Anne “Annie” Marinan

Systems Engineer - Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Midland High School, Midland, Michigan

University of Michigan

Aerospace Engineering

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Aeronautics and Astronautics

What first sparked your interest in space and science?

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was 8 years old, after seeing an astronaut talk about what it was like to work in a zero-gravity environment. I was always small for my age, so when she said it didn't matter how big or strong you were — since you can move really heavy things a lot more easily without gravity — that really resonated with me.

How did you end up working in the space program?

I remember, in high school, googling what kind of college major I would need in order to apply to be an astronaut (hint: it's math or science or a related field). Somewhere in that search I found out that "aerospace engineering" was a real field of study. That sounded perfect for me, so that's what I did (and miraculously I got through nine years of schooling without changing my mind!). I did several extracurricular projects in college and grad school, and mostly through those experiences I was able to find opportunities to intern, and now work, at NASA!

Annie in mission control watching a screen with colleagues.
Eagerly waiting to hear from the MarCO spacecraft on the day InSight landed on Mars.

Tell us about your job. What do you do?

I am a systems engineer. It is my job to understand how the entire spacecraft or mission (what we call the "system") works. There are a lot of parts of the spacecraft that all have to work together in order for a mission to succeed, and we have teams of experts in electrical and mechanical design, software, radio communications, etc., working out extremely complex details for different parts of the spacecraft. My job is to make sure everyone on the team is in sync and understands how their part fits into the spacecraft or mission as a whole. I also get to test hardware on the ground and operate it once it launches into space.

What's one piece of advice you would give to others interested in a similar career?

Don't be afraid of what you don't know, and remember that it's always okay to ask for help. You will always run into people who are smarter than you in certain areas, and more often than not, they will be more than happy to help you and your project succeed.

Annie holding a small Cubesat.
I talked about how CubeSats can be used for Earth science and observation on NASA's Snapchat!

Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.