August 1, 1994
KSC Contact: Lisa Malone
KSC Release No. 87-94
IRENE DUHART LONG, M.D. NAMED DIRECTOR, BIOMEDICAL OPERATIONS AND RESEARCH OFFICE AT THE KENNEDY SPACE CENTER
Dr. Irene Duhart Long remembers the exact moment when she decided to become a physician specializing in aerospace medicine.
"I was nine years old," she recalled. "it was 1959, and I was watching a show on television called 'Man and the Challenge.' It was about getting ready for human spaceflight. There was a Lt. Col. John Paul Stapp on the show, and it showed him working with sled tests and other research that they were doing at the time. I remember watching the credits, which showed that Lt. Col. Stapp was an Air Force physician specializing in aviation medicine, and I said to myself, 'Wow, that looks like fun.'"
The show inspired Long to methodically establish goals for her future and set about achieving them. She recalls telling her parents she wanted to attend Northwestern University as an undergraduate, go to medical school in the midwest so she could remain near her family in Cleveland, Ohio, study general surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, and then find work with the space program in Florida.
Many years later, Irene Long has made her dreams into reality. She has just been named director, Biomedical Operations and Research Office, at the Kennedy Space Center. She had served as acting director since January. "Center Director Crippen called me with the news on July 11, the 12th anniversary of my entry into civil service with NASA," Long said. "it was a perfect moment."
As director, Long's job encompasses a diversity of functions, people and facilities. She is responsible for the program management of the center's aerospace and occupational medicine activities. "The bulk of our mission is to support KSC operations by assuring a healthy workforce and a healthy workplace," Long explained.
"The Biomedical Operations and Research Office oversees the Life Sciences Support Contract, as well as the environmental health and medical functions of the Base Operations Contract," Long continued. This includes the employee medical clinics on KSC and adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Station. The center's active environmental and ecological monitoring program also falls under the office's purview. Such diverse tasks as groundwater testing and safe removal of asbestos in certain of the center's older buildings are coordinated by the environmental monitoring staff.
Another important function carried out under the Biomedical Office is life sciences research. Based at Hangar L on Cape Canaveral, the Controlled Ecological Life Support System (CELSS) project is a long-term NASA effort to develop a self-sufficient food chain to support long-term human stays in space. CELSS is a completely bioregenerative food cycle -- all its components are recycled, including waste. To date, numerous crops of lettuce and other foods have been successfully harvested in a non-soil environment as part of the CELSS project.
Life sciences personnel also provide scientific support to workers processing Shuttle payloads that are biological in nature. All biological experiments are prepared at Hangar L before being installed in the Space Shuttle for flight.
The Biomedical Office also is responsible for providing and coordinating medical, environmental monitoring and environmental health support to launch and landing activities for the Space Shuttle program. Even before she assumed her current position, Long was one of four people designated to staff the biomedical console in the Launch Control Center firing room for a Shuttle launch. "We're getting ready for our 64th Shuttle flight, so I've been at the console for about 16 missions," Long said. "We report four hours before the scheduled liftoff and stay until an hour after launch." She was the medical officer on duty the day of the Challenger accident in 1986, faced with the task of making sure that all the contingency organizations, from area hospitals located off-center to Defense Department medical evacuation teams, were ready to provide assistance. "We had to be ready to provide emergency support in a situation where it was extremely difficult to know what was happening," Long recalled.
Prior to becoming head of of the Biomedical Operations and Research Office, Long served as chief of the Medical and Environmental Health Office. In this capacity, she was responsible for assuring a comprehensive occupational medicine and environmental health program directed toward the maintenance of the health of the KSC workforce.
As a manager, Long is a strong proponent of personal empowerment, a key tenet of Total Quality Management and other continuous improvement work philosophies.
"I believe it's important to involve staff members in defining goals, developing a strategy for reaching them, and then empowering employees to achieve them," she explained. "I like to give overall guidance and direction, and try to act more like a coach or counselor than a traditional boss."
One of Long's proudest achievements during her aerospace medicine career was her part in creating the Space Life Sciences Training Program (SLSTP). "We were tasked by NASA Headquarters with developing a curriculum to inspire students to study science and mathematics," she said. In SLSTP, college students spend a summer at KSC learning about the space program. Now in its tenth year, the program has been so successful that most of the participants have learned about it through word of mouth.
As one of three top-ranking women at KSC, and the top-ranking African-American woman, Long is fully aware that she may be perceived as a role model. "I hope that I am someone that people can look at and say, 'I can do that too,"' she said and went on to emphasize the importance of setting goals early. "There's a saying that to know where you're going, you must know where you've been," she noted. "I think it's just as important to say, to succeed and prosper in the present, you must know where you're headed."
Long can look out the window of her office on the third floor of the Operations and Checkout Building and see the vast expanse of KSC before her. But staying Earth-bound is not the ultimate goal for this space visionary. She tells the story of proudly phoning her mother in 1982 with the news that she had joined NASA, fulfilling at last the dream she had cherished since she was nine. Her mother reminded Long that she'd had still another goal beyond working at a space center. "She pointed out that the final step in my grand plan was to set up a medical clinic on the moon," Long observed.
Such futuristic goals are still very much a part of Long's mindset. In her far-sighted view, the biomedical, environmental and operational support her office provides to the Space Shuttle program at the spaceport today will become a precedent for future space endeavors. "The foundation we are laying now in the medical and life sciences world here at KSC will support the agency's programs 10, 20 and 30 years down the road," Long stated. "I would like to think that we are pioneers in occupational medicine for the space program. What we're doing here now on the ground will someday be done in space, be it on a space station, the moon or Mars."
Long is a graduate of Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. She studied medicine at the St. Louis University School of Medicine, earning her medical degree in 1977. She completed two years of a general surgery residency at the Cleveland Clinic and the Mount Sinai Hospital of Cleveland. She then went on to complete another residency and also earned a degree in aerospace medicine from Wright State University School of Medicine, Dayton, Ohio. She is a member of the Aerospace Medicine Association, the Society of NASA Flight Surgeons, the National Medical Association, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP). Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Long presently lives on Merritt Island.
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