Press Release

NASA Engineer Hopes Mars is in Her Future

By SpaceRef Editor
April 14, 2004
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Jenny Gruber has wanted to be an astronaut since she
was seven. That’s when she saw “The Right Stuff,” the 1983
movie that chronicled the early years of America’s human
space program. But she thought it unlikely that a child
growing up amid meager surroundings in Omaha, Neb., could
ever join the ranks of those who led the way into space.

“I grew up in a trailer park in Omaha. My dad is a
bricklayer. My mother is a teacher. Statistically speaking,
I should not be where I am today,” Gruber said.

Gruber, 27, a Rhodes scholar and NASA aerospace engineer, is
close to achieving her dream. She works in the Mission
Control Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in
Houston. She attributes her rise, from poor kid to aspiring
astronaut, to hard work, a loving family who encouraged her
and the inspiration of human space exploration.

Gruber graduated in 1994 from Omaha Central High School,
Omaha, Neb., and entered Boston University (BU), Mass. to
study aerospace engineering. BU’s accelerated four-year
bachelor’s/master’s program enabled her to complete work for
both degrees in only four academic years.

Financial aid programs, scholarships, grants and her
earnings as a NASA cooperative education student covered
college expenses. In her junior year, she began a co-op
assignment at JSC, alternating between semesters of full-
time work and full-time study. The majority of her co-op
assignment was spent in the Flight Design and Dynamics

Her most significant co-op accomplishment was helping
develop software tools that automate maneuver confirmation
procedures for flight dynamics officers, flight controllers
responsible for monitoring vehicle performance and
trajectory during Space Shuttle flights.

In 1999, Gruber attended Oxford University in England on a
three-year Rhodes scholarship, one of the most prestigious
academic fellowships in the world. Only 32 American scholars
are annually chosen, based on academic achievement, strong
personal characteristics and physical vigor, from more than
600 applicants.

At Oxford, Gruber researched ion propulsion and presented
her findings in a thesis, “A Study of Erosion Due to Low-
Energy Sputtering in the Discharge Chamber of the Kaufman
Ion Thruster.” She received a doctorate in engineering
science in 2002 and returned to JSC as a full-time NASA

Gruber works in JSC’s Automated Vehicles and Orbit Analysis
Group. She coordinates NASA mission operations for Japanese
resupply missions to the International Space Station,
scheduled to begin in 2008. She is also in training to
monitor flight paths of non-Shuttle spacecraft docking with
the Station. Gruber serves as liaison and coordinates
operations between JSC and the U.S. Strategic Command at
Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

When not working or dreaming about traveling to Mars, Gruber
enjoys reading and listening to music and keeps in top
physical form by playing soccer, weight lifting, rock-
climbing and running.

She brings that same level of energy and engagement to her
dreams of spaceflight. Continuing humanity’s legacy in space
is “difficult and risky,” she said. “That’s what makes it so
inspirational. There are challenges in human spaceflight,
but they’re worth it, and I feel like I’m contributing to
something great,” she added.

Gruber first applied for the astronaut corps in 2003, she
was one of approximately 900 applicants. “I wasn’t selected
for an interview, but I think it’s because I am young and
lack experience compared to other applicants,” Gruber said.
“Most people have to apply four or five times before being
selected, so I’m disappointed, but not discouraged. I’ll
keep trying,” she added.

Media organizations interested in interviewing Gruber should
contact Julie Burt, JSC Public Affairs Office at: 281/483-

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SpaceRef staff editor.