Women in Science

Carlie Zumwalt

Born in Houston, Texas, I was raised by an incredible family who always encouraged me to pursue my dreams. My father took me to my first airshow when I was three and my first shuttle launch when I was four, and from then on I was hooked! I was fascinated by anything and everything about flight. I recognized from an early age that NASA was where I wanted to be, and spent the next few years doing everything I could to make that dream a reality. During high school I participated in the Texas Aerospace Scholars Program, and then as an undergraduate I became involved in the Reduced Gravity and Co-operative Education programs. These programs provided the foundation for my career with NASA. I graduated with a bachelors degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in May of 2009, and was given the incredible opportunity to come work with the Flight Mechanics and Trajectory Design branch. For the past two years, I’ve been working on a project to determine what technologies need to be developed in order to successfully land humans on Mars in the near future. Specifically, I help to design computer-based simulations of the Martian environment in which vehicle concepts are flown to test their capabilities. It is very expensive to build and fly a full-scale version of every vehicle concept that is dreamed up, so by building a model of that vehicle in the computer and then flying it in the simulation we can learn a great deal about how that vehicle will perform in the “real world”. The past two years have been an exercise in pushing myself beyond my capabilities. The only way to grow as a person and as an engineer is to constantly challenge yourself to do things you didn’t think were possible, and the best way to do that is to dream big and set high goals for yourself!

Tara Ruttley

I was born and raised in Louisiana, where I realized that right around third grade I had a really strong interest in space. Although most adults told me that to work for NASA I had to be an engineer, I knew for sure that science was my passion when we dissected cats in my high school Biology class. Learning about life’s basic systems was fascinating to me: the ultimate in engineering design created by nature! The best advice I ever received was that no matter what path to choose to get to NASA, I should do what I loved and have fun getting there. So I decided down the path of Biology in college, where I participated in space-based student organizations as the only biologist among a sea of engineers. It was through this participation that I began to realize that I had lots of good ideas in my head, but I lacked any basic engineering skills to bring them to life! A multidisciplinary approach to creative ideas seemed to be what I was searching for, so upon graduation with my Biology degree, I pursued a MS degree in Mechanical Engineering. I began my dream job at NASA in 2001 as a project engineer for the astronaut health maintenance system on the space station, which was the ideal multidisciplinary career. While a NASA engineer, my love of science came calling again so I completed a PhD in Neuroscience, and today I am the Associate Program Scientist for the International Space Station. What an exciting, challenging path to take to lead me to this career! I’m really having fun immersed in the science that is happening on the space station – the most brilliant laboratory ever built! I can only pass along the advice that was given to me: when you find your passion, pursue it in a way that is fun. Recognize opportunities to learn and get creative, and then follow through! How can you possibly go wrong?

Julie Mitchell

As a spacecraft life support systems engineer, I design and test hardware that will one day allow astronauts to live permanently in space. Specifically, I work on water recovery systems. The hardware I develop recycles water from urine, grey water (shower, oral hygiene, and shave wastewater), humidity condensate, and laundry water into drinking water. I was born and raised in Shreveport, Louisiana. I received Bachelor’s degrees from The University of Texas at Austin in aerospace engineering and geology, and have completed coursework in physics at the University of Houston – Clear Lake. In my free time, I enjoy martial arts, weight lifting, running, art, reading, and watching movies. I plan to begin work on a PhD in planetary science at Rice University in 2012.