Dr. Moo is one of a few Black women at NASA and serves in a male-dominated role that is integral to the ongoing mission of determining if life on Mars is possible. As part of JPL, Cooper helped in the Mars Perseverance Rover’s successful Mars landing in February 2021.
Cooper’s work as a planetary protection engineer has her combatting challenges that protect the human race and our future in the universe. Her work can best be compared to the popular Marvel characters in the box-office hit Guardians of the Galaxy starring Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel.
“The first part is, when we’re sending out spacecraft, rovers, orbiters, whatever it may be, beyond our own planet to another either planet, moon, asteroid that may harbor life, it’s my goal and the team’s goal to make sure that we don’t send our Earth germs to those locations, especially when we’re trying to search for life,” Dr. Cooper explained.
Dr. Moo touched on the leadership lessons she’s learned from her rise to the top of a male-dominated field and how diversity has strengthened the JPL team.
“I didn’t expect to see other women,” Dr. Moo admitted. “Especially women of color. Especially Black women.”
Having graduated from high school at the age of 16, Cooper obtained a bachelor’s in physics before receiving a master’s degree and earning her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering by the time she was 24 years old. Dr. Moo’s dissertation was on spacecraft materials.
But growing up immersed in science, Cooper noticed early on that the field she wanted to pursue didn’t have many members who looked like her.
“It was actually normal when I was growing up, especially going through the NASA pipeline. I started my journey at NASA Langley Research Center and there were definitely less people that looked like me in positions of power,” she said.
“I didn’t really take the as a deterrence,” she said. “I knew that one day I was going to be that change.”
Dr. Moo takes pride in serving as a role model for women in science and technology. She lends her talents by appearing on shows like Because Space and Bill Nye Saves the World where she works to introduce more people to STEAM, including encouraging boys and girls from underrepresented communities to join the field.