Patricia Cowings is an aerospace psychophysiologist and was the first woman scientist to be trained by NASA as an astronaut.  Although she never made it to space herself, her work focused on the psychological and biological problems experienced in space travel and helped astronauts learn to better adapt to the space environment. 

Dr. Cowings graduated from the State University of New York at Stony Brook with a bachelor’s degree in the arts, and then earned her psychology doctorate from the University of California, Davis, in 1973.  While she was still a graduate student, she began working at NASA and received a fellowship in NASA’s Graduate Research Science Program. 

Her research at NASA resulted in the patented Autogenic Feedback Training Exercise (“AFTE”) method.  The AFTE method is still in use today for training astronauts to control up to 20 physiological responses, including heart rate, skin conductance, muscle reactivity, and blood pressure, to overcome motion sickness and improve performance in the weightlessness of space.  The program can train astronauts in just six hours to use bio-feedback and autogenic techniques to regulate physiological functions.  Even outside NASA, doctors are currently using the AFTE method to control patients’ blood pressure and research has shown that AFTE can help with nausea and hypertension. 

Dr. Cowings has held adjunct professorships at several universities, including as a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles.  She also served as the principal investigator of Psychophysiological Research Laboratories at the NASA Ames Research Center.   

Dr. Cowings has been recognized by numerous institutions for her incredible and inspiring work.  Among other honors, she has received the NASA Individual Achievement Award, the Black Engineer of the Year Award, the AMES Honor Award for Technology Development, the NASA Space Act Award for Invention, the Celestial Torch Award from the National Society of Black Engineers, and the National Women of Color Technology Award. 

Author:  Alexandra Olson.