Happy Veterans Day! Every November, we celebrate the bravery of our fellow Americans and their sacrifice to keep us safe. One woman in STEM who served our country is retired U.S. Air Force Colonel, Dr. Yvonne Cagle.
Yvonne Darlene Cagle was born on April 24, 1959, in West Point, New York, but grew up in Novato, California. She took an interest in space at age 13 when she interviewed an astronomer for a school project.
After high school, she received a B.A. in Biochemistry from San Francisco State University. Her medical degree, which she completed in 1985 from the University of Washington, was earned through the Health Professions Scholarship Program.
After finishing her degree, she started her payback time and reported for active duty at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom. While there, she was selected for a flight surgeon program at the School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas. She received her certification in 1988 and was assigned to many subsequent missions providing medical support and rescue.
In 1989, Cagle served as the Air Force’s Medical Liaison for NASA’s Atlantis mission. As the Atlantis crew tested the Venus-bound spacecraft Magellan, Cagle waited at the landing site in Banjul, West Africa to provide emergency care for the crewmembers if needed.
She was involved in several high-profile projects with NASA, including working on a longitudinal study of astronaut’s health and an international set of medical standards and procedures for astronauts.
In 1994, she became an occupational medicine physician and deputy project manager for Kelsey-Seybold Clinics, a major healthcare provider for NASA. In 1995, she became a certified senior aviation medical examiner.
Finally, in 1996, Cagle achieved one of her greatest dreams: She was one of 35 people (from a pool of over 2,400) selected to train as NASA astronauts. She reported for Johnson Space Center and completed two years of training, qualifying as a mission specialist. During her time as an astronaut, she served in the Astronaut Office Operations Planning branch and as a science liaison for NASA’s Ames Research Center.
Cagle went to space three times, putting in 42 days on the International Space Station between 2006 and 2010. She won many awards for her service, including the National Defense Service Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal and the National Technical Association Distinguished Scientist Award. She retired from the Air Force in 2009.
Today, Cagle continues to serve the public, though in very different ways. She is a consulting professor at Stanford and a family physician. She also meets with young women and people of color to discuss careers in STEM and inspire a new generation of astronauts.
Last year, she was asked to escort Katherine Johnson, the woman the Hidden Figure movie was based on, to the 89th Academy Awards. Katherine Johnson had been a source of inspiration for Cagle throughout her life.
“For me, it really validated my journeys, my struggles, my aspirations,” Cagle said. “And I know that if it could affect me in that way, that all the young girls of all ages watching that movie and that story were moved in a way that made us feel one collective mind, one collective heart. One collective voice of empowerment.”
Are you interested in empowering women in the STEM fields? The Women in Science (Wi-Sci) group wants you! Email President Lauren Higgins (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.