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Meet: Bonnie Dalton

Life Sciences Division Deputy Chief
NASA Ames Research Ceenter

photo of bonnie dalton

Who I Am:

I am the Life Sciences division deputy chief. The division includes: Two branches that support preparations for experiments that are going into microgravity in, for example, the Shuttle middeck, Shuttle Spacelab, Mir, Russian Mir, or International Space Station. The third branch does research focusing on how to counteract physical intolerance to microgravity and the effects of microgravity on bone and neural systems. The division also maintains a suite of centrifuges used for studies of variable gravity, a human bed-rest facility, a biocomputation center that shows biomedical changes, and an Animal Care Facility (the only full up facility within NASA). The division has approximately 65 people and, if you count contractor support, post doctoral fellows, and students, totals approximately 225 people.

My Career Journey

My education started in microbiology with thoughts of being a lab technician. After receiving a Public Health Service's scholarship for graduate school, my horizons broadened to include not only an MS in microbiology, but a minor in biochemistry. At the same time I picked up a secondary teaching credential in science.

My first job was with a leading Pharmaceutical company, Eaton Labs/Norwich Pharmacal. I spent three years there studying how microbial infections can "ascend" to the kidneys in rodents.

When I came to ARC (NASA's Ames Research Center) in 1963 my first assignment was to study "extreme" - halophilic (salt-loving) organisms. It was hoped that these studies would help us understand how to "feed" and sustain any possible microbial life found during the Mars Viking Mission (1976).

In 1975 we established a test laboratory for Earth-based studies using TRW hardware units that had not been available to investigators before that time. Our office then led the studies that supported the eventual Shuttle Transportation System (STS) Spacelab flights. Part of the excitement of the job was defining what would be needed in the Life Sciences ground processing facility (Hangar L at Kennedy Space Center), leading the engineering effort for developing our Life Sciences Payload Receiving Facility at the Dryden Flight Research Center, developing scenarios to define the science support needs for a mission simulation with JSC in 1978, our first Spacelab participation in Spacelab 3 (1985), and performing the animal biocompatability studies with the proposed hardware for Shuttle. The first dedicated Life Sciences Spacelab (SLS-1) was scheduled to fly in 1982; that finally happened in 1991. I was the ARC Payload Manager for that flight and subsequently was Payload Manager for SLS-3, which was later cancelled.

Circa 1982, while supporting development of Spacelab 3, I started working toward an MBA in Management to support my expanding career direction. In 1982, I was selected by NASA to attend the Simmons College, Boston, 10-week course in management and in June, 1985, obtained my MBA from Golden Gate College (while supporting post SL-3 ground studies at KSC).

In 1986 I served on the Space Station Task Force and in 1987 became Branch Chief for the Operations Branch in the Flight Payloads Office. This branch later expanded to include both operations and science. In 1996, I was appointed Deputy Division Chief for the Life Sciences Division.

Likes/Dislikes About Career

The positive aspects have been the excitement of developing payloads for flight, witnessing their launch, and passing specimens on to the investigators who may provide answers about how gravity shapes our lives.

The negative aspects have been the pressures of management, like: restrictive budgets, pressures of flight schedules, trying to be sure that all employees are satisfied, not always being able to do that either because of limited resources or personnel, and last, the seemingly long time it has taken to get to this point in management.

Preparation for Career

First, I was raised on a ranch in Montana where I was virtually immersed in biology, whether watching the wonders of a calf, sheep, or cats giving birth, or planning the best times for planting crops based on weather, moisture and soil conditions. Summer days during grade school were spent reading Silas Marner, Little Women--not close to science. Summer days during high school were spent helping with harvesting, attending Girl's State (training in government), and attending Northwestern University on a music scholarship (and singing Beethoven's 9th at Ravinia in Chicago under Pierre Monteux). Anything along the business career route was boring, and teaching was simplistic (that's why picking up a credential was no big task). Science held challenges and was demanding. I spent my freshman year in college at Valparaiso, Indiana and transferred back to Montana for my sophomore year. By the time I was in the first quarter of my senior year, I had all the credits I needed to graduate, along with a teaching credential and practice teaching, a scholarship toward graduate school, and had been working in my professor's laboratory for two years investigating the biochemistry of "Entamoeba histolytica". Why stop then?


Today--take business courses and learn lots of computer skills along with science. Don't focus on just biological science or just physical science. Keep yourself broad-spectrum and expose yourself to as many fields as possible since many choices change from the ages of 14-21. Sign up for many things, for example, science programs outside your school (astrobiology academy, summer college programs) but don't dilute yourself to the point of losing sight of GOALS. Exposure opens doors.


During my pre-teen years my older brother and only sibling was the most influential person in my life because of his many talents and knowledge. I always wanted to be like him (he was an electrical engineer, a fighter pilot in Korea, an artist in oils and wood working).

In high school, the most influential person in my life was my piano and voice teacher who taught me to use music as a release from tension and stress, but also pushed me to my limits.

In college, my sophomore year adviser, on return to Montana State U., was the guide toward my pursuit in research. Following my oral exams and because I expressed interest in joining a government agency (like the Public Health Service or National Institutes of Health), he left me with the challenge of how I would limit myself if I did not have a Ph.D. I've surpassed his challenge, but I DO REGRET not having obtained a Ph. D. Two summers ago, I was privileged to visit with him, for the first time in 35 years.

Personal Information

I've always had cats around me. As a youngster, the multidigited cats around our ranch were taught to hold objects in their paws and were constant companions. As an adult, I've been able to have Siamese cats, who have been extremely intelligent and magnificent friends.

I've one daughter (28), who wanted to become a veterinarian because of her exposure to animals, but realized that chemistry was NOT one of her best friends. She obtained a degree in Marketing and Advertisement; worked for Information Week. Since moving to Central California with her husband of one year, she has been employed at Fess Parker's (Daniel Boone-remember?) winery. She, too, has cats and has developed an extreme talent in botany. In fact her fitting email address is Green Thumb.

As for other challenges over the years, I learned to fly in 1978 and had a pilot's license. I didn't attend formal ground school but taught myself and received a perfect written score on the Private Pilot's Test. Because of the pressure of work, I had to discontinue flying after 5 years, but through that experience gained a new love of amusement park rides and accompany my husband, who has only flown the past five years, in his Grummond Tiger four-seater.


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