She earned a Ph.D. in American studies from the University of Minnesota in 1979, 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. She has taught at the University of Minnesota, the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and Vanderbilt University.
Before joining the Museum, Dr. Neal spent a decade as a writer, editor, and manager for some 50 NASA publications on shuttle and Spacelab missions, the Hubble Space Telescope and other great 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.
Dr. Neal joined the Museum as a curator in 1989 and is responsible for post-Apollo human spaceflight artifact collections, which principally document the history of Skylab and the space shuttle. Recently she led the effort to restore the Space Shuttle Enterprise for permanent display and to acquire SpaceShipOne for the national collection. She has curated two major Museum exhibitions: Space Race and Where Next Columbus?, a gallery that examined the challenges of future exploration.
Her publications include two edited books on space exploration, Spaceflight: A Smithsonian Guide (1995) and Where Next, Columbus? The Future of Space Exploration (1994). Her recent articles on shuttle history have appeared in History and Technology and Space Policy. Her current projects are a book and exhibition on the space shuttle era.