Penny Pettigrew has had her head in the stars from a young age. Growing up during the Shuttle Program, Penny was inspired watching the Shuttles launch and return home safely. In 1983, when Sally Ride completed her historic flight, Penny knew that not only did she want to be involved in the space program but she gained the affirmation that she could play a part in our nation’s space program.
After earning a BS in Chemistry from the Colorado School of Mines in 1992, Penny still didn’t know what she wanted to be when she grew up, but she knew she had always been interested in space. She was accepted at many graduate schools including UC Berkeley, but after touring the campuses and meeting the faculty, nothing grabbed her. It was a visit with an advisor who made one simple comment that pointed Penny in the right direction, “Find out where they do Space stuff!” This is when Penny thought back to her visit to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama and remembered there was a university and a NASA center located just down the road from Space Camp. Now, it seems so obvious!
Penny moved to the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) to attend graduate school due to its strong ties to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC), and she has been there ever since. She earned a MS in Chemistry/Materials Science from UAH and was awarded a Graduate Student Research Fellowship from NASA to study the effects of atomic oxygen on material surfaces in low Earth orbit. Penny began working full time at MSFC in 2000 and has supported several different projects including the first Materials Science Research Rack (MSRR-1), which is a facility that supports low gravity materials science research on the International Space Station. In 2006, Penny became a real Rocket Scientist working on NASA’s next Space Flight Vehicle, the Ares I. She supported the Ares I First Stage Systems Engineering and Integration (SE&I) team fulfilling many roles including the Requirements and Verification Team Lead and the SE&I Engineering and Integration Lead. Unfortunately, this project was also eliminated due to budget constraints, so Penny made what she hopes will be final switch in career paths. Penny is very excited to now be a microgravity scientist.
Penny was honored to be inducted into the Space Camp Hall of Fame during the inaugural year,2007. She acknowledges that she would literally not be where she is today if she had not attended Space Camp as she had no idea NASA was located in Alabama! As a member of the Space Camp Hall of Fame, Penny focuses on inspiring the next generation of explorers to work hard to achieve their goals.