Olga Gonzalez-Sanabria’s work is literally out of this world. After graduating from the University of Puerto Rico with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1978, she was recruited the following year to work at NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. She spent 32 years there working on groundbreaking research and space experimentation, while also becoming the first Latina in a senior director role at the center before retiring in 2011.
Gonzalez-Sanabria’s first stop on her NASA journey was to work on a team that discovered how to chemically alter new (at the time) nickel-hydrogen fuel cells in order to increase their battery life so they could be used in the International Space Station power systems. “The station required at least a minimum of 15 years so we had to prove that it could sustain that amount of time in space without battery replacement,” says Gonzalez-Sanabria. “That was never done before.”
Gonzalez-Sanabria then went on to work with patents for a year (she is the co-patentee on a separator technology for alkaline batteries) before moving to the space experiments division. “I started working with space technology experiments that flew either on a shuttle or on the station,” she says, “and that was very exciting.”
As the first Latina in a senior executive role at the center, Gonzalez-Sanabria was inspired to help mentor others. “I was very involved with the community, both at the center and the Cleveland community at the time,” she says. “I was proud to be able to promote and encourage and develop people.”
Earlier this year, Gonzalez-Sanabria was inducted into the Glenn Research Center Hall of Fame, a fitting culmination to her career. “My career as a whole was fantastic,” she says. “Working for NASA is a dream job. The work is not the same from year to year; it gives you an opportunity to grow and learn and change.”