A Voice for NASA
While a student at South Brunswick High School, Bolivia native Shaneequa Vereen never imagined she’d one day be a live mission commentator on space launches.
When SpaceX22 headed to the International Space Station (ISS) in June, space exploration fans around the world heard NASA’s play-by-play from Brunswick County native Shaneequa Vereen. As a public affairs officer at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, it’s one of her many roles.
Born in Ash and reared in Bolivia from the age of 6 in a blended family, Vereen is the youngest of six girls and two boys. Her parents, Patricia and David Floyd, also grew up in Brunswick County. Vereen graduated from South Brunswick High School and throughout school she knew she would go to college and planned to go to medical school.
“I knew from probably third or fourth grade I had to go to college,” she says. “I wanted a better life and a good job. My dream was I wanted to be a doctor; always a doctor. I knew that in order to do that I would have to go to college.”
The space program wasn’t something that ever entered her mind.
“I wasn’t the science girl who thought it was my dream to be an astronaut,” she says. “Now kids have YouTube so they learn a lot more about it than what we heard.”
When it was time to go to college, Vereen applied to several schools, was accepted at all and visited most. At N.C. State University, she knew she’d found the right place.
“I preferred N.C. State because the people were the friendliest,” she says.
“I liked the campus. I knew some kids from my high school who were going as well so I thought it might not be so scary.”
As an undergraduate, Vereen realized she didn’t like blood. “I realized I can’t be the surgeon from Gray’s Anatomy or bandage a broken arm. I had to change course,” she says.
An outgoing person who says she likes and is inquisitive about people, Vereen had taken an AP course in psychology at SBHS, and that sparked her interest. She elected to major in psychology, knowing that it could still lead to a career in the medical field. As she approached graduation, graduate school took a back seat to her desire to get out into the real world and start making money.
“I had been that poor broke college student on the ramen noodle diet,” she says. “I put the masters on the back burner and went into industry.”
At the urging of her best friend, Portia Keyes, who was moving to Houston for a job with NASA, Vereen also moved.
“It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done,” she says. “I went to see if I could get a job; I had about two months of rent money saved. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
She moved to Houston in July 2014. Initially working for a contractor that monitored Exxon Mobile in a Texas oil refinery, Vereen honed her human resources skills as an organizational development specialist for a few months before taking another job in market analysis. She also entered the University of Houston’s MBA program, where she would earn the degree plus certificates in Leadership Development and Global Management.
Again, at the urging of Keyes, Vereen applied through usajobs.gov for NASA’s Pathways internship program.
“I was making good money and was good at my job; I wasn’t sure I wanted to start over, but thought NASA could be great,” Vereen says.
Soon after her initial interview, she received a rejection email, but “about two weeks later I got a call from Jonathan at NASA, who said, ‘We have an offer for you.’ I told him about the rejection email. He said, ‘That should not have happened. We want to offer you a job! You’ll start in January.’”
Through Pathways, she did rotations in public affairs and education before being hired full time in the public affairs sector of the external relations office. Vereen’s position covers life sciences, which includes all the programs and personnel in the human health and performance sector, for example the food lab, exercise programs, pre-flight research, flight surgeons and others. She also writes and distributes news releases and oversees websites and social media.
“I’m their public affairs officer,” she says. “They might send me a request to highlight the portable ultrasound machine they’re using on the space station. I write it up and send it out. I’m not a digital graphics type of person but writing or hosting Facebook Live or moderating a panel. … I sit in on all the interviews to make sure everything is copacetic, that there are no crazy questions.”
When a launch occurs, it is usually posted on the NASA app and nasa.gov/live for the entire 22- to 23-hour course. NASA employees, including Vereen, provide commentary. In early summer 2021, Vereen was lead commentator on one launch and second shift commentator on the second, both of which sent four people to the space station.
Johnson Space Center has an international space center flight control room, but the launches are from Cape Canaveral. For most launches, there are commentators from Johnson and Canaveral working together. If a commercial enterprise, such as Space X, is involved, there would be additional commentators from their headquarters in Hawthorne, California, where they broadcast from spacex.com. Launches may also be found on YouTube.
When Space X is involved, the commentators work 12-hour shifts through a pre-launch show, the launch, the voyage of 22 or 23 hours, then docking. SpaceX and Boeing are partners with NASA in the commercial crew program.
“They’re the two ways in America that NASA will get to the space station,” Vereen says.
During June 2021, several space walks were done at the International Space Station in order to do repairs and to add solar arrays, which were taken up by SpaceX22. Vereen commentated that and also about the maneuvers and the robotics involved in docking.
“I never saw myself doing half the things I’m doing now,” Vereen says. “I typically describe myself as an outgoing introvert, so public speaking was never at the top of my list for jobs. It turns out my mom was right; I do have the gift of gab and people want to see and listen to me communicate for NASA. I will say that I have been very blessed thus far in my career. I do not know what the future holds, but I hope and pray I continue to succeed. My main goal is to give back and show students in Brunswick County and little brown girls everywhere that they have options.”
Want to listen?
To listen to live commentary when a launch occurs, download the NASA app or go to nasa.gov/live