Inspiring women in STEM

Zainab Nagin Cox – NASA JPL1

About Zainab Nagin Cox – NASA JPL1

Nagin graduated from Cornell University with a BS in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering and a BA in Psychology and was commissioned as an officer in the US Air Force. As a lieutenant, she was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and worked as a systems engineer in the F-16 aircrew training. Then she attended the Air Force Institute of Technology where she received a master’s degree in Space Operations Systems Engineering. As a captain, she served as an Orbital Analyst at NORAD/Space Command in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado Springs. After leaving the Air Force to pursue more civilian space applications, she joined JPL in 1993 and began her time on planetary missions working in outer solar system projects. She served as the Deputy Team Chief of the engineering spacecraft flight team for NASA/JPL’s Galileo mission to Jupiter until February of 2000. She then moved to inner solar system exploration as the Deputy Team Chief of the Spacecraft/Rover Engineering Flight Team on the JPL Mars Exploration Rover Missions.

Next Nagin spent two years in extra-solar exploration as the Deputy Project System Engineer on the Kepler telescope mission to search for earth-like planets around other stars and then became the Supervisor for the Surface Systems –Systems Engineering Group at JPL. She returned to Mars Exploration and led a proposed Mars lander mission that was successfully selected as a finalist for the 2016 mission opportunity. She is currently working on Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) – NASA’s next rover to Mars that launched in Nov 2011 and lands in August of 2012. On this mission, she has served in the past as the Assistant Flight System Engineering Manager and is currently part of the mission operations team flying the rover to Mars. Nagin has spoken to audiences around the US, in Europe, and the Middle East on the stories of the people behind the missions.

In her spare time, Nagin races with her dragonboating team, competes in sprint triathlons and sings with a Sweet Adelines barbershop chorus. She is part of the assistant staff with a women’s self-defense program and is involved with the Women’s Rights Committee of Human Rights Watch. She also enjoys exploring this planet with her husband.

Personal Reflections

What advice can you offer to young scientists or engineers?

The most important thing is to enjoy what you do- the enthusiasm will come through in every aspect of your work.

What are your personal goals for the future?

I have been very fortunate to work at JPL – which was my lifelong goal – and I hope to continue to contribute to missions that open the space frontier and prepare the way for human exploration.

What are your dreams for the future of exploration?

I would hope that the robotic program could lead, in a direct and visible way, to developing the technologies necessary to sustain and enable human exploration of the solar system and for finding out more about extra-solar planets.

What is unique about your job?

Getting up in the morning and coming to work knowing you have some small part to play in working for humanity’s long-term future.

When you were in elementary school, what did you want to be when you grew up?

In elementary school, my goals for the future were not formed.

When did you decide you wanted to be in the space industry and how did you go for it?

I knew I wanted to work at JPL and for the interplanetary robotic program when I was 14.

What excites you about Mars or about space exploration?

The possibility that we are paving the way for humans to reach beyond the earth.




This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover shows the vehicle at the “Mojave” site, where its drill collected the mission’s second taste of Mount Sharp. The scene combines dozens of images taken during January 2015 by the MAHLI camera at the end of the rover’s robotic arm.


Discover more on:

1 All content courtesy of NASA, source page