Return to Human Space Flight home page

BEHIND THE SCENES | Planning | Training | Engineering | Processing | Research | Meet the People

Behind the ScenesMeet the People

Rita Sutton and Roxanna Sherwin,
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

'Sister Act' from Rocket City follows dreams to support International Space Station

IMAGE: Rita Sutton and Roxanna Sherwin
From left, Rita Sutton and Roxanna Sherwin (NASA/MSFC).

Ever since they visited the Marshall Center's space museum as little girls, Rita Sutton and Roxanna Sherwin knew they wanted to be a part of the space program. Today, the two sisters work on the console support team for the International Space Station, reviewing and sending procedures to crews orbiting more than 200 miles above Earth.

When Gloria Cade Reiswig was single-handedly raising her two daughters in the 1960s, she didn't know she was contributing to the future exploration of space.

Rita Sutton and Roxanna Sherwin grew up along with America's space program, which was just beginning at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in their hometown of Huntsville, Ala.

"When I was a kid, my mother took us to visit the space museum with the rocket displays, pictures and history of Redstone Arsenal," Sutton said. "She made sure my sister and I watched when Americans landed on the Moon. When I saw Neil Armstrong take those first steps, I knew something special was happening and that Huntsville would be a big part of that history."

And so did her big sister, Roxanna.

"Our mother encouraged our curiosity, so it was only natural that we wanted to be part of the greatest exploration of the 20th century," said Roxanna. "We know Mother is proud that we are now supporting research on the International Space Station that will help not only improve astronaut health in space but also will provide fundamental knowledge that improves medical treatments on Earth."

Both sisters are living their dream by working with the International Space Station - the orbiting laboratory being built by NASA and 15 international partner nations. Rita and Roxanna work in NASA's Payload Operations Center - the command post at the Marshall Center for all science activities onboard the Space Station.

To this day, the sisters claim "dual citizenship" in Huntsville, and in the small Alabama town of Opp, just south of Montgomery, where they spent their early childhood. In 1964, their mother decided to take her daughters to Huntsville for a better job with RCA and provide the girls with more opportunities. The sisters would return to Opp each summer to spend time with their grandparents, James and Wilma Cade.

"Being from a small town gives you certain perspectives and advantages. Opp is that sleepy kind of town that is the complete opposite of Huntsville," Rita recalled. "Opp offered security and Huntsville offered excitement, to young girls anyway. That bouncing back and forth gave you the best of both worlds."

They both went on to graduate from Butler High School in Huntsville, and Athens State College in Athens, Ala. Rita with a bachelor's degree in psychology and history, Roxanna with a bachelor's degree in business management.

Although they took different paths in getting to NASA, the "sister act" is now on the same "stage," working for the NASA support contractor Teledyne Brown Engineering. Rita develops procedures designed to help the Station crew operate a payload experiment and works on the console support team sending science experiment procedures to the astronauts and cosmonauts. Roxanna is the manager for the Operations and Integration team that supports Payload Operations Directors the payload version of a Space Shuttle Flight Director.

Roxanna had moved to Houston, Texas, in 1978 to work with the Space Shuttle program at Johnson Space Center after getting her career started as a cooperative education student in mechanical engineering for the Army at the Redstone Arsenal. Rita got a later start, choosing first to home-school her three daughters before joining the space program in January 2000.

But don't think just because Rita's job is focused on the future and the unknown, she isn't interested in preserving the past. In fact, she spends her spare time quilting, crocheting and making her own fishing rods not to mention enjoying life with her husband, Charles.

When she's not helping to support crews in space, Roxanna works as a hospice volunteer, helping families cope with end-of-life issues. This is near to her heart, since her mother suffers from pulmonary fibrosis a progressive lung disease and is under hospice care.

"Contributing is very important to our mother, and is a lesson we took to heart," Roxanna said. "Contributing to our family, our community and our society have always been in our background. You could look at our jobs as a method of contributing. The information being gathered from research on the Station is for us, for our families."

This family tradition doesn't stop at the sisters, though. It continues on with Roxanna's daughter Chrissy, and son-in-law, Scott Stinson, who both work at the Johnson Space Center. Chrissy supports the Astronaut office and Scott works to get all of the equipment required up to the Station. Rita's son-in-law, Scott Reeves, a hardware engineer at the Marshall Center, ensures that the Space Station Ground Systems are reliably designed, integrated, and collecting data.

Gloria Reiswig's dedication to family and education is even reflected in this second generation. Each grandchild has been told from childhood that an education is a privilege not a right, and that it must be earned and cherished.

Both sisters take pride in the way their mother has contributed to the space industry by directing her side of the family tree to grow toward the Sun and reach for the stars.

All text and photos for this story were provided by Marshall Space Flight Center.


Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 07/09/2003
Web Accessibility and Policy Notices