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Nurse to First NASA Astronauts Discusses Her Career

Press Release From: Ames Research Center
Posted: Thursday, January 3, 2008

During the dawn in space history, Dee OHara was the nurse to the first seven Mercury astronauts and continued on with the astronauts in the Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs. Im more aware of the historical significance now then I was at the time. At the time, I was just doing my job, said OHara. Currently, she works at Ames in the Medical Services Office as a Technical Assistant to Dr. Pelligra, the Medical Services Officer at Ames.

OHara started her career as the nurse who set up the exam area for the astronauts. She became a friend to the astronauts. I was always quite afraid when they launched. It was like putting one of my best friends on a roman candle. When they returned from a mission, it was the best time for me. I knew they were back safely, OHara said. Col. George Knauf, Center Commander of Patrick Air Force Base in Florida was in charge of putting together the teams for the Mercury project. He wanted a nurse that would get to know the astronauts so well that she would be able to know if they were hurt or ill. In all likelihood, the astronauts would not tell the flight surgeon if they were feeling ill because he had the capability of grounding them and thats bad news for any astronaut. OHara made a deal with the astronauts that she would never betray them unless she felt that their mission was in jeopardy.

OHara had a role in Ken Mattingly not flying in Apollo 13. I called Houston to get the results of his measles test and gave the doctors the information. I was very upset because I knew that he wasnt going to get to fly. He came in and asked me if I knew after I got the results. I told him that I knew but that I couldnt tell him. OHara was also there when Ken Mattingly was informed that he would not get to fly with his group. That was not a pleasant afternoon.

For OHara, one of the most difficult times in her career was the Apollo fire, as she was a friends with the men who lost their lives. In my job, I took care of the whole family, so I knew them all intimately. They invited me into their lives, she said. OHara is still good friends with many of the astronauts. Im still in touch with many of the astronauts. I recently spent the weekend at the Cape with John Glenn and Scott Carpenter.

When OHara transferred to Ames in 1973, she didnt know that Ames existed. I wanted to come to the West Coast. I would have worked at a gas station. I didnt care. OHara currently works to ensure a drug free workplace. Her group monitors all controlled substances that come on the center, as well as conducting all physical exams of people that are participating in research here at Ames. OHara says that she has enjoyed her career at Ames, which is why she is still working. Im retired. Im just keeping my hand in by continuing to work.

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