her work for the International Space Station.
“If I can be successful in even helping single digit percentage of these scientists and experimenters be successful in whatever it is they’re trying to discover, I can change the course of human life on Earth,” she said. “And that’s enough for me to keep going.”
Stargazing to NASA
Like most kids, Prouty grew up fascinated with space, she said.
“I never dreamed that this would be my vocation,” she said. “But I always tell people being in Wyoming is unlike almost anywhere else in the world. You can actually see the stars.”
Her earliest memory of space exploration was watching the tragedy of the Challenger space shuttle as a fifth grader at Paradise Valley Elementary School. Later she tracked Haley’s Comet for weeks, and drew pictures of the changes in a journal her parents bought her.
Prouty graduated as salutatorian of the 1993 Kelly Walsh High School class, and in 1997 finished her bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Wyoming. A couple months later, she learned about a project NASA was working on with international partners and sent her resume because her degree qualified, she liked to travel and she thought it would be fun to be part of the International Space Station program.
She landed the job.
“I packed up my life and moved to Texas without knowing a soul,” she said.
As a communications and tracking officer, she was responsible for monitoring the space station’s performance on orbit. She was the first female certified communications and tracking officer for the International Space Station.
Later, she led mid-level manager teams while NASA completed the shuttle program and space station. She’s received the prestigious NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal and two Exceptional Achievement Medals, as well as the Silver Snoopy and two Space Flight Achievement awards for individual and team accomplishments, according to her biography.
She led an effort called RISE (Revolutionize ISS for Science and Exploration) to re-engineer the program from building a space station to using it for scientific discovery and commercial enterprise.
“So after we were done building it, we needed to completely shift our culture and change our focus from one of NASA and the government being the customer for all of the contractors and all the different piece parts came together to serve us to build the Space station,” she explained, “to NASA then having to turn around and be the provider for different customers to now come use this national laboratory that we had built.”
“And I’m now running a customer service organization for other people to come utilize what we’ve built,” she added. “And it’s a huge shift. It was a huge shift for NASA. It was a huge shift for government thinking in general. It’s a different way to implement our contracts and interface with commercial entities and different companies across the country.”
Seeing it all come together
Prouty’s office at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston schedules launches for the International Space Station program’s seven rockets and directs what to pack in each vehicle and what the crew will do with the supplies in space.
“So my current job as the mission integration and operations manager for (the) space station is I get to see all of it come together end to end for space station,” Prouty said.
The rockets deliver items including parts to maintain the space station, materials for science experiments and provisions for the crew like food, exercise equipment, office supplies, batteries, clothes, toilet paper and shampoo, she said.
“We make sure that they have what they want, so their basic needs are met,” Prouty said, “so they can do what we need done as a program to make all the discoveries we’re going to make on board.”
The crew conducts hundreds of zero-gravity experiments a year in physical, chemical, combustible and biological fields, she said.
“I really feel intimately tied and passionate about the fact that I know I get to be a part of something that’s bigger than myself and that drives me every day to come to work. And I get to work with people in this industry who also feel personally passionate about what we’re doing,” she said. “And not a lot of people get to work in jobs like that, and it’s never lost on me as a civil servant what I’m doing with taxpayer dollars and the benefit back to humanity if I do my job well.”
Prouty’s talk at the Historic Bishop Home will cover what the lunar landing did for NASA and how it built up the culture to what it is today as well as where NASA is heading in the future, she said. She’ll compare planning and executing lunar missions of the 1960s with space station missions today.
After her talk, the event continues with a dinner at The Lyric catered by Silver Fox Steakhouse, memory-sharing of the first lunar landing with emcee Robert Price and a live auction of a Maserati to drive for a weekend in Colorado as a fundraiser for the Historic Bishop Home’s access, operations and facade restoration, according to the organizers. Guests are invited to wear 1960s attire or space suits.
Besides her talk, Prouty will lead an “Out Of This World” summer camp June 27 for ages 8-12 with a space gear scavenger hunt, moon rocks, space snacks and souvenirs, according to the historic house museum’s website.
“Honestly, whenever I work with kids, my No. 1 goal is just to inspire them — inspire them with a little bit of a spark, a little bit of joy, something that kind of lights a fire in them to start thinking about what they might want to do when they grow up,” she said, “make them excited about something cool.”
She loves visiting her hometown and talking about what she does is one of her favorite things, Prouty said. There are many misconceptions about the work of NASA and its motivations, she said.
“And people love NASA. It’s exciting and it’s inspiring regardless of what field you’re in,” Prouty said. “There is some element of our American existence that is intricately tied to what we do in space. And to get to share a little bit of inside knowledge about that is fun, it’s really fun.”