Black History Month: Sharon McDougle ‘suited up’ the first black woman to travel into space

McDougle was a ‘suit tech’ for Dr. Mae Jemison’s historic mission

HOUSTON – In 1992, Dr. Mae Jemison became the first black woman to travel into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour.

However, many are unaware that another African American woman was also part of this historic mission.

Her name is Sharon McDougle, a former suit tech for the space shuttle program who talked to Houston Life about her incredible story.

Sharon McDougle and Dr. Mae Jemison (Sharon McDougle)

McDougle was responsible for processing the orange launch and re-entry pressure suit assemblies worn by all NASA space shuttle astronauts, including Jemison.

“When I was ‘suiting up’ up Mae, I didn’t realize how big it was because I had done it for so long in the Air Force prior to coming to Houston. So, it didn’t really hit me how big (it was) until 2017 when the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ came out and people were saying ‘You should tell your story.’ I assumed everybody knew because I was in the photos with her, but I was hidden in plain sight. It was like they didn’t even see me,’” said McDougle, who worked with the Space Shuttle Program for 22 years.

Sharon McDougle and the crew of the STS-47 in 1992 (Sharon McDougle)

McDougle took care of Jamison’s assigned escape equipment during training, launch day, and landing - from her writing utensils to her diaper.

“I made my own history because I was the only black woman in my department, and I worked from the very bottom as a suit technician all the way up to manager before I departed,” said McDougle, who worked as a NASA contractor and was the Space Shuttle Crew Escape Equipment Crew Chief until 2011.

Sharon McDougle (Sharon McDougle)

“Everybody is trainable, that’s one thing I preach. Where are you going to get pressure suit experience except working on them? So, you have to give people a chance and let them have that opportunity to do the job,” said McDougle, who was able to suit up other African American astronauts including Dr. Bernard Harris, Frederick Gregory, and Charles Bolden.

Sharon McDougle and NASA astronaut Frederick Gregory (Sharon McDougle)

McDougle’s story is certainly an inspiration for younger generations looking to make their way into the STEM professions.

“There are so many other career fields in the space program besides becoming an astronaut. So kids, do not give up. I achieved all of this without a college degree, so it is possible. You can still be a huge success, I’m living proof,” said McDougle, who lives in LaPorte with her husband Maronald.

To see McDougle’s complete interview, watch the video above.

To connect with McDougle, click here.

About the Author: