Dr. Irene Long

By Peggy Macdonald

Pioneer in aerospace medicine (Merritt Island)

Years: 1950–2020

Remembered for: The first woman and the first minority to hold the position of chief medical officer at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Why you should know her:

Dr. Irene Duhart Long’s passion for space travel and biology began during her childhood in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1973 she graduated from Northwestern University with a bachelor’s in biology. Four years later, Long received a medical degree from the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. Dr. Long completed residencies at the Cleveland Clinic, Mt. Sinai Hospital in Cleveland, and Wright State University in Dayton, where she received a master’s in aerospace medicine.

Dr. Long was the first woman and the first minority to serve as chief medical officer at NASA’s Florida spaceport. Her career included directing the Biomedical Operations and Research Office, leading Kennedy Space Center’s programs in occupational and aerospace medicine, life science research and environmental management. She was awarded many honors, including the Kennedy Space Center Federal Woman of the Year Award; Society of NASA Flight Surgeons Presidential Award; Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award; Lifetime Achievement Award, Women of Color Technology Awards Conference; and the Strughold Award from the Space Medicine Association.

Dr. Long faced many challenges throughout her career in a white male-dominated field, leading her to help establish the Spaceflight and Life Sciences Training Program at Kennedy Space Center. The purpose of the program is to encourage female and minority college students to pursue careers in science. Dr. Long became chief medical officer and associate director of Spaceport Services in 2000. She and her staff were responsible for providing medical services to astronauts and protecting the health of 18,000 workers, civil servants and contractors at Kennedy Space Center. After a 31-year career with NASA, Dr. Long retired in 2010. She died in 2020 at age 69.

Featured imageDr. Irene Duhart Long