Patricia Cowings

I develop exercises to help NASA astronauts perform better in space.

I am the Director of Pyschophysiological Research at NASA's Ames Research Center.

I was the first African American woman scientist to be trained as an astronaut by NASA.

I help astronauts better adapt to space by studying the effects of gravity on human physiology and performance.

My research as a psychologist and principal investigator has focused on the psychological and biological problems experienced by astronauts as they adapt to a gravity environment different from that of Earth.

I developed a training program called Autogenic Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE), which enables astronauts to cope with motion sickness. The program is tailored to individual needs and provides an effective method of psychologically dealing with and controlling such processes as the heart rate, heart beat, skin conductance, muscle reactivity and blood pressure during space flight. It involves a combination of training and biofeedback, which allows astronauts to control up to 20 physiological functions related to motion sickness.

AFTE is currently being used at the Morehouse University School of Medicine in Atlanta, where doctors are using it to control patients' blood pressure. Research has shown that AFTE also helps with nausea and hypertension.

I earned my psychology doctorate from the University of California, Davis, in 1973. I have worked at NASA since 1971 when I was a graduate student and received a fellowship in NASA's Graduate Research Science Program.

I have held several adjunct professorships at many universities and my work is on permanent display in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C. I engage in community outreach and mentoring programs and have been featured in several K-12 textbooks on the accomplishments of women and African Americans.

Determination has been the key to my personal and scientific achievements, although I will say that 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.

Here are some of my favorite words of advice that I share with people:

"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.Don't give up. No matter how bad or scary it gets. Not even when you ask yourself "What am I doing here?"