story by James Beisner
. . .
Most successful people tend to not seek recognition for themselves. This is especially true for those in the aviation community. Their life stories however, need to be told as an inspiration to future generations. This is notably true for Nancy Decker Currie-Gregg for the many challenges that she managed to overcome.
From her beginning Nancy Jane Decker ( born in Delaware and raised in Troy, Ohio) faced what some would consider as negative situations, but for her they were made into positive character-building opportunities. She was born into a family that had low to moderate financial status, however that was more than compensated for by their continual encouragement and support of school enrollment.
Being short in stature (the smallest in her class) Nancy was often overlooked except for her academic achievements. A number of her high school classes counted for college credits. She graduated from Troy High School in Troy, Ohio, in 1977. She attended college summer classes while living at home, which qualified her as a sophomore at The Ohio State University in the fall.
As a little girl, she wanted to be a military aviator. Nancy reminisced, “No one ever told me that was not a possibility because there were no female aviators at that time.” She was accepted into the Army ROTC Program as the shortest candidate. “I was too short for other services,” Nancy said. The program was also helpful for her financial status. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, with honors, in biological science from The Ohio State University in 1980.
Upon graduation, she applied for the Army Aviation Section (helicopter training.). Her initial application was rejected due to the minimum height requirement. The Army, at this time, was in the process of converting to the metric system. In the process of converting, and some possible mathematical error, it was determined that she was qualified. At last, her dream of being a military aviator was about to become true.
Nancy’s concerted effort was rewarded with not only as a helicopter pilot rating, but it evolved into a helicopter instructor position. It was announced at this time that a few new NASA astronaut candidate positions were coming available in the near future. She was encouraged by some friends to apply. Nancy did apply and was invited for an interview. She was not accepted at the interview, but was offered a job with NASA at Houston, Texas. She accepted the offer and was told by friends at NASA that submitting an additional astronaut application would not be unusual. She re-applied and received another interview. No answer was received. Minutes seemed to turn into hours, and the next day her phone rang; SHE WAS ACCEPTED!
Rigorous training continued for months and years. All of this activity was performed while she was completing her PhD and was a single parent. Nancy was not available for a space mission due to the fact that there was not a space-suit available for her small size. Another small female astronaut was brought into the program and then a suit was manufactured that would fit the two of them.
In 1978, NASA selected the first group of female astronauts. “I remember in my late twenties thinking that all those changes occurred and doors were opened for me in the nick of time. The selection rate for astronauts is 0.08,” evoked Nancy. Fueled by her passions, she continued her dream, and weathered several setbacks along the way.
She was selected as a flight engineer crew member that would take the Space Shuttle Endeavor on the mission STS 57. Endeavor was launched 21 June ,1993 , from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, for a ten day mission. The mission was to the International Space Station (ISS) where they would connect the aft berthing port of the Utility Module – the first American component of the ISS- with the forward hatch of the already orbiting Zarya Module.
THE SHUTTLE LAUNCHES AND BUILDING THE ISS comments recalled by Nancy:
“You walk down the same ramp that Neil Armstrong walked down when he started his day on his mission to the moon.”
“You are so well-trained and all you are thinking about is your job, but you are aware of the history and those that have proceeded you.”
“As a night launch, it seemed that you are flying into a fireball. It was a pretty dynamic event.”
Once the shuttle arrived at the ISS, the excitement did not end. As she put her hands on the controllers, everything slowed down. “All my training kicked in.” The plus/minus 2 inches and 2-degree variance was maintained in the docking. “When we finally made that call to ground, ‘Houston, this is the International Space Station,’ that finalized the mission for me. It was an honor for me to be there.”
(NOTE: As a US Army Officer, Nancy was awarded hazardous duty pay for the eight days spent in space, which amounted to about twenty dollars.)
The thirtieth anniversary of the historic STS 57 Endeavour mission will be in 2023. Nancy flew three more missions: STS 70 Discovery , STS 88 Endeavour (which completed the first additional module to the ISS), and the STS 109 Columbia launched March 2nd, 2002 (which was the repair mission to the Hubble telescope, and was Columbia’s last successful mission.) Currie-Gregg has participated in four space shuttle missions: STS-57, STS-70, STS-88, and STS-109, accruing 1,000 hours in space.
Crew of STS-109 Columbia
In interviews with students, Currie-Gregg has commented, “I would not be where I am today and would not have had the career that I did, if it were not for the teachers that I had in my life, especially in high school. Neither of my parents graduated from high school, so they could not talk to me about careers in math, science, or engineering. That was completely foreign to them. So, it was my high school math, chemistry, and biology teachers… they took an interest in me; they pointed me in the direction of academic scholarships, without I would have never been able to go to college.”
Due to the previous shuttle catastrophes, NASA established the policy that no more than four shuttle missions are to be permitted to any astronaut. Following her astronaut career, she stayed with NASA as a Senior Engineer and Safety Consultant until her retirement as a US Army Colonel. At the present time Currie-Gregg is passing her knowledge on to students as a Professor of Practice, in Industrial and Systems Engineering at Texas A&M University.
James Beisner, 2022
Editor's note: A bronze statue honoring Nancy Currie-Gregg, Ph.D. stands as one of three statues in Troy's “Pioneers of Aviation Statue Pavilion” celebrating the city's rich aviation history (shown on the right of the photo at the top of this page). The pavilion, located at 134 N. Market St., Troy, Ohio, also includes statues of Clayton Brukner and Robert Hartzell. The sculptures were designed by artist Mike Major of Urbana. In 2019 the pavilion was officially designated as part of the Aviation Trail.