The O.G. Files: Dr. Moogega Cooper

Welcome the Evolving Man Project’s latest edition of the O. G. profiles. The O.G. profiles will highlight women from diverse backgrounds and how they embody the values of what it means to be an evolved person. While uplifting their contributions to making a fairer and more just society. Today we will profile Dr. Moogega Cooper. Dr. Cooper is an American astronomer and the Lead of Planetary Protection for the Mars 2020 Mission and is involved with the InSight Mission.

Dr. Moogega Cooper
was born in 1985 in Southern New Jersey to a Korean mother and African-American father, and World War II veteran. She grew up all over the country, including Philadelphia, Virginia, and currently resides in Southern California. 

Dr. Cooper received her B.A. in Physics from Hampton University in 2006. She then enrolled in Drexel University, where she received her Master’s and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering with a concentration in thermal fluid sciences. Her dissertation studies involved the non-equilibrium plasma sterilization of spacecraft materials. Dr. Cooper now works for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s (JPL) Planetary Protection Group. She is the recipient of various awards and honors, including the following: NASA Early Career Public Achievement Medal (2018), Charles Elachi Award for Exceptional Early Career Achievement (2018), Drexel University 40 under 40 Award (2015), NASA Group Achievement Award, “or exceptional performance in the rigorous evaluation and rapid synthesis of a development strategy for the Mars Sample Return Planetary Protection technology.”October 2012.

Dr. Cooper was a participant in the first season of King of the Nerds, which aired on TBS in 2013, finishing in 5th place. Cooper was a panelist in “the Original Martian Invasion,” “a 2017 episode of the television series Bill Nye Saves the World. She also appeared in 33 episodes of How the Universe Works from 2015 to 2020. Here is Dr. Cooper in her own words discussing her professional work as a science and engineer: 

A ‘Planetary Protection Engineer’ is a mechanical engineer that knows about microbiology. We’re concerned with forward contamination and reverse contamination. Forward contamination is when we go to other solar bodies, such as Mars. When we go there and search for life, or not even for search for life but we want to prevent the contamination of that body by terrestrial microorganisms. Imagine us going there, and we bring some sort of bacteria, and it goes there, lives and survives, and we completely contaminate it. It’s not ethically a good thing. We do everything we can through developing technologies through having requirements for cleanliness so that we can prevent that.

It is the same thing with reverse contamination when we bring samples back. We need to prevent that Andromeda strain type of situation.

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