Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg Observatory at Enid High School

DR. NANCY CURRIE-GREGG

Astronaut. Aviator. Teacher. Engineer.

Dr. Nancy J. Currie-Gregg has worn many hats in a distinguished professional career that has seen her serve her country and community in a variety of ways. Nancy flew four times on the Space Shuttle and has been with NASA since 1987. Before that, she flew helicopters in the U.S. Army, logging more than 4,000 hours in a variety of aircraft. In addition, Nancy has taught at North Carolina State University, the University of Houston and Rice University. She holds undergraduate, Master’s and Ph.D. degrees.

View Nancy's NASA page
View Nancy's astronaut page

Q&A

How did you become an astronaut?
 

As a young girl, I never thought about becoming an astronaut, but I always wanted to fly. My father was a World War II aircraft bombardier and his stories about his time in service really sparked my interest in flying when I was a child. During my college years at The Ohio State University, I took part in the school's ROTC program and after I graduated, I joined the U.S. Army with a mind on becoming a female aviator. I did that, becoming a fixed-wing aircraft pilot and after I obtained my Master's degree, a couple of my mentors suggested that I apply to become an astronaut. I did in 1987,, but I wasn't selected. I was encouraged to take and accepted a position as a flight-simulation engineer at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. I applied again to become an astronaut in 1990 and was accepted into the program,

What's it like to fly in space?
 

There's three distinct components of what we call "space travel." The first and shortest in duration is the liftoff and entry into orbit. Sitting atop rockets that generate millions of pounds of thrust is an unforgettable experience. Is it frightening? Yes, a little, but the astronaut crew is just the tip of an iceberg of people that prepare the men (and women!), machines, and missions that ultimately culminate with "blastoff."

Of course, what goes up must come down, and re-entry and landing make up the dramatic final stage of a mission. Orbital velocity is roughly 17,000 miles per hour and we slow down for our return home in large part thanks to the earth's atmosphere,  What you may have seen on television or online, the Space Shuttle gliding elegantly to its landing, is preceded by a cataclysmic storm of fire and friction which every spacecraft and its occupants must endure.

As for spaceflight itself, it's an experience for which I still struggle to find the right words to describe. Most of an astronaut's time is spent working—our schedules are mapped out minute by minute from the time we wake up until we go to sleep—so, there's not much time to savor the experience. Still, every astronaut finds a little personal time and for me the view out the windows was very humbling and strengthened my faith as a Christian. 

And, trust me, being an astronaut, at least in space, is a very un-glamorous job! We don't take showers on a mission and even a small act like brushing teeth is an interesting challenge when you're flying in "zero G," which is actually "free-fall." Space travelers are actually flying so fast that gravity never has a chance to exert its influence!

Do astronauts really have to have "the right stuff"?
 

The way I always looked at it, being an astronaut was merely my job. Most days, when either preparing for or between missions, that job is like most other jobs: you go to work, you have a boss, and you put in your time.  Rather than considering myself "special" or exceptional in any way, I realized that my set of experiences were simply different than a lot of other people...and you'd be amazed at how many different "walks of life" astronauts actually come from.

What do you do now?
 

I am still employed at NASA. After the loss of STS-107, the Space Shuttle Columbia, I headed the Space Shuttle Program Safety and Mission Assurance Office. Safety is still my job and number one priority as a principal engineer in the NASA Engineering and Safety Center.

Like most other people, I also enjoy doing things away from work. I love the outdoors and animals. Tim and I have three dogs and, in addition, I also have a wonderful reining horse named Jake. We participate in competitions from time to time. I also love spending time with my daughter and granddaughter, and Tim and I are also big sports fans. He's a Sooner and I'm a Buckeye, so college football and basketball are pretty big deals in our home in the Friendswood area of Houston, Texas. Go Bucks!

When will we go to Mars?
 

It took mankind roughly eight years to get to the moon from Yuri Gagarin's first manned spaceflight in 1961. To get to Mars from where we are now, might take twice that long or longer. What excites me most about my involvement with the Currie-Gregg Observatory is the opportunity to engage with Enid students of all ages. Our mission statement for this project is, "We Will Find Stars," and the stars we "find" won't only be in the sky at night. We're also looking to inspire and encourage young people to pursue scientific study and careers. Our real goal is to have an Enid student be an important part of that first NASA Mission to Mars. He or she may not be an astronaut, like Enid's own Dr. Owen Garriott or myself, but there will be plenty of opportunities for exceptional talent to send men and women to the Red Planet.

What would you say to someone who wants to become an astronaut someday?
 

While the very first astronauts might have been test pilots, since those days, "star travelers" have come from a wide array of careers: scientists, doctors, teachers, politicians...and even video-game makers. Dr. Garriott's own son, Richard, flew with the Russians as a "citizen-astronaut" on the heels of his successful career developer and entrepreneur. As NASA and the rest of the world prepares for voyages to Mars, it is still a bit of an unknown as to what skills, aptitudes ,and demeanors will best serve the long-duration space explorer. Certainly education will always be important. Flight experience remains a plus for today's astronaut candidates (although some astronauts have been, literally, "afraid to fly!").

My best advice is to remember that your achievements can be as great as your dreams. Always reach for the stars.

 

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