Iris Mack

Personal

First Name: Iris
Last Name: Mack

Education

College: Vassar College
Degree: B.S.
Graduation Year: 1986

College: UCLA
Degree: M.S.
Major: Mathematics

Degree: M.A.
Major: Mathematics

Degree: Ph.D.
Graduation Year: 1986

Biography

a brief biography:

Iris Mack grew up in New Orleans in a family of 10, all "competitive in a fun way." As a teenager she was inspired by a statement that Mary Baker Eddy had written a hundred years before: "The astronomer will no longer look up to the stars, he will look out from them upon the universe."

Dr. Mack was initiated into the space community as a high-school summer intern at NASA's Michoud Operations in New Orleans. As an undergraduate at Vassar she interned at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, working on the Physical Properties Team for NASA's Viking Space Program to Mars. "The thrill of being involved in this new frontier was dazzling," she remembers today. Also as a Vassar undergraduate she visited the physics department at MIT and met the late astronaut Ronald McNair. Over the years he became a friend and a mentor.

She received dual bachelor's degrees in mathematics and mathematical physics and then earned the master's degree in mathematics at the University of California as a research fellow for Bell Laboratories, where she received a patent for her work in fiber optics. In 1983, Dr. Mack joined MIT's Academic and Research Consulting Services as a consultant. Two years later the Johnson Space Center invited her to interview for a position as a NASA scientist. Dr. McNair was her host, and introduced her to many of the other astronauts. His death in the Challenger explosion shortly after her visit affected her deeply. This coupled with the consequent delay in space shuttle missions redirected her career. In 1986 Dr. Mack became the second black woman to receive a doctorate in applied mathematics at Harvard. That summer she worked at Salomon Brothers Inc. as a research analyst and consultant in mortgage and equity research, and in the fall she joined the applied mathematics faculty at MIT as an assistant professor. In 1988 she joined the Sloan faculty as a lecturer in management science.

Iris Mack briefly taught at M.I.T. after earning her doctorate in mathematics at Harvard in 1986. Apparently teaching and research did not suit her and she eventually started her own consulting firm called Associated Technologists in Atlanta while teaching at Clark-Atlanta University.

 Dr. Mack has always kept herself in top physical condition. She used to run with the MIT and the Cambridge Sports Union track clubs and is serious about her weight training. When she does break from her schedule she visits places like the Ashram in California, a spa that she says is more like boot campÑ yoga, hiking, aerobics, weight lifting, water games, and very little food. Last summer she trained with professional body builders at the Muscle and Fitness Body Building Camp in Venice Beach, Calif. She also has managed to fit in flying lessons. She was named one of Glamour Magazine's "Top 10" college students and working women. Selected as one of the Top 50 Minority Women in Science and Engineering by the National Technical Association of Scientists and Engineers.

Space shuttle or Sloan School? That was the question Lecturer Iris Mack asked herself November 1989 when NASA called to tell her that of 1,945 qualified applicants, she was one of 106 chosen to interview for the astronaut candidate program.  

What makes Dr. Mack, who taught Mathematical Modeling in Finance, an aspiring candidate for mission specialist on a space shuttle? She's always been a candidate. As a teenager growing up in New Orleans in a family of 10, all "competitive in a fun way," she was inspired by a statement that Mary Baker Eddy had written a hundred years before: "The astronomer will no longer look up to the stars, he will look out from them upon the universe."

In 1983, Dr. Mack joined MIT's Academic and Research Consulting Services as a consultant. Two years later the Johnson Space Center invited her to interview for a position as a NASA scientist. Dr. McNair was her host, and introduced her to many of the other astronauts. His death in the Challenger explosion shortly after her visit affected her deeply. This coupled with the consequent delay in space shuttle missions redirected her career.  

references: Dr. Mack's Associated Technologies web page; Dr. Mack's Phatmath, Inc web page; assorted other sources.