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Making Space for Women Panel

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Panel discussion begins at 1 p.m. in the Mission Briefing Center

Book signing to follow in front of SpaceTrader

We are saluting Women’s History Month with our Making Space for Women panel. The panel discussion is inspired by the book “Making Space for Women: Stories from Trailblazing Women of NASA’s Johnson Space Center” by Dr. Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, NASA historian. Together with Sharon Caples McDougle, Ginger Kerrick Davis and Dr. Estella Hernandez Gillette, with Grier Wilt as moderator, the panelists will discuss inspirations, challenges and triumphs that helped pave the pathway for their careers in aerospace, engineering and beyond.

This event is free with general admission. Copies can be purchased at the SpaceTrader gift shop.

About the book

The narratives highlight the societal and cultural changes these women witnessed and the lessons they learned as they pursued different career paths. Jennifer M. Ross-Nazzal has selected twenty-one interviews conducted for the NASA Oral History Projects, including those with astronauts, mathematicians, engineers, secretaries, scientists, trainers, managers, and more. The women featured not only discuss leadership, teamwork, and the experiences of being “the first,” but reveal how the role of the working woman in a predominantly white, male, technical agency has evolved.

Among the narratives included are Joan E. Higginbotham, mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery; Natalie V. Saiz, first female director of the Human Resource Office; Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space; Estella Hernández Gillette, the deputy director of the center’s External Relations Office; and Carolyn Huntoon, the first woman director of the Johnson Space Center.

Making Space for Women received the Liz Carpenter Award for Best Book on the History of Women from the Texas State Historical Association. Published by Texas A&M University Press.

Speaker Biographies


Jennifer Ross-Nazzal, Ph.D. | NASA Human Spaceflight Historian

Dr. Jennifer Ross-Nazzal is the NASA Human Spaceflight Historian. From 2004 to 2022, she served as the JSC Historian. Jennifer provides real-time resource and reference assistance to internal and external customers, and has shared her expertise with many NASA areas, broadcasting agencies, documentarians, and others. She was awarded her Ph.D. from Washington State University, her master’s in History from New Mexico State University, and B.A. in History and Political Science from the University of Arizona. She also holds certificates in Archival Management, Digital Curation and Data Management, and Historic Preservation and a second master’s in Information Science from the University of North Texas.

Jennifer holds the unique distinction of being a scholar of NASA history and women’s history. She has been featured as a subject matter expert in several documentaries; is an accomplished oral historian; has presented at numerous national conferences; and authored many publications. In 2014, the Texas State Historical Association awarded the Liz Carpenter Award to Texas Women: Their Histories, Their Lives, a book containing her chapter on Mae Jemison, the first female astronaut of color. In 2012, Jennifer was awarded the Charles Thomson Prize from the Society for History in the Federal Government for her chapter focusing on the Shuttle accidents in NASA’s Wings In Orbit: Scientific and Engineering Legacies of the Space Shuttle. Her essay, “You’ve Come a Long Way, Maybe: The First Six Women Astronauts and the Media,” was included in Spacefarers: Images of Astronauts and Cosmonauts in the Heroic Era of Spaceflight (2013) and noted as “fascinating and an in-depth study on how the first group of NASA women dealt with the still occasionally sexist media.” For this work, she received her second Thomson Prize in three years.

In 2011 she published her first book, Winning the West for Women, a biography of suffragist, Emma Smith DeVoe. That same year, she was recognized by NASA Headquarters for her outstanding work as a historian for the Agency. Her latest manuscript published in 2022, Making Space for Women, focuses on the history of JSC through the experiences of its female employees. The Texas State Historical Association recently announced Making Space for Women received the Liz Carpenter Award for the Best Book on the History of Women.

Ginger Kerrick

Ginger Kerrick Davis is Chief Strategy Officer for Barrios Technology in Houston, Texas.

Prior to joining the Barrios executive team, Kerrick served in multiple senior leadership roles at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) before retiring in 2021. Most recently, she served as the Deputy Director of the Exploration Integration and Science Directorate and JSC Assistant Center Director for Vision and Strategy. She spent the majority of her 30-year NASA career supporting JSC’s Flight Operations Directorate (FOD) in leadership roles, including Assistant Director for International Space Station (ISS), Flight Integration Division Chief, and Flight Director (the first female Hispanic Flight Director). Early in her career, she was NASA’s first Russian Training Integration Instructor, as well as being selected as the first non-astronaut Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM).

Ginger received a Bachelor of Science in physics in 1991 and a Master of Science in physics in 1993 from Texas Tech University. In 2019, she was appointed by Governor Abbott to the Board of Regents of the Texas Tech University System. She currently serves as Vice Chairwoman of the Board as well as the chairwoman of the Academic, Clinical and Student Affairs Committee.


Sharon Caples McDougle- Shuttle Crew Escape Equipment Spacesuit Technician/ Crew Chief (former), Air Force Veteran, and Author.

Sharon Caples McDougle joined the NASA family working in the Space Shuttle Crew Escape Equipment (CEE) department. She began her career as a CEE Suit Technician and was responsible for processing the orange launch/entry suit assemblies worn by astronauts. She was the first African American suit technician.

McDougle was the first woman and first African American CEE Crew Chief. In her new position she was responsible for leading a team of technicians to suit up astronaut crews. McDougle had the honor of leading the first and only all-woman suit tech crew.  

She would go on to become the only woman and only African American promoted to the position of manager of the CEE department. She held this position until the Space Shuttle retired, ending an illustrious 22-year career.

