In 2018, Pooja Joshin Jesrani became the first woman of South Asian descent to serve as a flight director at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). NASA’s flight directors are responsible for managing operations for various human spaceflight initiatives. Jesrani’s own role in this regard has involved overseeing the ground team for the International Space Station (ISS), a habitable artificial satellite and microgravity laboratory that is maintained as a multinational collaborative project.
“Both the most rewarding and challenging thing about being a flight director at NASA is working with the massive team that supports the International Space Station,” Jesrani said in a 2019 interview with Teena Apeles of the Los Angeles-based Public Broadcasting Service TV station KCET. “The Mission Control Center is just the tip of the iceberg . . . While there are many stakeholders, crew safety, vehicle safety and mission success are our primary objectives.” Jesrani also noted, “As challenging as it is sometimes to come to a consensus, the greater achievement of flying astronauts to the space station and completing critical science and maintenance over the last 20 years is something to be proud of!”
Jesrani’s parents Atul and Seema Joshi were originally from the city of Mumbai (officially known as Bombay until 1995) in the Indian state of Maharashtra. They eventually moved to England, where their daughter Pooja was born. When she was 10 years old, the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Houston, Texas.
By the time she was in high school, Jesrani had developed a strong interest in space exploration. In 2007, she graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering. Jesrani served as an intern at NASA while attending that university. After graduating, she initially worked for NASA contractor United Space Alliance.
It did not take long, however, before Jesrani was recruited by NASA to work on its ISS flight control team. Prior to being named flight director, she held several positions on the team that encompassed everything from managing the motion control system to communicating directly with astronauts in space.
In a profile of her that was posted on the NASA website in 2021, Jesrani highlighted the importance of teamwork in her role as flight director. “I went to Mexico City a few years back, and I saw a quote on a wall that said, ‘I am, because we are,’” she explained. “I really resonated with that because I am who I am — I am a flight director — because we are. We as a team, we all sit here together. We all do this mission together.”
Photo Credit: NASA
Additional information on Pooja Joshi Jesrani and other female Asian American trailblazers in space exploration is available at https://www.kcet.org/summer-of-space/a-womans-place-is-in-space-meet-eight-asian-american-women-reaching-for-the-stars