English Major Turned Engineer Reaches for the Stars
By Donna Parker
Jennifer Hagin ’93 is as familiar with Jane Eyre, as she is with aerospace. She holds two degrees in English and electrical engineering – an educational blueprint that was the launch pad for her position as NASA Space Shuttle Flight Controller.
When she switched from engineering to English at Trinity, her literary buddies threw a party to “celebrate her enlightenment.” Ironically, her NASA colleagues now don’t understand why Jennifer bothered with anything other than engineering.
“My engineering degree got me my job, but my education at Trinity is what sets me apart here,” says Hagin. “Seconds are critical and can save a life – how quickly you communicate and solve a problem can make the difference.”
When the Discovery launches on an early July morning, Jennifer will monitor systems responsible for sending the shuttle 122 nautical miles into space at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour. As you might expect, it’s preceded by thousands of practice hours.
“I have a gift in this job in that I pretend like it’s a real flight. The difference is that fewer things break in real flight than in practice.”
Sadly, the Columbia explosion two years ago changed the landscape for NASA scientists, who like Jennifer, understand the dangers of space flight, but are ready for the next challenge.
“When I go on console in July, I will be watching my systems and going through my routine. I’ll put any thoughts of what can happen out of my mind and focus on what I’ll do if something does happen.”
She does relax…sometimes…although she remains tethered to the mother ship. Jennifer plays on the NASA soccer team and even named her pet after Laika, the first dog in space.
But it will be people on her mind next month, specifically the seven-person astronaut crew, with whom she’s prepared for the mission. They are also friends and she plans to help keep them safely in orbit.
You get the feeling that this well-rounded engineer with a literary flair will know exactly what to do when the countdown begins.