Patricia S. Cowings, Ph. D
Research Psychologist, Psychophysiologist
Patricia S. Cowings, Ph. D
I am a research psychologist. I'm also a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles and the principal investigator of Psychophysiological Research Laboratories at NASA Ames Research Center (ARC). I have training in human neurophysiology, statistics, performance assessment and psychology. Mostly, I study how people adapt to space and try to develop methods to help them adapt faster.
My career does stretch from way back to the early astronaut days. I was the first female scientist trained to be an astronaut. This was way before Sally Ride's day and they didn't even have a uniform for me. I was the alternate and never got a chance to fly but that experience is something I will never forget. The event was Spacelab Mission Development-3, a joint effort between Johnson Space Center (JSC) and ARC and was the first simulation of a life-sciences-dedicated space shuttle mission. The crewmembers were: Mission Specialist Bill Thornton, Payload Specialists: Bill Williams (formerly at ARC) and Bill Carter Alexander (formerly at JSC). The back-up Payload specialists were ME and Dick Grindland--who is still at ARC in my branch. There were two years of fairly intense science development and crew training--half of the time at Ames and the other half at JSC. There was also training at university sites. It was two years in which "much ado" was made about my selection and inclusion (some good, some bad).
In 1979, my own flight experiment was selected by NASA and it flew on STS 51-B, STS 51-C (1984) and Spacelab-J (1992). "Autogenic-Feedback Training as a Preventive Method for Space Adaptation Syndrome." I learned a lot through that SMD-3 experience--including the RIGHT way to do flight experiments, and what's involved in learning to be an astronaut.
I was not so good at math (I admit) as a kid. I learned to use it as a tool. But science was always a game! You run your experiment and then add up the points to see if you've won! Scientists are eternal students. We ask questions for a living. I was pressured not to go into a math- and science-based field. This IS Earth, you know. But I was encouraged by my parents to do what I WANTED to do, not what someone else thought I SHOULD do.
Not being taken seriously is one of the obstacles I had to overcome to get where I am right now. I was 23 when I earned my doctorate and most of my associates would not treat me like a scientist. But youth and inexperience, that's something you OUTGROW. Still I have always been (and will always be) a black woman and I still find that people see the outside without seeing the scientist inside.
My parents told me that I am a human being. This is the best animal on the whole planet. Doesn't matter where you are from or what you look like. Doesn't matter if you're poor. A human being can learn and can achieve whatever they set out to do (or come near to it). I've spent my life studying human potential--and stretching my own.