Lynette (Vandiver) Jennings
Down to Earth

Picher native nurses NASA back to health


Published: Sunday, March 14, 2010 12:31 AM CST

Wes Franklin
Miami News-Record

Her medical kit in hand, Lynette Jennings boards the bus-like crew transport vehicle and double-checks to see she has everything.

It’s all there. Now she anxiously sits as the CTV, as they call it, slowly takes off toward the singed NASA Space Shuttle and the tired crew inside that waits on the landing strip at Edwards Air Force Base in Lancaster, Calif.

Jennings has taken this ride she doesn’t know how many times in the last three years. But as the CTV nears the Shuttle, she still feels that same shot of pure thrill course up to her throat and then drop like a weight to her stomach where it settles.

Not a bad way to spend the day for a girl from sleepy Picher, Okla.

As a registered nurse, Jennings is contracted with NASA to give immediate care to the astronauts coming off of Space Shuttle missions. After the Shuttle lands, and the astronauts finally climb onto the CTV, Jennings and three or four other flight nurses check them over, pump them full of fluids and administer medication as needed (motion sickness pills are almost always in the cup).

“It’s exciting,” Jennings told the News-Record in a phone interview. “Just getting to see them come down and getting to see how they get the astronauts off the Shuttle and that kind of stuff. They don’t just walk off, you know. People think that they do, but it takes them maybe 30 minutes or so for them to get their ‘sea legs back and get out of their suits and that sort of stuff. It’s pretty exciting when they come in.”

She said sometimes when a Shuttle is brought down after spending three or four months in space, the astronauts are all physically sick and unhealthy when they walk off the craft.

“Then they really require a lot of care,” Jennings said. “It takes them a little while to recover but then they’re fine.”

After Jennings and her professional peers administer initial care, the astronauts are taken to a facility on the base, where they receive additional attention by staff from the Kennedy Space Center, who Jennings said are always there when a Shuttle lands.

In between the sporadic excitement of nursing sick space astronauts, Jennings works in occupational medicine at the base, giving physicals.

“When we don’t have anything else to do, they put us to work doing that,” she said. “We

Jennings has been a registered nurse for 13 years, but it’s only been the last three that she has worked with NASA.

A 1965 Picher High School graduate, Jennings was later an emergency room and ambulance paramedic at Integris Baptist Regional Health Center in Miami before moving to California and becoming an RN.