The sky is not the limit

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

The sky is not the limitAs large portions of the world remain gripped by fear and anxiety over the deadly COVID-19 pandemic, the story of astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli reminds us of the importance of encouragement, community, and the lifelong pursuit of dreams

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When Jasmin Moghbeli made headlines across the globe in January for being named the first Iranian American female to join the ranks of NASA astronauts, China Lakers who remember her from her time at VX-31 were among those cheering on her ceiling-shattering accomplishment.

Moghbeli was born in 1983 in Germany, where her parents Kamy and Fereshteh had fled after the Islamic Revolution. That same year would signify a gradual shift in the predominantly male and caucasian field, as Sally Ride and Guion Steward Bluford Jr. became the first American woman and African American, respectively, in space.

“Doors have opened throughout my lifetime, and they will continue to open,” said Moghbeli. “But I think it’s important we continue to show examples of strong female leaders and women in these roles.”

It was one of those role models that first inspired Moghbeli. In sixth grade, she and her classmates were instructed to deliver book reports while dressed up as the main character. She chose Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova — the first woman in space.

Up to that point, Moghbeli recalled a general childhood fascination with space, but she pinpoints her preteen experience as the first time she began vocalizing a serious interest in pursuing a career with NASA.

Her journey includes earning degrees at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Naval Postgraduate School and Naval Test Pilot School, and accumulating more than 2,000 flight hours and 150 combat missions as a test pilot (mostly the Cobra and Huey) in the Marine Corps.

“I loved my time at China Lake,” said Moghbeli, who first came here in 2014.

Having grown up near New York City, and moving from place to place with the Marine Corps, she found the Indian Wells Valley to be a unique community.

“I distinctly remember when I first moved into town,” she said. “You come into the valley and you see this entire town in the middle of the desert. I knew it was going to be different.

“What I loved about it, and maybe this happens because you’re a bit isolated out there, is that it is such a tight-knit community. I really got to be close to the people I worked with.”

Moghbeli pointed to the leadership and support throughout her career as a Marine as an important pillar in her achievement.

“The hardest part is that there are so many people I would like to acknowledge.”

But first and foremost on that list are her parents. “I don’t remember them ever once making me feel any doubt that I could do this. They were very encouraging.”

She attended public schools throughout her education, “which was an incredible experience. Now that I have traveled around the country I recognize how important that was.” Many of her teachers (some of whom she has maintained contact with) left indelible impressions along the way.

“There are a couple of other things I would say were really important, and had a big influence on me,” said Moghbeli.

“I always tell people you don’t pick your family, but you do pick your friends.” She said that hers have always offered both friendly competition and encouragement. “They were always very happy to celebrate my successes, and vice versa. It’s easy to be influenced by peer pressure. Make sure you are using that to challenge yourself to do good things,” she said.

“Know that you are going to fail at some point, if you are going to challenge yourself to pursue something worth pursuing. But if it is important enough, you find a way to push past the barriers and move forward.”

Because of her supportive upbringing, she said that she was not consciously aware of some of the barriers she faced on her path. However, she emphasized the importance in having positive examples to follow.

“Why did I do a book report on Valentina Tershkova, and not John Glenn? Maybe because she was a woman, I was able to relate to her and could better envision doing what she did,” said Moghbeli.

When she was born, there were no female cobra pilots. Even by the time she was in flight school, she was one of only two women in a class of 35. “I certainly think we are moving in the right direction — I don’t think there is any denying that. But I think we still have a ways to come.”

Moghbeli’s job with NASA involves training for missions and working on the next lunar lander. “It’s almost like being in a squadron in the Marine Corps — you spend 90 percent of your time on your ground job.”

But part of her role also includes reaching out to the public to communicate how NASA’s dedicated workforce, and our rapidly developing technology, are extending humanity’s reach into space.

“It is a really exciting time for space exploration,” said Moghbeli. “We are going to see launches from Cape Canaveral again … and I am really excited about us getting back to the moon!”

During her lifetime, if not her career, she expects that we will see humans on Mars as well.

“I would love to go into space someday, but just being at NASA is a dream. I love it.”

Pictured: Astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli

Story First Published: 2020-04-17