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Behind the ScenesMeet the People

Judy Marie Tate,
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.

Scientist representative fills many shoes for Station experimenters

IMAGE: Judy Marie Tate
Judy Tate is the first African-American woman to support International Space Station science activities as a liaison between the lead increment scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and the payload operations team at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

April 2004 -- Judy Marie Tate has so many shoes that if she could walk to the International Space Station, 240 miles up, she seemingly could swap out her footwear every mile along the way. Last November, Tate took a big step, packing up her shoes and moving away from her family and friends in Houston to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., to coordinate Space Station activities with scientists and ground teams.

She laughed, saying her passion for shoes is "genetically" inherited from her mother, as is her work ethic. "My mother always told me that anything you do is a direct reflection of the person you are," Tate said. "I hope that what I'm doing now shows my love of science and finding out new things. That's why I'm always looking to do my best in helping carry out the science mission on the Space Station."

Tate is the first African-American woman to support Space Station science activities as a lead increment scientist representative, called a "LIS rep," acting as the liaison between the lead increment scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Payload Operations and Integration Center at Marshall that plans Space Station science activities.

Although her new job kept her from home and Mom's gumbo last Christmas, Tate is happy she volunteered for her yearlong adventure. "I've always liked to do things that weren't easy," Tate recalled. "I loved to read as a kid, and science challenged me. If others thought it was hard, I wanted to do it."

Her mother, Julia Cash, who now lives outside Houston in Hitchcock, raised Tate and her older brothers James and Troy. She graduated from LaMarque High School, just south of Houston. With the entire family pitching in to help with the finances and moral support, Tate went on to become the first person in her family to graduate from college.

"I was taught that I could accomplish anything I wanted to if I worked hard, no matter what people thought of me," said Tate. "I have stuttered since I was able to talk, hence most people assumed I could not answer. Because of this, I have always had to prove myself when doing any job. The nurturing environment I was raised in taught me not to let my stuttering hinder my ability to succeed."

After graduating with a bachelor's degree in biology from Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, Tate became a research assistant at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She studied the deficient immune systems of premature babies to fight bacterial and fungal infections. Tate enjoyed the research, and contributed to several professional articles about the research. But when the grant money ran out, Tate still wanted to work in research, and that's when she found herself working with the most sophisticated laboratory ever built -- the International Space Station.

By 2000, Tate had completed her master's degree in biology from the University of Houston-Clear Lake, and signed on with the Lockheed Martin Corporation, a NASA contractor. At NASA's Johnson Space Center, Tate planned the science experiments and cargo, called payloads that would eventually travel to the Space Station. But in November 2002, Tate was given the opportunity to work with the science research as it is being conducted on the Station. The only catch: the job required relocating to Alabama.

"I thought this was a great opportunity for me to expand my science knowledge and allow me to work in a different environment," said Tate.

So she moved to Huntsville to a two-bedroom apartment -- to make room for all of her shoes, which she keeps in original boxes, so she'll remember where she bought them, or who gave them to her.

Working at the Payload Operations Center -- the command post at the Marshall Center for all science activities aboard the Space Station -- Tate determines what experiments are given priority when issues arise, and makes sure all science research is completed. "The environment here is always changing," Tate said. "Every day when I come to work there are new situations, and there is always something different going on. Nothing is routine."

Although she would some day like to have an experiment of her own on the Space Station, she has no desire to go into space to conduct them herself.

"I'm a perfectionist, but I'm willing to let someone else 'fill my shoes' as a scientist and conduct experiments in space for me," she said. "I'd be happy just to watch the pictures of my experiment from down here on Earth."

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

Curator: Kim Dismukes | Responsible NASA Official: John Ira Petty | Updated: 04/27/2004
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