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Modern Day Hidden Figure

By Tammy ReesePublished 3 years ago 4 min read
Sharon McDougle

McDougle began her career in the Crew Escape Equipment (CEE) Department as a suit technician responsible for processing the orange launch and re-entry pressure suit assemblies worn by all NASA space shuttle astronauts. She was one of only two women CEE Suit Technicians and the only Black technician when she began her career.

She made history when she suited up Dr. Mae Jemison for her historic flight aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on September 12, 1992. McDougle was promoted to Crew Chief making her the first female and first Black Crew Chief in CEE.

She was responsible for leading her team and ensuring the astronaut crews were provided with outstanding support during suited astronaut training, launch, and landing events. As Crew Chief, she had the honor of leading the first and only all-female suit tech crew.

McDougle went on to become the first and only female, and Black person, to become the Manager of the CEE Processing Department. In this position, she managed the team of 25+ employees responsible for the equipment worn by the astronaut crews aboard the space shuttle.

Her team suited up the astronauts, tested the equipment, strapped the astronauts into the space shuttle before launch, and recovered the crew upon landing.

McDougle is also a United States Air Force (USAF) veteran. She began her aerospace career in the Air Force where she served proudly as an Aerospace Physiology Specialist at Beale Air Force Base, CA.

Tammy Reese: You continue to make history throughout your career. Who are some historical Black figures who have inspired you?

Sharon McDougle: This is not an all-inclusive list, but a few stand out historical figures who have inspired me: Shirley Chisholm, Bessie Coleman, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson; my forever President Barack Obama, my forever First Lady Michelle Obama, and of course, Mae Jemison.

Tammy Reese: Thank you for your service. What lessons have you taken from the United States Air Force that you use in your everyday life?

Sharon McDougle: I was already a very mature, responsible young lady when I joined the Air Force.

But, being in the Air Force honed my time management skills which have definitely helped in my day-to-day activities.

Being in the military also helped with my teamwork skills and dealing with different personalities.

Tammy Reese: Describe the experience of suiting up Dr. Mae Jemison for her historical flight abroad Space Shuttle Endeavor in 3 words?

Sharon McDougle: Amazing, inspiring, proud!

Tammy Reese: What have been some other memorable moments in your career as Crew Chief in the Crew Escape Equipment Department?

Sharon McDougle: One of the most memorable moments as Crew Chief was leading the first and only all-female suit tech crew on STS-78. This was the only time we ever had enough women in the department to accomplish this.

While waiting for the launch, we were walking around the area and some of the other attendees asked if we were the Budweiser girls because we were dressed alike.

Their mouths dropped when we told them who we were! The Olympic torch was flown on this Space Shuttle mission. The astronauts brought the torch to the landing party and I and my daughter took a picture holding it.

Some other memorable moments were when STS-51 scrubbed (canceled) 3 times! I was not happy and was ready to come home. I looked back at the photos and noticed I had a different hairdo for each suit-up.

Also, Commander Fred Gregory (first Black Space Shuttle Commander) presenting me with a mission patch watch when I suited him up on STS-44.

Suiting up Tom Cruise when he visited NASA and working with the legendary John Glenn during some of his training events for his historic mission on STS-95.

Tammy Reese: Did you create personal relationships with Nasa Astronauts?

Sharon McDougle: Oh yes! I’ve met and worked with many astronauts. I had to dress them, so I got very up close and personal with them. When the astronauts are assigned to a mission, they’re assigned a suit tech.

When suiting them up I’d have to put my hands inside the suit to straighten out the wrinkles. I not only suited them up for launch day but for all of the training events leading up to launch, for approximately a year. We even hung out and partied together sometimes!

Tammy Reese: What do you love most about the work that you do?

Sharon McDougle: I loved knowing I was a part of something so much bigger than myself. After the newness of seeing the space shuttle launches wore off, I really enjoyed community outreach.

I would visit schools and community events with the astronaut suit ensemble and tell everyone about what we do and how the suit works.

I love promoting the space program and making sure our children are aware of the various opportunities available to them. They have to see it to be it!

Tammy Reese: What would you like your legacy to look like?

Sharon McDougle: I want people to remember how I enjoyed life to the fullest, how much I love and adore my family, and how I always gave back to the community. I also want to be remembered for the firsts I achieved in my career.

Sharon McDougle

Keep up-to-date with Sharon and her career journey by visiting her website.


About the Creator

Tammy Reese

Tammy is best known for her legendary interviews with Sharon Stone, Angela Bassett, Sigourney Weaver, Geena Davis, Morris Chestnut, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Laurence Fishburne, Omar Epps, Joseph Sikora, and more.

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    Tammy ReeseWritten by Tammy Reese

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