Sharon Caples McDougle – a Moss Point Native from Mississippi who made history with NASA’s space programme is assisting students in their quest for the stars

The Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures highlighted the contributions of three African American women to the United States’ space programme. Another unidentified person who worked for NASA for nearly 20 years is from Moss Point, Mississippi. Sharon McDougle, the first African American woman made history working as a NASA suit technician is now inspiring children to achieve their dreams.

Sharon Caples McDougle began her career in the Air Force as an aeronautical physiology expert. McDougle’s father passed away when she was four years old. Her mother was killed in an accident a few blocks from their house when she was eight years old. “She was almost back home, and a driver under the influence hit her on the driver’s side with such force. It knocked her out the passenger side and knocked the hole, and this is one of those big steel station wagons. So real cars back then, you know, and knocked the seat out”, said McDougle.

McDougle, the ninth of twelve children, was bought up by her oldest sister at the time.

“After I got out, I struggled as a lot of veterans do. I was about to rejoin the service because I was having such a hard time trying to find employment. And about six months out, a friend of mine that used to be in the Air Force with me, he was out here working with the space program, and he contacted me,” said McDougle. That friend advised her to apply for a job at NASA.

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“I drove from California to Texas and came down and made history as the first black crew escape equipment. And as CEE, if you ever hear me say C-E-E, that’s what I’m talking about, Crew Escape Equipment Department, first black suit technician”, McDougle added.

She describes her job as exciting and gratifying. The crews were kept safe thanks to McDougle’s efforts. She informed, “No matter what country they came from, man, woman, whatever, they want that orange launch entry suit as a safety precaution. It was life-sustaining equipment in case they had a loss of cabinet pressure aboard the space shuttle or if they had a bailout scenario where they had to actually leave the vehicle and bailout.”

McDougle highlighted about suiting up Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to journey into space.  She commented “I felt like, you know, I thought she would be more comfortable with me, Not saying nobody else could have taken good care of her. Not at all, but I thought that she should have the best.” The book “Suit Up for Launch with Shay” is the culmination of her life experiences and passion for the space programme. Hence, her nickname Shay.

“Everybody thinks about the white space, the spacewalk suit. You know, that’s the suit they usually think of. But now they know about the orange suit, you know, so it’s not just a costume. This is actual life-sustaining equipment”, remarked McDougle.

McDougle intends to make the book into a series. The accolades keep on pouring. She’ll be at the National Women’s History Museum for a free virtual reading this weekend, as well as the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Virginia for a live conversation and book signing.

Check Sharon Caples McDougle tell her inspiring story on GMA.

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