USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

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(Send us your opinion today: What are the challenges faced by NASA engineers and scientists in keeping the Space Station and its astronauts safe from harmful bacteria, viruses and other nasty microbes?  Tell us what you think of Monserrate’s contributions!)

Microbiology may not come to your mind when the name International Space Station (ISS) is mentioned, but it should, says NASA microbiologist Monserrate Roman.  She should know. Monserrate, born and raised in Puerto Rico, was a member of the team which built the early stages of the ISS and designed materials that are microbe-resistant for the Station.

Why She’s Important: Monserrate, as the lead scientist overseeing the life support unit of ISS’s

early construction, was responsible for determining how viruses, fungi, bacteria, parasites and other organisms would behave in space under different situations and locations aboard the Station. This was especially challenging when you consider that the ISS has crew members from 15 participating nations (not to mention visitors) and each person comes with his or her own unique set of microbes, plus microbes from experiments conducted aboard. About 3 crewmembers live on the Station at any one time, staying 3-4 months.

Other Achievements:  Working with engineers, she also ensured that humidity- and temperature-control systems aboard the Station were designed and installed to keep microbe growth in check, and that safe water and air recycling systems were instituted. The Station is situated more than 200 miles above Earth at any given time. 

Current Activities:  Monserrate is now a project manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where she began her NASA career in 1989.  She also serves a role model for other students, especially girls, who are considering pursuing careers in science.

Education: B.A. degree in microbiology from the University of Puerto Rico, and her Master’s in the same discipline from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

In Her Own Words: “My family thought I should be a teacher or a secretary, but my science teachers always thought it was really cool that I asked so many questions!”