Tara Ruttley Biographical Data
My name is Tara Ruttley, and I am the Lead Hardware Engineer for the Health Maintenance System on the International Space Station (ISS). In other words, I lead a team of engineers whose job is to provide reliable medical equipment that will keep the astronauts healthy on orbit!
Image to right: Tara Ruttley is an Engineer/Aquanaut on NEEMO 6. Credit: NASA
I was born in Houma, Louisiana, and raised in Lafayette, La. I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and a Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering, emphasis in Biomedical Engineering from Colorado State University (CSU). I am also currently pursuing a Ph.D in Neuroscience (expected 2006) from University of Texas Medical Branch. I came to work for NASA in January 2001, where I began my career as a project engineer for the exercise bicycle that's currently on the ISS. I've always wanted to work for the U.S. Space Program, particularly for the Johnson Space Center, where the focus is on human presence in space and manned missions. Since I've always loved Biology and Physiology, I started my educational journey focusing on a career in Life Sciences. There is something very unique about the microgravity environment that causes distinct changes in human physiology from the systems level, all the way down to the cellular level. Learning about these changes as a student, taught me that our very body designs are a direct result of our development in a 1-G gravity environment... how thought provoking!
At CSU, I became involved with the Colorado Space Grant Consortium and the student branch of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. As an undergraduate, and through my participation in student design conferences, I became more interested in the hardware aspects of maintaining optimal crew health in space. There are so many design challenges that are unique to space flight. There are many things to consider when it comes to hardware used to keep crewmembers in top shape on orbit. For example, minimizing noise from the hardware, limiting vibration (if any) from the hardware, designing it to withstand certain radiation levels, and just designing the equipment to be easy to use in a microgravity environment, where things tend to "float away" from you. Even more exciting is how we can apply such hardware designs to be used in an Earth-based setting, like physical therapy clinics and hospitals. I soon realized the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to designing hardware for crew health, so I pursued my Master's Degree in Mechanical Engineering. My thesis was the testing of a novel gravity-independent resistive exercise device. Designing a "weight lifting" exercise device for use in space is a real challenge, since there is no "weight" in space. Imagine lifting 1-ton of weight in space with just one finger!
I was really excited to receive an offer to work for NASA's Biomedical Systems Division upon graduation. It has allowed me to practice everything I learned in school. I combine engineering and science in a way that will further the goals of the U.S. Space Program... AND I'd get PAID for it! To top it all off, NASA has recognized the importance of a commitment to education, and has supported my journey toward obtaining my Ph.D in Neuroscience for the past 2 years. My job here is pretty incredible! I'm never bored. I interact daily with other engineers, scientists, physicians, astronaut trainers, and astronauts. I'm most excited at work when our team has successfully solved on-orbit hardware malfunctions in a way that can return the hardware to its best performance.
When I am not at the Johnson Space Center or studying for school, I enjoy scuba diving, cooking, home-improvement projects, eating good food, and being with my husband and our friends. I also like training to meet a new physical challenge, such as bike riding from Houston to Austin for the MS150 (a fundraising event for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society), or learning new swim skills for this NEEMO mission. Next year I may go for a triathlon! During the NEEMO 6 mission, I will represent the JSC Engineering Directorate and will be in charge of leading the hardware experiments. I'm looking forward to working with my team to accomplish our mission objectives, and challenging myself in such a unique environment.