I was born in New York City -- Manhattan. I was the middle daughter of three. We lived in Harlem for just a few months after I was born before moving to a housing project in The Bronx by Throggs Neck. We lived there until I was five years old. Then we moved to Newark, New Jersey across the street from West Side High School. At age 9, my family bought a house in a small town called South River where I lived for 20 years. I participated in all sports during my school days. Our public school teachers were excellent because they provided me with a solid foundation for my future in science, sports, history, literature, and geography. The students, however, were tough so I endured the same struggles many young people face today.
My name made me feel unique despite being teased about it. It’s not a nickname. My parents also taught us how to defend ourselves -- physically anyway -- from their life in Harlem. I wanted to be an astronaut so I joined Civil Air Patrol as a teenager. I learned how to fly an airplane before I learned to drive a car. When I finally had a steady job, I earned my pilot’s license at Princeton Airport. I also took a few hang gliding lessons when I visited Kitty Hawk, North Carolina a few times. I attended Douglass College at Rutgers University where I took advantage of the Individual Major option to combine any course related to space science. During my Astronomy class, I introduced myself to the professor who 3 years later helped me get a job at Princeton University.
The day after graduating from college I was hired to work on a satellite project -- OAO-3C. Seven years later, I moved to Houston to work at the NASA-Johnson Space Center. I worked on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station programs. I realized early in life that we only get to live once. I grew up during the Golden Age of Television. I ignored the subservient roles women played in most shows. I was enamored of science fiction and adventure shows like Supercar: “It travels in space and under the sea. It’s the marvel of the age.” WOW! I dreamed of excitement. What was it like to see other countries or venture into outer space?
But I was told by sad-faced women that “little girls don’t do those things” and “dreams don’t come true.” I was also aware of the social tensions of the time, especially since my family was born in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Corsica. My parents grew up in Harlem during the Great Depression. By coincidence, they both lost their fathers when they were young. Their mothers had to figure out how to keep their families together during those rough economic times. I grew up on the stories of my parents’ struggles. They worked hard to give their children a better life. Education was important. The world was not a happy place. I dreamed that in the future, a lot of the world’s problems would be solved and we’d be living on other planets. That was even before Star Trek’s hopeful vision for humanity. But the future is now and it doesn’t look the way I had envisioned it.