Aps Careers | Physicist Profile

Ginger Kerrick

NASA Flight Director

Why physics?

A library trip leads to a dream

When Ginger went to the library with her father, she found an astronomy book that had a section about space travel. At just 5 years old, Ginger knew she wanted to be an astronaut and nothing else.

Even when her mom gave her the choice of getting a car or getting a tour of all the space centers as a graduation gift, Ginger naturally picked the tour without any hesitation.

Making the dream come true

While attending University of Texas at El Paso, Ginger wanted to transfer to Texas Tech University, but her mom told her that she couldn’t afford to pay for Ginger to go to Texas Tech.

However, Ginger still wanted to go to Texas Tech and so, she wrote to Dr. Walter Borst — a professor of physics and department chairman at the time — asking about jobs and letting him know her desire to attend Texas Tech.

Dr. Borst told Ginger to come visit Texas Tech and while she was there, she told him about her dreams of going to NASA and the financial difficulties that made it hard for her to go to Texas Tech.

He sent her off on a campus tour and when she came back, he was waiting with $4,000 worth of scholarships and two jobs. She seized the opportunity and put herself so much closer to reaching her dream.

Ginger’s potential and desire to learn physics was not lost on Dr. Borst. He even got her an internship at NASA after graduation.

Using physics

One door closes . . .

In 1995, when Ginger applied to be an astronaut at NASA, she made it through the first cut, but never made it past the final cut because she couldn’t pass the medical examination.

. . . Another door opens

Even though Ginger’s biggest dream was to be an astronaut, she still achieved her desire to work with the space program by becoming a Capcom. The Capsule Communicator (Capcom) member of a flight control crew is the person in the flight control center who communicates directly with the astronauts while they are in space.

Typically, astronauts fill the position of Capcom because a Capcom has to speak to and for the astronauts that are in space. Usually, only astronauts have the knowledge and experience to speak for the astronauts in space. However, because of Ginger’s experience from supporting operations at the International Space Station as an engineer in the Mission Control Center and a program integrator for Russian and US programs in space, she was well qualified to fulfill her duties as a Capcom.

And yet another door . . .

After spending time as a Capcom, Ginger is now a flight director and she works on the plans and tasks that the astronauts have to do in space. More specifically, she and the other flight directors have to plan out every single scenario that the astronauts can experience in space and they also make multiple plans just in case anything should go wrong.

Where's the physics?

Primarily, Ginger uses physics every day to quickly change plans to account for weather changes and ensure that the astronauts can safely return home. Her job as a flight director can even be seen as more important than that of an astronaut’s because of the amount of time and skill that she has to use to think of every single scenario that could occur while the astronauts are in space.

Ginger has to be able to see a problem before it even comes up and she has to already have a plan ready to solve the problem. To think about the practically infinite situations that could occur in space is an enormous task that Ginger takes on with ease because of the physics knowledge that she has. That knowledge has given her the ability to think beyond the usual and to provide valuable insight on solving unexpected problems so that the astronauts can safely complete their tasks and come home without any problems.

Advice for students

Opportunities are endless

Even though Ginger couldn’t become an astronaut, she became one of the key people who plans everything for the astronauts and gives them the instructions on how to complete their tasks. More importantly, her experience and willingness to learn new skills gave her the opportunity to work in space exploration as a NASA flight director.

The setbacks that Ginger has experienced have never stopped her from pursuing a career in space exploration.

Your background doesn’t determine your future

Rich or poor. Private school or public school. Living in the best neighborhood or the worst neighborhood. Ginger wants every young student to know that your future is what you make it to be. Your determination and willpower to accomplish your dreams is what will take you far in life.

Ginger often goes back home to El Paso and visits schools in the area to give talks to disadvantaged students to encourage them to go after their dreams. She tells them her own personal story of setbacks and disadvantaged background so that they can see that it is possible to reach their dreams.

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