Sutton and Roxanna Sherwin,
Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.
Act' from Rocket City follows dreams to support International Space
left, Rita Sutton and Roxanna Sherwin (NASA/MSFC).|
they visited the Marshall Center's space museum as little girls,
Rita Sutton and Roxanna Sherwin knew they wanted to be a part of
the space program. Today, the two sisters work on the console support
team for the International Space Station, reviewing and sending
procedures to crews orbiting more than 200 miles above Earth.
Cade Reiswig was single-handedly raising her two daughters in the
1960s, she didn't know she was contributing to the future exploration
Rita Sutton and Roxanna Sherwin grew up along with America's space
program, which was just beginning at NASA's Marshall Space Flight
Center in their hometown of Huntsville, Ala.
I was a kid, my mother took us to visit the space museum with the
rocket displays, pictures and history of Redstone Arsenal,"
Sutton said. "She made sure my sister and I watched when Americans
landed on the Moon. When I saw Neil Armstrong take those first steps,
I knew something special was happening and that Huntsville would
be a big part of that history."
And so did
her big sister, Roxanna.
encouraged our curiosity, so it was only natural that we wanted
to be part of the greatest exploration of the 20th century,"
said Roxanna. "We know Mother is proud that we are now supporting
research on the International Space Station that will help not only
improve astronaut health in space but also will provide fundamental
knowledge that improves medical treatments on Earth."
are living their dream by working with the International Space Station
- the orbiting laboratory being built by NASA and 15 international
partner nations. Rita and Roxanna work in NASA's Payload Operations
Center - the command post at the Marshall Center for all science
activities onboard the Space Station.
To this day,
the sisters claim "dual citizenship" in Huntsville, and
in the small Alabama town of Opp, just south of Montgomery, where
they spent their early childhood. In 1964, their mother decided
to take her daughters to Huntsville for a better job with RCA and
provide the girls with more opportunities. The sisters would return
to Opp each summer to spend time with their grandparents, James
and Wilma Cade.
from a small town gives you certain perspectives and advantages.
Opp is that sleepy kind of town that is the complete opposite of
Huntsville," Rita recalled. "Opp offered security and
Huntsville offered excitement, to young girls anyway. That bouncing
back and forth gave you the best of both worlds."
They both went
on to graduate from Butler High School in Huntsville, and Athens
State College in Athens, Ala. — Rita with a bachelor's degree
in psychology and history, Roxanna with a bachelor's degree in business
took different paths in getting to NASA, the "sister act"
is now on the same "stage," working for the NASA support
contractor Teledyne Brown Engineering. Rita develops procedures
designed to help the Station crew operate a payload experiment and
works on the console support team sending science experiment procedures
to the astronauts and cosmonauts. Roxanna is the manager for the
Operations and Integration team that supports Payload Operations
Directors — the payload version of a Space Shuttle Flight Director.
moved to Houston, Texas, in 1978 to work with the Space Shuttle
program at Johnson Space Center after getting her career started as a cooperative education student in mechanical engineering for
the Army at the Redstone Arsenal. Rita got a later start, choosing
first to home-school her three daughters before joining the space
program in January 2000.
But don't think
just because Rita's job is focused on the future and the unknown,
she isn't interested in preserving the past. In fact, she spends
her spare time quilting, crocheting and making her own fishing rods
— not to mention enjoying life with her husband, Charles.
not helping to support crews in space, Roxanna works as a hospice
volunteer, helping families cope with end-of-life issues. This is
near to her heart, since her mother suffers from pulmonary fibrosis
— a progressive lung disease — and is under hospice care.
is very important to our mother, and is a lesson we took to heart,"
Roxanna said. "Contributing to our family, our community and
our society have always been in our background. You could look at
our jobs as a method of contributing. The information being gathered
from research on the Station is for us, for our families."
tradition doesn't stop at the sisters, though. It continues on with
Roxanna's daughter Chrissy, and son-in-law, Scott Stinson, who both
work at the Johnson Space Center. Chrissy supports the Astronaut office and Scott works to get all of the equipment required up to
the Station. Rita's son-in-law, Scott Reeves, a hardware engineer
at the Marshall Center, ensures that the Space Station Ground Systems
are reliably designed, integrated, and collecting data.
dedication to family and education is even reflected in this second
generation. Each grandchild has been told from childhood that an
education is a privilege not a right, and that it must be earned
take pride in the way their mother has contributed to the space
industry by directing her side of the family tree to grow toward
the Sun — and reach for the stars.
and photos for this story were provided by Marshall Space Flight