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May 13, 2002

Ann Hutchison/Kendall Powell

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Phone: 650/604-3039 or 604-9000

Release: 02-58AR

NOTE TO EDITORS AND NEWS DIRECTORS: Due to heightened airport security, only ticketed passengers may view the "California Inventors" exhibit. News media may contact Timothy Taylor, museum curator, at 650/821-6700 for photos of the exhibit.


NASA psychophysiologist Dr. Patricia Cowings is featured in a new museum exhibition honoring African-American inventors at San Francisco International Airport.

San Francisco Airport Museums is featuring Cowings in an exhibit entitled "California Inventors" beginning this week and running through August. The photography exhibit will feature 12 African-Americans who have made contributions to science, medicine and technology in California. It will be on display in the airport’s Terminal 1 Gate 36 exhibit gallery for ticketed passengers only.

"I’m very flattered when I’m asked to participate in things like this. There just aren’t enough African-American women in science and technology," said Cowings, director of the Psychophysiology Research Facility at NASA Ames Research Center in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. "It is important to let people know that NASA’s here and what we are doing."

The exhibit highlights Cowings’ development of a system to combat space adaptation syndrome and its earthly counterpart, motion sickness. The patented technology, called the Autogenic-Feedback Training Exercise, enables pilots, astronauts and some patients with balance disorders to learn to control their symptoms of nausea and dizziness.

When using the system, an astronaut wears a bodysuit garment designed by Cowings. The suit measures body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and sweating, and then gives the wearer a read-out of his or her physiological state. She also created training software that can be used over the Internet.

Cowings has trained space shuttle astronauts, Russian space station Mir cosmonauts, search-and-rescue pilots, and military personnel. "We are looking at what the environment is doing and whether the treatment is working. Does the sickness affect your performance? Once the symptoms are relieved, does your performance improve?" Cowings asked.

The airport exhibit also showcases seven other inventors whose innovations have contributed significantly to the space program, including: Christine Darden, aerospace engineer at NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.; George Carruthers, a research physicist at the Naval Research Laboratory, inventor of a camera used on the Apollo 16 moon mission; Ayanna Howard, an artificial intelligence expert at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.; Irene Long, chief medical officer of Spaceport Services at NASA Kennedy Space Center, Fla.; Vance Marchbanks Jr., an Air Force colonel who helped design the Apollo moon mission space suit; and retired astronauts Dr. Mae Jemison and Guion Bluford Jr.

"This is a way of letting people know about the wealth of creativity and innovations in other communities. Our audience may not be aware of the role African-Americans have played in aeronautics, chemistry or whatever," said Timothy Taylor, curator of the San Francisco Airport Museums. "But we wanted their stories, talents and creativity to carry the day and not their race." More information is available at:

Cowings earned her doctorate in psychology from the University of California, Davis, in 1973 and immediately came to NASA Ames as a National Research Council post-doctoral associate. She has won the Ames Honor Award for Excellence, the Candace Award for Science and Technology, and the Ames Honor Award for Technology Development.

"I was one of three women in my department at Davis and the only brown person," Cowings said. "I was also known as the space cadet because I would encourage everyone to watch all the space launches. When I got to Ames I knew I was home, I had gotten here. The people here were doing exciting research, not just thinking or talking about it."

Cowings cited other African-American women who were pioneers in their field as her inspiration, including Jemison, the first black woman in space, and Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lt. Uhura on TV’s ‘Star Trek’ series. "I was planning on being Lt. Uhura –I even had the earrings! She was a breakthrough personality of her time. I couldn’t relate to Spock with his pointy ears, but I could relate to her," Cowings said.



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