Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, shared her first-hand experiences aboard the space shuttle and the International Space Station with the ISE homecoming crowd
Watch Currie-Gregg’s Presentation
The ISE Department kicked off its 2017 Homecoming Weekend at the brand new StateView Hotel – located on NC State’s Centennial Campus. The festivities began with the induction of ISE’s Class of 2017 Distinguished Engineering Alumni that included:
- Jeffrey Johnson (BSIE ‘78)
- Jeffrey Joines (BSIE ‘90, MSIE ‘93, Ph.D. ‘96)
- Nancy Larson (MSIE ‘88)
- Juli Trexler (BSIE ‘97)
After the induction ceremony, former astronaut, Nancy Currie-Gregg, shared her first-hand experiences aboard the space shuttle and in the International Space Station with the capacity crowd.
As a little girl, Currie-Gregg wanted to be a military aviator. “No one ever told me that was not a possibility,” she said. “This was before the internet so I couldn’t Google it. I did not realize that there were no female military aviators.”
In 1975, female military aviators became a reality. In 1978, NASA selected the first group of female astronauts. “I remember in my late twenties thinking that all those changes occurred a long time ago,” recalled Currie-Gregg. “But as I have gotten older, I realized that those doors were opened for me in the nick of time.”
After becoming a military aviator, she had a dream of becoming a NASA astronaut. “I will tell you that there were people who told me, ‘You are chasing a pipe dream!’,” explained Currie-Gregg. “The selection rate for astronauts is 0.08.” Fueled by her passions, she continued her dream, weathering several setbacks along the way. In 1990, she interviewed for the third time and was selected for the astronaut program.
PREPARING TO LAUNCH
Although she was in the program, it would be eight years before she would realize her dream of going into space. In 1998, she was part of the crew that would take the Space Shuttle Endeavor, mission designation STS-88, to the International Space Station (ISS). There they would connect the aft berthing port of the Unity Module – the first American component of the ISS – with the forward hatch of the already orbiting Zarya Module.
Currie-Gregg shared with the audience what it was like right before launch at Kennedy Space Center that day. “You walked down the same ramp that Neil Armstrong walked down when he started his day on his mission to the moon,” she recalled. “You are so well-trained and all you are thinking about is your job. But, you are enormously aware of the history and those that have proceeded you.”
At breakfast that morning, the crew discovered that only one member of the team had launched at night before. Curry-Gregg recalled how he described a night launch, “It is going to look like we are flying in a fireball. But don’t be concerned,” he said. “Wow,” said Currie-Gregg. “I would have thought we would have talked about that like two years ago.” According to Currie-Gregg, not only did it seem like they were flying in a fireball but they had a communications malfunction and could not talk with the ground either. “It was a pretty dynamic event,” she joked. “That is how I would describe it.”
BUILDING THE ISS
Once the shuttle arrived at the ISS, the excitement did not end. The crew was responsible for linking the Unity with the Russian module Zarya but had arrived 15 minutes early. So they had to hold the shuttle in position a few feet away from the pressurized docking adaptor while traveling at Mach 25 or roughly 19,500 miles per hour.
When it came time to make the connection, Currie-Gregg admitted that she was nervous. But as soon as the she put her hands on the controllers, everything slowed down. “All my training kicked in,” she explained. “I felt like behind my hands were 10,000 people helping me do this and I wasn’t worried at all.” Despite the fact that there was only a plus/minus 2 inches and plus/minus 2 degrees variance, she was able to connect the modules. The crew then spent the next three days on space walks completing all the remaining connections between the two units.
With the modules secured together, it was time to enter the ISS. Due to delays in the Russian space program, the cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev – the most experienced cosmonaut/astronaut in the world – had joined the crew on the mission. This created a problem. Who should enter the ISS first, the American commander or the Russian Cosmonaut? In a display of solidarity, they entered the space station together. “When we finally made that call to the ground, ‘Houston this is the International Space Station’, that finalized the mission for me,” said Currie-Gregg. “It was really an honor to be there.”
FLYING IN SPACE IS ALL ABOUT TEAMWORK
Currie-Gregg concluded her presentation by explaining how it took a cohesive team of professionals working together to make the mission a reality. She encouraged the students in the audience that they can achieve great things in the business and research world by working together. “You can achieve global visions with a cohesive team all pulling in the same direction, all with that grand mission,” said Currie-Gregg. She closed with some advice, “Continually challenge yourself and continually challenge your team and you can achieve bold visions.”