Rita G. Willcoxon formerly served as the director of Launch Vehicle Processing at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida, beginning in December 2006. The Launch Vehicle Processing Directorate was responsible for processing and launching three space shuttles — Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — processing the Constellation vehicles, and managing a work force of approximately 5,400 civil service and contractor employees.
Prior to her appointment as director of Launch Vehicle Processing, Willcoxon served as deputy director of Shuttle Processing. As deputy director, Willcoxon assisted the director with the management and oversight of all space shuttle processing and launch operations at Kennedy. Additionally, she served as the alternate technical manager representative (TMR) for the shuttle processing contract at Kennedy.
Preceding her role as the deputy director of Shuttle Processing, Willcoxon served in several key senior leadership positions at Kennedy to include both the acting director and the deputy director of the Spaceport Engineering and Technology Directorate. In these positions, she was responsible for developing advanced spaceport and range technologies and systems in support of the agency’s Space Shuttle, International Space Station and Expendable Launch Services Programs and in support of future NASA programs. She also served as the associate director, Spaceport Technology Projects, in the Spaceport Engineering and Technology Directorate, where she was responsible for the project management of both large and small projects in support of the center’s mission.
In addition to her senior leadership positions at Kennedy, Willcoxon led several agency teams, including Reinvention of Station and Shuttle Utilization and the development of agency capability roadmaps in support of NASA’s Exploration Mission.
Willcoxon came to Kennedy in 1988 in the Payload Operations Directorate. She worked her way up through the ranks culminating in key positions such as chief of the Launch Site Support Office, deputy chief of the Payload Projects Office, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory resident office manager. During her payload tenure, she and her organizations led teams that planned, processed and launched several shuttle and expendable launch vehicle payloads including several Spacelab missions, Magellan, European Retrievable Carrier (EURECA), Gamma Ray Observatory, and Cassini. Over the years, Willcoxon has earned numerous awards, including the Silver Snoopy award, two Exceptional Achievement Medals, the Outstanding Leadership Medal and an Exceptional Service Medal.
Willcoxon graduated from the University of Arkansas in 1982 with a Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering. She received her Master of Science in industrial engineering management from the University of Oklahoma in 1986.
Willcoxon is married to Jim Willcoxon, principal of Melbourne High School. She has a daughter, Erica, and a son, Grant.