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For release: 10-22-03
Release: 03-190

Flag Pond, Tenn., native 'in touch' with Space Station science

Photo description: Jernigan

Growing up on a Tennessee tobacco farm brought life-lessons that would serve Frankie Jernigan well, even as her career progressed to working with astronauts, and working with experiments performed in space. Jernigan handles experiments that will fly in the microgravity science glovebox — a facility aboard the International Space Station that allows astronauts to perform studies with hazardous fluids, flames or particles.

Photo: Jernigan (NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham)

Growing up on a tobacco farm in Unicoi County, Tenn., may seem an unlikely stepping stone toward a life in space exploration. But for Flag Pond native Frankie Jernigan, growing up in that community brought life-lessons that would serve her well, even as her career progressed to working with astronauts, and experiments that must be performed in space.

Now, before some of the science experiments bound for the International Space Station get into astronauts' hands, they must first be "touched" by Frankie Jernigan — who provides hands-on operations analysis of many of the experiments headed to the Station, the world's foremost orbiting science facility.

"As a child, most of my time was spent either in school or working on the farm," Jernigan recalled. "My parents always had to work hard for everything we had, so they emphasized the importance of getting a good education and appreciating everything you have."

Jernigan now appreciates where her education got her — working to support science aboard the Space Station. She handles experiments that will fly in the microgravity science glovebox — a facility aboard the Station with built-in gloves that enable astronauts to perform experiments with hazardous fluids, flames or particles. The glovebox, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., provides power, data and video in a contained environment on the Station. Jernigan determines how the experiments should be set up and operated inside the glovebox.

With a formal job title of operations integration lead for glovebox investigations, Jernigan develops astronaut procedures and work schedule inputs, as well as handbooks for ground support teams to use so that everything goes smoothly once it gets in crew members' hands. She even travels to NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston to train astronauts on using the glovebox. It's a job in space exploration that caught her attention right out of high school at a job fair.

"The job looked unique to me, different from any of the standard industrial engineering jobs," Jernigan said. "It's exciting to play a role in furthering mankind's knowledge of our Universe."

Fresh from graduating from Unicoi County High School in Erwin, Tenn., Jernigan left the family farm in Flag Pond to attend Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville. Jernigan joined NASA's Marshall Center in 1988 as a part-time co-op student. She worked with the payload crew training group, learning how crews operate on orbit and the critical supporting roles played by teams on the ground — then training them to rely on each other.

When she graduated from Tennessee Tech in 1991 with a bachelor's degree in industrial engineering, Jernigan joined NASA full-time and began training crewmembers and ground teams on ASTRO-2 — a high-tech observatory that flew aboard Space Shuttle Endeavour for 16 days in March 1995, during the STS-67 mission. The ASTRO-2 instruments allowed astronomers to view stars, galaxies, planets and quasars in ultraviolet light, which is invisible to the human eye.

"The crewmembers on that flight were excellent to work with," recalled Jernigan. "They helped me confirm I had chosen the right career."

Today, Jernigan's attention is mainly focused on Space Station activities. She has supported many of the seven science expeditions — 3 to 6 month research periods, with crews living and working aboard the orbiting laboratory — and she doesn't show any signs of slowing down. She is currently working on Expedition 8 — the current mission which launched this week to the Station via a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

Two crewmembers, American astronaut Michael Foale and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Kaleri, will stay on the Station. A third, Spanish crewmember Pedro Duque from the European Space Agency, is staying one week before returning to Earth with the current Space Station crew.

Duque is conduct two experiments using the microgravity science glovebox. During Expedition 8, Jernigan is monitoring real-time glovebox activities from the Telescience Support Center at a console used to communicate with the crew, as well as to send commands to, and collect data from, experiments on the Station.

"I am there in case Pedro has any questions," Jernigan said. "He had 37 hours of training in just one week. That's a lot to remember, but he sees the good of what's going to be accomplished and we're both proud to be a part of that.:

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Steve Roy
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