During her career she was recognized with the Astronaut “Silver Snoopy” Award, Space Flight Awareness Honoree Award, and the Women of Color in Flight Award from Dr. Mae Jemison recognizing her as the first and only African American woman suit tech/crew chief in her field.

McDougle is also an Air Force veteran. She served as an Aerospace Physiology Specialist responsible for training, suiting up, and strapping-in the SR-71 and U-2 reconnaissance aircraft pilots. She also worked with the hypobaric and hyperbaric chambers and received her training at the School of Aerospace Medicine.

She is also a published author of her children’s book “Suit Up for Launch with Shay!” where she tells you all about the orange spacesuit astronauts wear to blast off into space.
She is a mentor with several organizations: The Patti Grace Smith Fellowship, TWST4Girls (Together We Stand Tall 4 Girls), Space Center Houston’s Girl’s STEM Pathway Program, and Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).

Recently McDougle received The President’s Lifetime Achievement Volunteer Service Award for her lifelong commitment to building a stronger nation through volunteer service and she was the winner of CW39’s Remarkable Women of Houston Contest 2022.

McDougle has been recognized as a Mississippi Trailblazer with two awards: The Calvin “Buck” Buchanan “FIRST” Award and The Dr. Cindy Ayers “Legacy” Award.

She has been honored in the inaugural class of Mississippi’s Top 25 Most Influential African Americans, the Living Legend Lifetime Achievement award, and the Who’s Who of Mississippi Women award.
She is also the author of a children’s book Suit Up for Launch with Shay! which tells you about the orange space suit, and shares her inspirational story as keynote speaker throughout the world.

Dr. Estella Hernandez Gillette- NASA retiree (1964-2006); President, NASA Alumni League-JSC

In October 1964, Estella Hernández (now Estella Hernández Gillette, Ed. D.) was a year out of high school and a freshly-naturalized U.S. citizen when she joined NASA at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in the Engineering Directorate as a clerk-stenographer. She is one of the “Sixties Chicks,” one of 300+ secretaries in the 1960s who supported the astronauts and the nation’s goal “to land astronauts on the Moon before the end of the decade and bring the crew safely back to Earth.” She likes to say that the Sixties Chicks were the “wind beneath the wings” of those rocket scientists and engineers who designed and built the rockets and astronauts who landed on the Moon. In Chapter 1 of Ross-Nazzal’s book Making Space for Women (2022), she shares what it was like to work in the early days at MSC, now Johnson Space Center (JSC). The era was also an evolving time at JSC, when external and internal factors were happening and women begin to “take their space” in all of the disciplines required for a successful U.S. space program. During her 40 years at NASA, Estella held several positions far from her clerk-secretary position–although those skills helped build her strong, professional foundation–from para-professional, to supervisor, to management, to JSC senior staff member, including as a member of the NASA Astronaut Selection Board.

When she started at NASA in 1964, she did not have a degree, but she knew that it was important to have one if she was going to have a career at JSC. For the next 24 years, most of it at night and over weekends, she attended college and finished an Associate Degree from San Jacinto College (at age 35); a Bachelors in Business (age 40) and a Master’s (age 47) in Human Resources Management from the University of Houston-Clear (UHCL); and finished her coursework for a doctorate degree in 2004 from the George Washington University, graduating post-retirement at the age of 67 with the Doctorate in Education degree in Human Resource Development. She taught in the College of Technology at the University of Houston, Main and Sugarland campuses, for 6 years, until 2020 when, at age 75, she decided it was time to focus on unfinished projects while she still could! Since her NASA retirement, she has been a consultant with Logical Innovations, Inc., a woman-owned, small business that has contracts with NASA centers across the nation. She is a member and the current President of the NASA Alumni League-JSC, an organization of 600+ members, all former NASA federal employees and retirees with technical and administrative backgrounds. She is the recipient of several awards, both NASA and community, including 2017 UHCL Distinguished Alumni, as well as 2018 Jeff Davis High School (now Northside High School) Distinguished Alumni. She and her husband Pete, a now-retired “rocket scientist” whom she met at NASA in 1965, will celebrate their 56th anniversary this year. They have two grown sons, Mark and Damian. And, she can’t leave out their 3 very special kitties, all siblings—Hank, Willie, and Freddy–gifted to them by their feral cat parents 5 years ago.

Grier Wilt

Grier Wilt- Spacewalk Flight Controller & Instructor and ISS CapCom

Grier Wilt is an ExtraVehicular Activities (EVA) Flight Controller and Instructor at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, Ms. Wilt plans spacewalk missions aboard the International Space Station, trains an international cadre of astronauts for those missions, and supports those EVAs real-time from Mission Control. Concurrent with her International Space Station work, Ms. Wilt serves on the Artemis team to enable exploration spacewalk missions on the lunar surface, NASA’s next step beyond low earth orbit.

Prior to her current role, Grier served as the Deputy Director of NASA Operations in Star City, Russia overseeing US astronaut training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center while also serving as the Business Manager for the NASA Human Spaceflight Program in Russia.

Grier holds a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Washington in Seattle and Bachelor’s Degrees in Mechanical Engineering and International Studies from The Pennsylvania State University. Her graduate research focused on bone loss mitigation in reduced gravity which resulted in the opportunity to fly aboard multiple zero gravity parabolic flight campaigns for her research.

Outside of work, Grier actively volunteers in the community and enjoys participating in STEM outreach in order to increase access to the sciences for underserved communities. Her hobbies include hiking, rock climbing, sailing, and flying as a private pilot.

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