Nine highly accomplished and talented women will visit Bonne Terre for Saturday’s once-in-a-lifetime event “Show Me Space: Women in Space” at The Space Museum and Grissom Center.
Limited tickets are available for the event and may be purchased at www.space-mo.org/event.
Out of the nine special guests, one of them will spend some time with North County Primary students Friday afternoon when she reads her book to students in a school-wide assembly. Her book is titled “Suit Up for Launch with Shay!”
Sharon (Caples) McDougle will share her story about the orange space suit worn by the space shuttle astronauts when they launched into space and returned home. The story is written as a mother-daughter conversation and explains the layers of the suit, some of its components, and other space-related details.
After she reads her book at North County’s Primary School, McDougle will have a short Q&A session with students. She’ll also share details about her Air Force and space program experiences.
McDougle is a retired NASA spacesuit technician and wrote her book to share her knowledge of the orange space suit with children of all ages and to leave her legacy.
“I’ve always enjoyed reading to and interacting with children,” she said. “While working with the Space Shuttle program, I made it my mission to visit as many schools and community events as I could to spread the word about my amazing career and many other behind-the-scenes careers with the space program.”
McDougle said her career chose her when she enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during her senior year of high school. The Air Force took her test score to decide which career was a good fit for her; the result was an aerospace physiology specialist. She began her aerospace career in 1982 after graduating from high school in Mississippi.
She was stationed at California’s Beale Air Force Base and she trained SR-71 and U-2 pilots in hypobaric and hyperbaric operations. She specialized in working with pressure suits and fitted suits to individual pilots and suited them for training flights and missions.
Between missions, McDougle inspected and maintained pressure suits and survival equipment. She traveled to England, Greece, Japan and Korea in support of SR-71 and U-2 operations.
In 1990, McDougle joined the NASA family through Boeing aerospace operations and space shuttle crew escape equipment (CEE). She became the first African American CEE suit technician.
In September 1992, McDougle suited up Dr. Mae Jemison when Jemison became the first Black woman to travel into space. McDougle was Jemison’s suit technician for the historic mission STS-47 on Shuttle Endeavor.
She worked closely with Jemison during her training and leading up to the shuttle launch. McDougle’s tasks included taking care of all of her assigned crew escape equipment, including her suit, helmet and other items.
McDougle was promoted to crew chief in 1994, again making history by becoming the first African-American CEE crew chief. She was responsible for leading her team of technicians to suit up astronaut crews and ensuring they received support during all training, launch and landing events.
In 1996, McDougle led the first and only all-female suit technician crew, STS-78.
In 2004, she became the first and only African-American promoted to manager of a CEE processing department where she managed a team of more than 25 employees who were responsible for processing the Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES) and equipment worn by the astronaut crews aboard the space shuttle.
McDougle held this position until the Space Shuttle program ended in 2011. She worked an additional year to help close out the program. That’s when McDougle’s highly successful career concluded after 22 years.
During her 22 years of service, McDougle was recognized with the Astronaut “Silver Snoopy” Award, Space Flight Awareness Honoree Award, USA Employee of the Month Teamwork Award, USA Employee of the Month Community Service Award, and the highly coveted Women of Color in Flight Award from Dr. Mae Jemison. In addition, she received the Calvin “Buck” Buchanan “FIRST” Award and the Dr. Cindy Ayers “Legacy” Award at the 2018 Mississippi Trailblazer ceremony. She also received the Lifetime Achievement award from the Moss Point Visionary Circle for her military service and NASA career at the sixth annual Living Legends Ball.
McDougle is part of Saturday’s “Women in Space” event at The Space Museum and Grissom Center. She will participate as a panelist, read her book and also do a signing.
“I’m looking forward to checking out the museum (I love museums), meeting new people and making new connections, visiting with some old co-workers, and hearing keynote speaker Eileen Collins,” she said.
McDougle, who is a resident of Texas, has several upcoming events. She’s doing a free virtual reading of her book “Suit Up for Launch with Shay!” on May 10 through The National Women’s History Museum Brave Girls Virtual Storytime. Groups and individuals may sign up for this event. She’s participating in the Smithsonian’s event “Soar Together at Air & Space Family Day” at Udvar-Hazy where she’ll read her book, do a book signing, and participate in a live chat and Q&A.
Visit McDougle’s website SharonCaplesMcDougle.com to find out more information about her and her upcoming activities.
Pam Clifton is a contributing writer to the Daily Journal whose work often appears in Missouri Life magazine.