64 ISE Magazine | www.iise.org/ISEmagazine
What challenges did you face in your aviation career?
Im a lile bit vertically challenged. I do hold the distinction of being the
smallest astronaut ever. I think Ill hold that title as they recently changed the
stature requirement to 62 inches in this latest selection in 2021. I was very
fortunate things changed at just the right time. When I was just a few months
from graduating at Ohio State University, they changed from a 5-foot-4 stature
requirement for all the military services for pilots to metric measurements.
ats the rst time I heard the term anthropometry. It is a recognition that
stature has very lile to do with operating an aircra or spacecra. ... at
answers why I picked the Army of all the services because I wanted to be a
pilot, I wanted to y helicopters, and I was too short for all the other services.
Around the same time I graduated in 1980 from Ohio State, in 1978 they
picked the rst female astronauts ever for the shule program. In recognition
of that, they had to change the anthropometric requirements for the astronaut
But even though the selection criteria changed over time, the design of the
equipment that astronauts interfaced with didn’t change, and most of that
equipment was built on military specications. If you look at legacy equipment
that was built and designed in the 1970s, maybe even early 1980s, that was
primarily based on military male anthropometry. As we know, females are not
just lile scale versions of their male counterparts; they have very dierent
anthropometry and very dierent requirements. ... I was an instructor pilot
and I had quite a few people y with me who were skeptical could I control the
aircra with the hydraulics o because the male pilots were just brute-forcing
controllers. I learned to nesse the aircra down and to apply less force.
How did your experience in aviation connect with ergonomics?
I spent thousands of hours in simulators learning how to control situations,
learning how to recongure the aircra and spacecra in an emergency
situation. And yet there are certain circumstances that I could get in – for
example, becoming depressurized because the pressurized suit does not t
me well – that despite the fact that I have all the knowledge and skills I need
to perform that role, my performance might be impeded because of the poor
t in the safety equipment. I prided myself on knowing everything I could
about every system that I ever ew, whether it be a helicopter, an airplane, a
jet or a spacecra. I did that so that I could control the situation and hopefully
have a good outcome when we had o-nominal emergency situations. But if
my functionality is impeded because the systems Im interfacing arent really
designed for me, thats a disservice not only to me but my fellow crew members
as well.
Describe the research youre doing at Texas A&M.
Im a faculty member and my research area is spacecra occupant protection.
We used to use anthropomorphic test dummies like using car crash testing
and then computational models of those dummies, and expose them to the
forces you might be exposed to during a landing sequence. Now we’re using
a body model that responds much more like a human than a metallic dummy.
We’re looking at that particularly with respect to small females – neck injuries,
head injuries, lower lumbar injuries as you’re exposed to these forces of rapid
acceleration during the landing sequence.
You know takeos are optional, landings are not, and all landings in a
capsule are a dynamic event. Coming in on the shules was like coming in on
With Nancy Currie-Gregg
Nancy Currie-Gregg is deputy director and chief
technology ocer at Texas A&M Universitys Bush
Combat Development Complex, where she is
responsible for national defense research and
development projects in integrated hypersonics and
integrated network autonomy. She is a former NASA
astronaut who flew four space shuttle missions from
1993-2002 with more than 1,000 hours in space. She
later served in senior engineering positions at NASA
and led the Space Shuttle Program Safety and Mission
Assurance Oce. She is a retired U.S. Army colonel,
a Master Army Aviator and a member of the U.S.
Senior Executive Service with 35 years of government
and military experience. She is the holder of the Don
Lummus ’58 Professorship of Practice in Engineering
with appointments in the departments of industrial
and systems engineering and aerospace engineering.
Currie-Gregg served as a keynote speaker at the
2022 Applied Ergonomics Conference in Orlando,
Florida, where she discussed her career in space and
ergonomics. She shared her thoughts in a Problem
Solved Podcast Break at the conference, which can be
heard at link.iise.org/aec2022_currie-gregg. Here are
excerpts from that conversation.
March 2023 | ISE Magazine 65
an airline. When you come in on a capsule, you denitely know you
have landed and those forces are being transmied to the human
body. How do we reduce that? We can’t be injuring people on what
is a nominal event. If I told you every time you pulled your car into
the garage you were going to crash, that would not be acceptable.
In my other role, Im the chief technology ocer at the Bush
Combat Development Complex. We’re doing really exciting
applied research for defense-related issues and we specialize in
integrated hypersonics, rapid design of hypersonic vehicles. We
look at an integrated network of autonomous vehicles that will
do things so we don’t have to expose humans to undue harm –
whether its searching for mines, going out to acquire intelligence
by using autonomous ground and air vehicles, we can expose
humans to less of a risk.
Part of our philosophy is called agile technology development;
our moo is “Fail early, fail fast” – discover the problems early. Do
our systems properly accommodate human operators OK, not just
physically but cognitively as well? Youve got all the sensor data
coming in ... as we know we can cognitively overload people when
we do that and thereby negatively aect performance.
What are your thoughts regarding the Artemis
program returning to the moon?
I am super excited about Artemis. When I was selected as an astro-
naut, President (George H. W.) Bush said “We’re going back to the
moon and on to Mars,” and our class patch had the moon and Mars
on it, and we thought “is is great, we’re the ones.” Of course, we
weren’t. We’ve kind of gone in ts and starts but now we’re going
back to the moon and we’re going on to Mars. I couldn’t be more
excited because we’re destined to explore; its embedded in our na-
ture to explore beyond our boundaries and to explore beyond the
connes of where we’ve been for decades now in low earth orbit.
To go back to the moon and ultimately on Mars and truly start to
explore the universe is super exciting.
– Interview by Keith Albertson
Nancy Currie-Gregg chats with an attendee following her keynote
speech at the 2022 Applied Ergonomics Conference.
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