The Astronaut's Doctor

An alumna realizes her dream at NASA

Author | Lauren Crawford

Photos courtesy of Natacha Chough

Natacha Chough (M.D. 2010) spent her childhood looking at the sky. There was something so inviting, so challenging about the immensity of space — and our place within it. She decided early on that she wanted to work at NASA. 

But, Chough says, "I knew that meant having a successful career in something else first." Her love of science — particularly biology — nudged her to pursue medicine, and there she found a second calling. 

Medicine, she discovered, was a means of navigating life on Earth. At U-M, Chough excelled in emergency medicine and helped "resurrect" the Wilderness Medicine Student Interest Group. She loved working in unpredictable environments; being forced to improvise made her approach her craft more creatively and confidently. "MacGyver medicine," she calls it. 

During an undergraduate internship at NASA in 2000, Chough learned about aerospace medicine, a specialty developed for the unique needs of air and space travel. The field combines two of her greatest loves: space and life sciences. "It was like a dream come true," she says. As simple as that, her disparate ambitions fused into one career. 

Now, as a Flight Surgeon at NASA, Chough is living that dream. Most recently, she provided ground medical support and telemedical care of Kate Rubins, Ph.D., the 60th woman to fly in space. 

"It's like taking care of Lewis and Clark," Chough says, underscoring the unusual obstacles she and her colleagues encounter. "Every time we send astronauts 'out the door' on a spacewalk, it is a challenge for everyone involved. … It is hands down the most dangerous thing we do at NASA." 

Chough wouldn't have it any other way. Despite those difficult moments, she's humbled to do exactly what she does. "We walk into Mission Control … knowing that our performance can have ultimate consequences," she says. "[And that] challenges me daily to keep my skills and knowledge polished." 

See how else she's living the NASA dream: http://youtu.be/QWc5gq1taRM 


More Articles About: alumna NASA flight surgeon Medical School Emergency Medicine wilderness medicine
Featured News & Stories girl in yellow dress raising hands at podium
Health Lab
First-year residents reflect on their journeys and offer advice for Match Day
On Match Day, several recent medical school graduates recount their first years as working physicians.
A young Asian American woman with long curled brown hair, wearing blue scrubs, a white doctor's coat, and a stethoscope
Medicine at Michigan
Two degrees, one vision
A University of Michigan medical student who is also working on an MBA discusses what she wants to do with her two degrees.
Close up image of an open book with a blue stethoscope resting on it.
Medicine at Michigan
How to get into medical school
An admissions expert discusses how to get into medical school and what makes the process different at the University of Michigan.
medical doctor smiling glasses brown hair
Health Lab
Medical student tackles cystic fibrosis on a global scale
A medical student advocates for better cystic fibrosis awareness with help from the Clinton Foundation.
electives-medical-students-school-orange
Health Lab
Pursuing passion-based electives during medical school
The University of Michigan Medical School’s unique curriculum framework provides a new approach for students and future generations of physicians-in-training to explore their interests in a variety of clinical and non-clinical electives.
aerial view of doctor nurse tablet
Health Lab
A unique approach to medical student evaluation
U-M Medical School’s competency-based education model is guided by the 8 core domains of competency, including complex knowledge, interpersonal skills, professionalism, critical thinking, and values to prepare the next generation of health professionals.