Dr. Valerie Neal is an emerita curator in the Department of Space History. She joined the Museum as a curator in 1989 and was responsible for human spaceflight artifact collections from the Space Shuttle era and International Space Station, most prominently the orbiter Discovery. She led the Museum's effort to prepare shuttle test vehicle Enterprise for public display and to acquire Spacelab, SpaceShipOne, the Manned Maneuvering Unit, the space-flown IMAX camera, and personal effects from astronauts Sally Ride, Kathryn Sullivan, Pamela Melroy, David Brown, Tom Jones, and Danny Olivas for the national collection. She worked closely with NASA and Museum staff to orchestrate the transfer of Discovery to the Smithsonian and the release of Enterprise back to NASA in 2012. Neal has curated three major exhibitions: Where Next Columbus? on the challenges of future exploration; Space Race; and Moving Beyond Earth about spaceflight in and beyond the Space Shuttle era. She chaired the Museum's Space History Department from 2015-2019.
Dr. Neal's publications include Spaceflight in the Shuttle Era and Beyond (2017), recipient of the AIAA Gardner-Lasser Aerospace History Literature Award; Discovery, Champion of the Space Shuttle Fleet (2014); and two edited books on space exploration, Spaceflight: A Smithsonian Guide (1995); and Where Next, Columbus? The Future of Space Exploration (1994). Her articles on shuttle history have appeared in History and Technology and Space Policy. She has been instrumental in the production of eight Smithsonian Channel documentaries about the shuttle and other major engineering projects for space exploration.
Before joining the Museum, Dr. Neal spent a decade as a writer, editor, and manager for some 25 NASA publications on shuttle and Spacelab missions, the Hubble Space Telescope and other great space observatories, the space sciences, and NASA history. She also participated in underwater astronaut-training activities and worked on the mission management support team for four shuttle missions.
She earned a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Minnesota, following an M.A. in American studies from the University of Southern California, and a B.A. in English and history from Texas Christian University, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, with honors. She has taught at the University of Minnesota, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, Vanderbilt University, and Georgetown University.
Dr. Neal retired from the Museum in 2019.