Ashburn Magazine

Ashburn woman helps lead one of NASA’s most high-flying projects

Robyn Gatens just can’t turn off the science. In her free time, she’s fiddling around with an old wine fridge at her home in Ashburn’s Farmwell Hunt neighborhood. She’s trying to find the perfect balance of temperature and humidity to help ripen her homemade cheeses — wheels of feta, cheddar and camembert.

And then, when the workweek resumes, she heads into Washington and NASA’s headquarters. Because besides being an absolute cheesemonger, Gatens is also the director of the International Space Station.

“I never could have really planned this,” Gatens said of her position with the space agency. “If you try to map out your career, it usually doesn’t turn out that way. It zigs and zags.” 

Gatens was born in Delaware and lived in Iowa and Texas before landing in the Atlanta area to finish high school and attend nearby Georgia Tech. She studied chemical engineering, which — through various twists and turns — led her to NASA. Up the ranks she rose until, two years ago, she was named the director for the ISS.

It’s been a fascinating journey — and space seems to fascinate almost everyone — so Ashburn Magazine interviewed Gatens to learn more about her job and her life.

To read the interview with Gatens — including why she fought to keep the space station in operation longer than scheduled, what the future holds for the station, plus how she got into making cheese — click here and head over to the Ashburn Magazine website.