FeaturesQueer in Galveston

Aerospace Adventurer

Lauren Maples’ underwater training is leading her to shoot for the stars.

Lauren Maples (Photo by NASA/Bill Stafford)

Thirty-three-year-old Lauren Maples and her wife, Kristen Simmons Maples, love their life together on the Island.

Kristen is co-owner of Galveston’s Texas Scuba Adventures, where Lauren also works as a divemaster, so they share their love of diving in common.

Lauren, a Pearland native, first fell in love with diving while training for her job at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

The couple first crossed paths in 2011, but it would be another four years before they met. “There is a building—a community, really—in downtown Galveston called The National Hotel Artist Lofts,” Lauren explains. “I first moved there in 2011, my first place out on my own. I would see this woman in passing and do the ‘What’s up?’ head nod. But honestly, I was a bit too shy back then.

“Then one day, I just never saw her in the building after that. Fast-forward four years, and I was swiping on Tinder and a familiar face pops up. I swiped right, and evidently she did too, and we matched! I then proceeded to bombard her with DMs like, ‘Did you live in the Artist Lofts from 2011 to 2013?!?!’

“Anyway, I am surprised she agreed to meet up with me after sounding like a complete crazy person. But I am glad that she did. The Artist Lofts built out their street-level space into a coffee, beer, and wine bar called the Proletariat Gallery and Public House, and our first date was there. We had an instant connection, and the rest was history! We will have been together for eight years in September of this year, and married for six years in October of this year.”

Lauren Maples and wife, Kristen Simmons Maples at their beachfront wedding celebration. (Photo by Laura Buffy Jones)

The couple has a Catahoula Australian Shepherd Lab Mix named Kali who is almost five years old, and who is “unbelievably spoiled.” They also love baseball in addition to their love of scuba diving.

“I absolutely love baseball. Go ’Stros!” Lauren says. “As far as my favorite restaurant, it is hard to choose between these two, so I’ll just name them both: Galveston Island Taco, and Mr. Taco—both located in downtown Galveston. Best tacos you’ll ever have!

“I’ve been here for 12 years and love it every day. While the commute to Johnson Space Center is about 45 minutes, there is nothing like coming over the Causeway at the end of the day,” she adds. “I always roll the windows down in my Jeep, turn up the reggae, and cruise on home. It is a peace that is unexplainable. My hobbies include scuba diving, sitting on the beach, playing guitar, and looking up at the stars—on the off chance there’s a clear night in the Galveston-Houston area.

“I began working at Space Center Houston’s education department as an informal educational instructor,” she says. “Space Center Houston is a nonprofit visitors center for NASA’s Johnson Space Center. I worked in several of their educational programs, and one in particular was called Space Center University, where junior-high and high-school students from around the world would converge in Houston for a weeklong space camp. They would learn and perform activities in various areas of aerospace engineering, and one of them included visiting NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory (NBL) where they would learn how NASA uses a large swimming pool to train astronauts for extravehicular activities—EVAs, or space walks. The students would then go to a smaller public pool and do a scuba event with Texas Scuba Adventures and learn basic scuba skills and perform tasks underwater in their engineering teams to ‘train like an astronaut.’ I supported this program for six years, and I was able to get scuba-certified and provide instruction and safety measures for the students during their underwater simulations.” 

Lauren fell in love with space while working at Space Center Houston, and knew she wanted to work as a NASA diver. It was a lot of hard work, but she was offered the position of Dive Operations Specialist in 2015 to train astronauts.

(Photo by Kristen Maples)

“I would work there a little over seven years, from December 2015 to January 2023. During that time, I completed a bachelor of science in space studies and aerospace science at American Public University in 2020, and then went on to complete a master’s degree in systems engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2022. I then had a new calling as an EVA flight controller,” she says.

“After completing my master’s degree, I was hired at KBR in January to support NASA Johnson Space Center as an EVA flight controller. Our team focuses on the training, planning, and execution of EVAs (spacewalks). My position focuses on the training and overseeing of the tasks the crews perform during spacewalks. There is much to learn, and it is so much fun! This dynamic work environment also allows me to operate occasionally out at the NBL, where instead of diving I am in the control room talking crew through training procedures and observing the overall training event.

“On days when there is an EVA in space going on, the EVA team converges on Mission Control support rooms to follow along and listen to the comm loops as the crew completes the mission. In the event of a tool failure or unanticipated hardware complications, our team is ready to offer up recommendations to the crew to troubleshoot the situation to complete the mission and get the crew back inside the International Space Station safely.”

Lauren notes that she has not only never felt any discrimination at NASA, but was openly proud of seeing a NASA booth at Houston’s Pride festival in 2010. “I knew I would be safe in an environment like that, and it’s still so very true. I couldn’t be more grateful to work in such an inclusive organization.”

“Find something that you love, and do it because you love to do it.”  —Lauren Maples

She also believes that other women can excel in the scientific fields. “Find something that you love, and do it because you love to do it,” she says. “Whether it’s scuba diving, rocket scientist, guitarist, an artist, playing softball—whatever it may be, do it and do it well. Be disciplined, but still have fun! Laugh at yourself—it’s OK, and it’s important. The STEM field is awesome and so much fun, but so is being a teacher or a coach or a race-car driver. Be what you want to be, but mostly be unapologetically yourself and believe in yourself, always. To quote Babe Ruth (“The Great Bambino”) from the 1993 movie The Sandlot, ‘Follow your heart, kid; you’ll never go wrong.’”


Marene Gustin

Marene Gustin has written about Texas culture, food, fashion, the arts, and Lone Star politics and crime for television, magazines, the web and newspapers nationwide, and worked in Houston politics for six years. Her freelance work has appeared in the Austin Chronicle, Austin-American Statesman, Houston Chronicle, Houston Press, Texas Monthly, Dance International, Dance Magazine, the Advocate, Prime Living, InTown magazine, OutSmart magazine and web sites CultureMap Houston and Austin, Eater Houston and Gayot.com, among others.
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