Moogega Cooper: The JPL’s Space Engineer

Moogega Cooper: The JPL’s Space Engineer

LA Weekly
Los Angeles, California

Sophia Kercher

Somewhere on Mars, the initials of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, J-P-L, are written in Morse code spanning hundreds of meters across the red planet. It’s this kind of detail that thrills JPL scientist Moogega Cooper – especially since JPL, considered NASA’s little brother, accomplished this on the sly.

“Initially, for the robotics missions, we had JPL [stamped] on the wheels so that as it rolls along Mars it would tag Mars: JPL, JPL, JPL. And NASA stepped in and said, ‘No, you can’t do that,’?” Cooper explains. “So JPL said, ‘OK, sure, we’ll take that off.’ And instead they put it in Morse code.”

Cooper, named rainbow or “moo-jee-gae” by her Korean mother and raised by her African-American World War II veteran father, is a human comet of beauty, intelligence and creativity. The scientist graduated from high school at 16, and at 24 earned her Ph.D., then launched her NASA career.

Now 28, she is a planetary protection engineer at JPL. A big part of her job is making sure that NASA doesn’t contaminate other planets with terrestrial microorganisms or any other Earth life, and vice versa – bacteria from, say, Mars, that could potentially harm humans…

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