As a NASA payload communications manager, or PAYCOM, Penny J. Pettigrew spends most days in the Payload Operations Integration Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, communicating with coworkers some 250 miles overhead – the astronauts conducting scientific research aboard the International Space Station, as shown in this image from 2017.
In 1989, Pettigrew, a space program enthusiast from an early age, attended Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, an experience which opened her eyes to all the opportunities in the “Rocket City.” She began pursuing her childhood dream in earnest when she attended the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, where she earned her undergraduate degree in Chemistry in 1992. In 1996, she received her Master’s degree in Chemistry, with a specialty in Microgravity Materials Science, from the University of Alabama in Huntsville. After achieving her master’s degree, she received a NASA Graduate Student Research Scholarship to spend the next three years conducting applied materials science research at Marshall.
Beginning in 2000, she went to work for a series of aerospace firms in Huntsville, all supporting NASA and Marshall. Pettigrew joined NASA full time in 2008 and found her true calling three years later when she joined “the cadre” – the flight controllers who monitor research on the space station around the clock, seven days a week, 365 days per year at the Payload Operations Integration Center.
Pettigrew continues to share her story with the next generation of scientists and explorers in hopes of encouraging them to dream big and reach for the stars!
Image Credit: NASA/Emmett Given