Since 1962, only 15 out of NASA’s 100 flight directors have been women.
In 2018, Pooja Jesrani joined their ranks as NASA’s first South Asian female flight director. While her legacy is sure to set the stage for the next generation of Asian-American women in the space industry — don’t get caught up in the history she’s only just made.
This promotion has been a long time coming for someone as qualified as Pooja Jesrani. A UT-Austin alumna with a degree in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering and a critical part of NASA Johnson Space Center’s team since 2007 — Jesrani is the real deal.
Throughout her 13 years at JSC, Jesrani steadily climbed the ranks from ISS flight controller to lead ISS CapCom Engineer and finally — to the coveted flight director’s seat. Two years into her tenure as a flight director, Jesrani is likely to be a key player in NASA’s Artemis Program — the endeavor that’s set to return astronauts to and land the first woman on the Moon. Jesrani has been well-acquainted with ISS operations for over a decade, so her perspective on the upcoming ISS anniversary is powerfully unique.
Supercluster snagged this interview with Jesrani as she reflects on the continuing growth of her career, the aspiring students who will follow in her footsteps, and the untapped potential of the International Space Station.
Like many others, I've been reconnecting with our great outdoors. I have been taking long, meandering bike rides around the Houston bayous and trailways. I wasn't much of a biker before this —so getting this opportunity to be outdoors and feel like a kid again is exhilarating.
With space-themed cake and balloons, of course! To be honest, it's awe-inspiring to reflect on the fact that humankind built a five-bedroom house in space and not only sustain, but also nurture and augment.
Hundreds of astronauts from all walks of life have taken residence on board the ISS, and countries have worked together hand-in-hand for two decades to enable these astronauts to drive cutting-edge science experiments and truly make them feel at home over expansive stretches of time.
It's business as usual onboard the ISS. Teams around the world continue to support our brave astronauts, and NASA intends to continue pushing the envelope for space and science exploration.
We are, however, being extra careful during the crewmembers’ pre-launch quarantine periods. All astronauts go through a quarantine period before launching to the space station, and the procedures haven’t changed, but there is an added layer of awareness at the moment.
We take the approach that there is no substitute for being prepared. We are aware that, suddenly and unexpectedly, we may find ourselves in a role where our performance has ultimate consequences. The Flight Operations team is responsible for the safety of our astronauts, and years of planning and execution go into making sure that we can scale and repeat our expeditions safely.
I applaud the fact that NASA recognizes talent regardless of gender, race, religion or personal beliefs and also actively supports its working mothers. I can only hope that my career trajectory can serve to inspire others that anything is possible if you work hard and believe in yourself.
I would tell aspiring students to just continue to work hard. Seek every opportunity and know that every day is an interview. You will never know when that time that you worked hard will pay off in the future, but it will. Also, seek out mentors who are in roles that you would like to be in and continue to change your mentors as you grow throughout your career.
Every day has its own unique set of challenges. From navigating the ISS around space debris to ensuring the astronauts have working toilets, there is no shortage of excitement in Mission Control!
In a 24-hour period, the ISS travels the length of a trip to the moon and back.
Newly appointed Flight Directors select a call sign (team name) to use before their first shift in Mission Control. This dates back to the first Flight Director at NASA, Chris Kraft, who was Red Flight based on the American Flag.
My team name is Unity Flight. Also, before each expedition, the crew creates a mission patch. At the end of the mission, the Flight Director selects two-star members of the team to hang the mission patch on the wall within Mission Control.
As a part of NASA's celebration of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, I had the chance to sit down with the legends of the Apollo era (Glenn Lunney, Gene Kranz, and many others) and hear their war stories as they walked the refurbished Apollo mission control center and relived our monumental achievements. It was an unforgettable experience.