An El Paso native, Kerrick spoke with groups about her NASA career
There were many times in her life when Ginger Kerrick could’ve quit or followed a different path. Instead, she not only overcame each obstacle, but forged a path for others to follow.
Kerrick, deputy director of the Exploration Integration and Sciences Directorate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, visited El Paso earlier this month. During her stop, the El Paso native participated in virtual meetings with community organization Progress321 and the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. At the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso campus, she met in person with Student Government Association leaders and members of the local YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization).
Gov. Greg Abbott appointed Kerrick to the Texas Tech University System Board of Regents in March 2019 for a six-year term.
Long before a dislocated knee derailed her college and pro basketball aspirations and kidney stones kept her from a lifelong dream of being an astronaut, Kerrick faced adversity.
“My first introduction to being resilient was when my dad died,” Kerrick said. “I actually watched it happen.”
After her father’s death, Kerrick’s mother got a job, but only made one-fifth of what her husband had earned. Kerrick said her mother eventually shared some bad news: she wouldn’t be able to pay for Kerrick to go to college.
“‘You’ve got to figure out how to pay for your own college,’” Kerrick said her mother told her. “I’m 11 years old. She took me to the library, and we looked at books on scholarships.”
Kerrick ended up attending the University of Texas at El Paso before transferring to Texas Tech University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics.
After an internship at NASA, Kerrick applied to be an astronaut and was one of 120 chosen to be interviewed out of 3,000 applicants.
The application process included a medical exam, which revealed her kidney stones. The condition meant she would not be able to go to space.
For someone who dreamt of being an astronaut since she was 5, it was devastating news. But a new perspective soon came to her.
“For a split second, I could hear myself, and I was like, ‘Oh my God. Who is this wuss?’” Kerrick recalled. “This is the same little girl that watched her dad die right in front of her and somehow picked herself up and moved on, and you’re going to let this break you?”
“And so I thought, ‘No, this isn’t how it ends,” Kerrick said. “Historically, if I had faced a challenge, I always sought out if there was something I could do about it. I couldn’t do anything about my dad dying. I could do something when my GPA tanked. I could do something when I lost my scholarship. I’m like, ‘I have to figure out a path forward, and I’m capable of doing it because I survived my dad’s death.’”
She decided to look at the situation differently.
“Maybe, I’m 26 years old and I don’t know everything yet,” Kerrick recalled thinking to herself. “Maybe, I latched onto this dream of being an astronaut as the end-all-be-all, but maybe there are other careers at NASA I haven’t been exposed to yet that might be more rewarding.”
In 1997, she was selected to be NASA’s first Russian Training Integration instructor, supporting the first crew to live on the International Space Station. In 2001, she became the first non-astronaut capsule communicator (CapCom), responsible for communicating with space flight crews. In 2005, she was selected as NASA’s first Hispanic female flight director in 2005. She served in this role at Johnson Space Center from 2005 to 2012.
And just as the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted workplaces globally, it also has affected NASA.
“We’re still not back at work either,” Kerrick said of working from home. “We actually launched a crew during COVID with no one at work. We landed a crew during COVID. So, it’s been interesting and challenging, but we’ve learned a lot about how to work in this environment.”
Through all her endeavors, Kerrick takes El Paso with her.
“I make sure everybody knows I’m from El Paso, and make sure everybody knows I’m from Texas Tech,” Kerrick said. “I do a lot of speaking engagements. I try to teach a little bit about NASA and highlight my El Paso and Texas Tech roots to show people there are great leaders who can come out of both of these areas and really and truly make a difference in the world.”
In addition to championing El Paso, Kerrick is always ready to show her Texas Tech pride.
“I always give talks about Texas Tech, for Texas Tech. I love my school and always thought I was going to be that girl – ‘yay, Texas Tech,'” Kerrick said.
That love for her alma mater carried over to serving on the Texas Tech Alumni Association board of directors in 2014-2015 and then being appointed to the Texas Tech University System board of regents in March 2019 for a six year term.
“It’s been a joy,” Kerrick said of being a regent. “I’ve done it for a year and a half now and I’m so glad I got picked up. We’ve been able to make some policy decisions that have really helped such as getting this new medical science building, the vet school and the dental school. It’s like, wow, people didn’t have that before we were here and we’ve been able to help that.’
“I get great joy out of that because I get to help and, in particular, this university because it’s my hometown. This is a double bonus. I really enjoy it and I hope that we can continue to make a difference because that’s why we serve.”
Watch two of Kerrick’s virtual meetings with El Pasoans below.