GCC Community Conversation–A real-life Guardian of the Galaxy

by | Mar 19, 2023 | Germanna

From Germanna Community College:

Monday evening at 7, as part of the Germanna Community Conversation series, Dr. Moogega “Moo” Cooper, the planetary protection lead of the NASA 2020 Mars mission, will discuss what inspired her love of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. She will also share her journey, talk about obstacles she overcame, and offer tales of what it’s like to be responsible for keeping Mars safe from Earth’s contaminants.

The online event is free and open to everyone, but registration is required at Germanna.edu/Conversations.

The youthful and charismatic Dr. Cooper, age 27, has become something of an influencer, andis dedicated to sharing her joy of science with children and adults worldwide. She is highly involved in various science outreach initiatives – mostly with K-12 students. Still, she also participates in sharing knowledge through shows like “Because Space,” “How the Universe Works,” and “Bill Nye Saves the World.” Her interests include sample return missions from Mars and developing sterilization capabilities for future mission use.

She appeared in the first season of “King of the Nerds,” which aired on TBS in 2013. Cooper was a panelist in “The Original Martian Invasion,” a 2017 episode of “Bill Nye Saves the World” television series. She also appeared in 33 episodes of How the Universe Works from 2015 to 2020.

“Moogega” means “rainbow” in Korean. Rainbow in Korean is 무지개색 (mujigaesaek). She was born in 1985 in New Jersey to a Korean mother and an African-American, World War II veteran father.

Dr. Cooper earned a BS in Physics from Hampton University in 2006 and an MS and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Drexel University in 2009 at 24 years old. Upon graduating, she became a Post-Doc at NASA, where she worked on assessing microorganisms found in spacecraft assembly cleanrooms. She also worked on technologies that can search for and monitor the persistence of life in extreme environments. In 2011, she became a full-time employee at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Planetary Protection Group, working on technology development and contamination assessment methodologies to meet planetary protection requirements for the Mars Sample Return Mission.

In a talk last fall, Dr. Cooper said she hopes to encourage more women to enter STEM fields. She said that when there’s a debate in a primarily male scientific community, “I have to remember … my voice deserves to be here, and I’m not just an impostor.”

She said more women and people of color have entered science fields, but there is still work to be done. She said she wants her example to help students realize they can do whatever they set their minds to.

A number of Germanna students have had internships at NASA, including some women and persons of color.

Her awards:

  • NASA Early Career Public Achievement Medal (2018)[8
  • Charles Elachi Award for Exceptional Early Career Achievement (2018)[]
  • Drexel University 40 under 40 Award (2015)[9
  • NASA Group Achievement Award, “For exceptional performance in the rigorous evaluation and rapid synthesis of a development strategy for the Mars Sample Return Planetary Protection technology.” 

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