Jasmin Moghbeli’s astronaut class graduated in January 2020 — the first class to graduate since the agency announced the Artemis program. She holds a BS degree in aerospace engineering with information technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a MS in engineering science in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. Moghbeli was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps in 2005 upon completion of her undergraduate degree. An AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter pilot and Marine Corps test pilot, Moghbeli served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010. At the time of her selection as an astronaut candidate, Moghbeli was testing H-1 helicopters. She has accumulated more than 150 combat missions and 2,000 hours of flight time in more than 25 different aircraft. She is eligible for assignment to missions destined for the International Space Station, the Moon, and ultimately, Mars.
When boys and girls tell people what they want to be when they grow up, most little girls probably don’t think they can be astronauts. What gave you the confidence at a young age to think, “yes, I can?”
While there were women astronauts when I was growing up, there were not women Cobra pilots when I grew up. So, definitely things opened up for me during that time. As a kid, I wanted to play professional basketball and there was no WNBA but I didn’t even think about that as a kid. And it didn’t even occur to me that these things would be blocked for me, partially because my parents constantly believed in me and told me I could do whatever I wanted to do or dreamed was possible. I think that was probably a big influence. I do think it is important for young women to have role models and see themselves doing these things and see people like them doing these things. We’ve come a long way just in my lifetime. And I’m very grateful for the women before me that paved this path because this wasn’t possible 50 years ago.
I’m sure a lot of girls who have aspirations to succeed in traditionally male-dominated professions didn’t have the type of support you had. Do you think that’s a big reason why girls steer away from STEM?
I think when you look at really young girls, you see that same excitement that you see in little boys about these fields. But you do start to see that dwindle, unfortunately, in the slightly older age groups. I think it is partially because what you see around you has an influence on you and the mind is a very powerful thing. Something that also was important for me, aside from my family, were the teachers I had growing up. I had incredible teachers from elementary school all the way through high school that really inspired me and pushed me to do my best.
Once you get into high school, it may already be too late to get kids on that path. What else can we do to ensure that, if a girl says she wants to be an astronaut, she’s not dismissed?
I didn’t participate in a specific STEM program when I was growing up. But since then, being on this side of it, I have participated in different programs. I think something that would be really beneficial is if we encourage young girls and young women to look at women like astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch doing the first all-woman spacewalk. Not only should young women be inspired by that but young boys should be inspired as well. Teaching boys that they can be inspired by what women are doing, I think would be really impactful. And then you just get this societal change about how we view men and women.
You’ve already achieved so much from an academic standpoint and your military experience. How did those achievements prepare you for becoming an astronaut?
I think there are a lot of things in my past that have kind of set me up for success. The Marine Corps has been a huge part of that. So many of the things that shaped me in the Marine Corps carry over here — one of the biggest being comradery and teamwork. I was both a Cobra pilot and test pilot before that. That background of flying with a crew, the technical background, the operational experience that goes into that and the engineering from the test pilot side all have definitely been important at NASA. And also, just going back to things like playing team sports since I was a little girl.
I’m sure it has occurred to you that you have a good chance of being the first woman to walk on the Moon or go to Mars. How do you wrap your head around that?
I honestly think it’s still a little too overwhelming for me. I honestly just try to focus on the smaller things of what I need to do today to bring us one step closer to that goal. I think about what a dream just getting to space will be and what a dream getting to this point has been. It is honestly a bit overwhelming in a very positive way but I try to focus on the day-to-day.
Seeing this new class of astronauts is very inspirational to the public.
I have to say, being a member of this class, I am also very inspired by my classmates on a daily basis. I wake up every day both honored and very grateful to be here.
Celebrating Women in Engineering & Science:
- Jasmin Moghbeli, NASA Astronaut
- Dr. Beth Holloway, Director, Women in Engineering Program, Purdue University
- Dr. Christine Valle, Director, Women in Engineering Program, Georgia Institute of Technology
- Dr. Lynda Kennedy, Vice President of Education & Evaluation, Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
- Dr. France A. Córdova, Director, National Science Foundation
- Mary Hardgrove, Assembly Supervisor
- Renee Bernstein, CEO, Cotronics Corporation