HOUSTON – For more than two decades, Sharon McDougle was one of the last people seen by NASA astronauts before launch and one of the first people they saw after landing.
McDougle spent 22 years working as a NASA contractor, first with Boeing Aerospace and then United Space Alliance, in the agency’s space shuttle crew escape equipment department.
Her role suiting up astronauts in their orange escape suits before launch meant she was often pictured getting them ready for flight, but she says no one knew who she was or the history she was making as the only Black suit technician in the department at the time.
“I was hidden in plain sight. It’s like they look at the picture and I was invisible. Nobody ever asked who was that girl suiting up Dr. Mae,” McDougle recalled with a laugh.
In 1992, when Dr. Mae Jemison prepared to make history as the first Black woman to travel into space, McDougle was right by her side.
“I was just so thrilled when I found out a Black woman was going up,” she said.
McDougle was Jemison’s suit technician for the historic mission. A job she quickly claimed for herself as her boss was making assignments.
“I grabbed the marker and put my name right by Dr. Jemison’s name. I was like ‘I’m suiting her up. Y’all already know. Don’t play. I wanted to make sure she had the best care,” McDougle said.