Meet: Susan Ramsey
Habitability Design Center Lead
Johnson Space Center
"Far better it is to dare
mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure,
than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor
suffer much, because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory
-- Theodore Roosevelt
Who I am and What I do
I lead a team of architects and engineers in developing
human factors design requirements and creating conceptual designs of "habitability"
hardware --hardware used by astronauts for living in space. My areas of
expertise are human factors, conceptual design, and human-subject research.
The Habitability Design Center (HDC) takes a "human-centered"
approach to designing space hardware in an effort to increase crew usability,
productivity, and safety on-orbit. The HDC's current primary projects
include hardware needed for living onboard the International Space Station
-- a waste and hygiene compartment, a galley, refrigerator/freezers, and
food accessories. Other hardware that the HDC has recently played a role
in designing are a "sleep station" for the crew, and a conceptual
"wardroom table" for eating, socialization, and recreation.
Activities included in my job description are: development
and review of both human factors and hardware design requirements, conceptual
design of hardware for the International Space Station, analysis/evaluation
of design concepts, research on the effects of design and layout on humans
in space analog environments, development of requirements and designs
for crew accommodation systems in future space vehicles.
The best things about my job are:
- I get to use my engineering background, as well as my background/interest
in human factors, to influence the design of both current and future
- I spend most of my day interacting with people -- from engineers
to astronauts to designers. Although I am still working in an engineering
environment, I spend very little time in a "lab" setting, which suits
my personality very well.
- I feel like my work is important to human space flight because we
specifically address the needs of the humans, and work to design
hardware around the human need.
The worst things about my job are:
- A large amount of documentation is necessary in a government agency,
because of regulations, and I therefore spend a lot of time doing paperwork.
- Funding for the space program greatly affects many of the projects
I work on, so it is sometimes frustrating to see a quality project never
make it off the ground because of funding limitations.
Education and Career Path
I attended Texas A&M University, majoring in biomedical
engineering with the intent of going to medical school. However, after
taking a combination of engineering and physiology courses, I realized
that my true love was in engineering, not medicine. A project that I had
worked on in one of my courses dealt with problems humans face during
zero-gravity in space flight. This peeked my interest in NASA, and encouraged
me to apply for a cooperative education (co-op) job at Johnson Space Center.
I worked as a co-op student at JSC for three semesters
during college -- working in Communications and Tracking for the International
Space Station (flight control), and the Anthropometry and Biomechanics
Facility in the Space Human Factors branch at JSC. During my co-op experience,
I had the opportunity to both work in the Space Human Factors group at
JSC, as well as take both undergraduate and graduate classes in human
factors at Texas A&M. Emphasizing my bachelor of science degree in the
field of human factors engineering allowed me to combine my two interests
of engineering and the human body.
Advice to kids/students pursuing careers in this area (or any area)
I was advised by my father to get an engineering degree
because of the doors it would open for me when I graduated; I think this
is some of the best advice I've ever received. Although I did not start
college with intentions of ever working as an engineer, I am so thankful
now that I had that degree program to fall back on when I decided not
to go to medical school.
In addition, I've seen by working in the "real world"
that an engineering degree holds a great amount of value. Firstly, engineers
are valued for their unique problem-solving experience and expertise.
The primary trend of any engineering curriculum is centered around problem-solving,
and therefore when engineers enter the workplace -- whether they're doing
hard-core engineering or not -- they have a very good background for being
In addition, basic engineering principles are used
extensively in many different jobs. Even though my current role does not
require me to solve differential equations or thermodynamics problems,
learning the general principles involved in both of these, as well as
other engineering principles, has helped me to understand the overall
challenges presented when designing a space system.
A general understanding of many different aspects
of the engineering field makes my job easier from a "systems engineering"
perspective. Based on this, I would advise students to pursue an engineering,
or other technical, degree if you have any interest in this field. Having
an engineering degree does not lock you into doing engineering for the
rest of your life, but not having one can prevent you from entering a
technical field in the future!
I grew up in Spring, Texas (NW Houston). I attended
Benfer Elementary School, Strack Intermediate School, and Klein High School.
As a kid, I liked to read books with medical
stories and medical biographies. They got me interested in the human body
and physiology. From the time I was five years old, until my sophomore
year in college, I wanted to be a pediatrician.
I looked to my parents as role models, and they always
inspired me. My mother got her bachelor's degree, and then stayed
home with us as a full-time mother. She taught me about the importance
of setting priorities, and making tough choices in life. She also taught
me that I can do anything that I set my mind to do. My
father has always encouraged me to pursue my dreams (whatever they may
be), and to "Carpe Diem!" ("Seize the day"). He has always
believed in me, and encouraged me to always set my goals high and not
I live in Webster, which is in the southeast Houston area,
in an apartment -- but hope to buy a house in the area soon! I have a
calico kitten, named Lily.
Both of my parents come from somewhat rural areas, so we
like getting outside and walking through the woods together. I also enjoy
cooking, shopping, making crafts, sewing, reading, and volunteering.
Future Plans and Goals
I am getting married in October (2002), and hope to buy
a house soon thereafter! No plans for kids yet, but definitely plan on
having at least two.
As far as work is concerned, I am interested in combining
my technical/engineering skills with a management job in the future. My
current role is giving me some experience with management of a small group
of people, while still allowing me to do technical work and keep up my
skills. I greatly enjoy this mix, and hope to continue in this role and
gain more valuable experience. Eventually, I would like to gain more responsibility
in the field of management and lead a larger group of people. I would,
however, like to stay in the area of technical management (leading engineers,
designers, and scientists).