Meet the Black Aerospace Scientist Helping Astronauts Combat Space Sickness
Photo Credit: Twitter / @NeuroDrugDoc

Meet the Black Aerospace Scientist Helping Astronauts Combat Space Sickness

NASA aerospace research psycho-physiologist Dr. Patricia S. Cowings designed a program to help astronauts combat space sickness, according to Face2Face Africa.

Born in Bronx, New York, Cowings, 71, dedicated her 34-year career at NASA to helping spacemen and women better adapt to outer space conditions by studying the effects of gravity on human physiology and performance.

According to NASA, approximately half of the crew experience a range of symptoms of motion sickness during space travel, including mild forms of nausea or dizziness to severe malaise and vomiting.

As a result of her research efforts, NASA patented Autogenic Feedback Training Exercise (AFTE), a six-hour procedure used to train people to control 24 physiological functions—breathing, heart rate, sweating, etc. — to reduce symptoms of motion sickness.

During training, she teaches a subject to mentally evoke a sensation, like muscle relaxation, to bring about desired physiological changes, says NASA.

“Astronauts are intelligent usually holding multiple advanced degrees, and they are physically fit,” she said in an interview.” I get to see what they are like and help them.”

In 1973, Cowings earned her psychology doctorate from the University of California. As a graduate student, she began her career at NASA in 1971 through the agency’s Graduate Research Science fellowship. She went on to be an alternate in 1979 though she would never take flight.

After decades of great work, she was inducted into Women in Technology International’s (WITI) Women in Technology Hall of Fame in 2009. Her other honors include the NASA Individual Achievement Award, the Black Engineer of the Year Award, the AMES Honor Award for Technology Development, the NASA Space Act Award for Invention, and the National Women of Color Technology Award, among others.