Irene D. Long (born 1951), the first African American female chief of the Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health Office at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), is one of the highest-ranking professional women at the center.
Irene D. Long is responsible for overseeing that the health and welfare of workers is not compromised before, during, or after a space craft launch (a program so comprehensive that it has been used as a model at other worksites). Long's career in aerospace medicine also involves support to the Johnson Space Center's collection of medical data on the condition of astronauts, including the effects of space on an individual's physiology and the consequences of weightlessness.
Irene Duhart Long, the second of two children, was born November 16, 1951, in Cleveland, Ohio, to Andrew Duhart, a steelworker, and Heloweise Davis Duhart, who taught adult education. At the age of nine, fascinated by reports of the space program that she saw on television, Long informed her parents that she was going to have a career in aerospace medicine. Gearing her education toward fulfilling her childhood dream, she graduated from high school, enrolled at Northwestern University, and received her baccalaureate degree in biology in 1973. Long then attended the St. Louis School of Medicine, eventually obtaining a doctorate of medicine degree. Following residency training in general surgery at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic and Mt. Sinai Hospital (in Cleveland), Long enrolled in the Wright State University school of medicine and earned a master's degree in aerospace medicine.
After completing the third year of the residency program at Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California, Long realized her childhood dream in 1982 by joining the staff at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. As the Chief of the Occupational Medicine and Environmental Health Office, she worked with a team of physicians to provide medical services to the astronauts in emergency cases such as an aborted mission. Additionally, she and her office assured that the health of eighteen thousand workers, civil servants, and contractors at the Kennedy Space Center was not compromised. The office is also responsible for administering physicals to employees to ensure that they are healthy and can satisfactorily perform any physical requirements necessary in their jobs
Long managed the inspections of workspaces around the center to protect employees from exposure to various hazards such as toxic chemicals, fire, and decompression— all possibilities when a space craft is launched. In addition, she coordinated efforts between multidisciplinary teams— including personnel from the Department of Defense, environmental health agencies, and the astronaut office—which work together to stage successful launches, as well as prepare for emergency situations. In 1994, she was awarded an assignment as Director of the Biomedial Office at the Kennedy Space Center.
Long is a member of the Aerospace Medical Association and its affiliated Space Medicine Branch and Society of NASA Flight Surgeons, receiving the Society's Presidential Award in 1995. In 1996 she was elected as the second vice president of the Society of NASA Flight Surgeons and will serve as the organization's president in 1998.
Besides carrying out these duties, Long is also an author. In a landmark paper, she showed that people with sickle-cell trait—a condition different from the disease— should not be prohibited from flying. She determined that the lower oxygen level does not cause their red blood cells to sickle, which can be an extremely painful ailment.
One of the programs Long is proudest of helping to create is the Space Life Sciences Training Program. The program's goal is to encourage minorities and female college students to become interested and take part in science, particularly space life sciences. Participants spend six weeks at the Kennedy Space Center where they learn about space physiology in plants, animals and humans, experiment development, and teamwork concepts. Long, whose hobbies outside of her work include making various craft items and collecting antiques, resides in Florida.
Further Reading on Irene D. Long
Ebony, September, 1984, pp. 61-64.
Long, Irene D., Interview with Barbara Proujan, conducted January 12, 1994.
Kennedy Space Center Countdown, " http://wwwpao.ksc.nasa.gov/kscpao/ksccount/1996/may/5-14-96.htm, " July 22, 1997.