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From first-generation to NASA Mission Control

Catherine Gale posing in front of rocket ship.

“I grew up cattle ranching, and my sister and I were the first [in our family] to graduate college,” said Catherine Gale (BS, mechanical engineering, 2021). “My parents still stop waiters and waitresses and say, ‘This is our daughter. She’s a rocket scientist.’”

Gale has taken on a new role as a flight controller at the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. From her post in the Mission Control Room, she works on mechanical, thermal and electrical power systems on the International Space Station, the collaborative research platform that has orbited Earth for more than 20 years.

“I’ve been fan-girling for weeks. I keep meeting astronauts, and every single time I’m trying to keep calm,” Gale laughed.

At Boise State, Gale was part of the NASA Microgravity Next project in which student teams, led by former astronaut Steve Swanson, Professor of the Practice, design and build a prototype tool for NASA spacewalks.

“Steve probably doesn’t know this, but he was an inspiration to me. Just being around him, I was like, ‘This guy is so cool. Working with astronauts would be amazing,’” Gale said.

Swanson described Gale as a strong student and team member.

“It was obvious she was going to excel at whatever she decided to do with her life. Plus, her enthusiasm for NASA projects was contagious,” he said.

In a thermodynamics class taught by Don Plumlee, associate dean and associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering, Gale knew she’d found the right course of study. She began to seek out internships and research opportunities. She joined Plumlee’s research lab.

“It was clear that Catherine had the passion, work ethic and intelligence to make her mark as an engineer. She can do it all,” Plumlee said.

During her undergraduate years, Gale was a drone engineering intern with Pitch Aeronautics, a Boise-based start-up. Then, seven months before graduation, she started an internship with SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer and space transportation company, as a tooling manufacturing engineer, a role she described as “the engineer of the machine that builds the machine.”

“NASA is amazing. And working in the Mission Control Room. I think people believe it’s an impossible goal with insane barriers of entry. NASA will take you straight out of college as long as you’re passionate and willing to learn.” Catherine Gale