Mary Magilligan

Mechanical Engineer - NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)


University at Buffalo

B.S. Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering

Loyola Marymount University

M.S. Systems Engineering

About Mary

Mary grew up in the Philippines and moved to New York when she was 11 years old. She graduated from University at Buffalo with a B.S. in Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and a Computer Science minor. She moved to Los Angeles after undergrad to be a vehicle engineer and a payload design engineer on commercial and government satellite payloads for Boeing.

Mary started working at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover. While working at JPL, Mary received an M.S. in Systems Engineering with a Mechanical Engineering technical focus from Loyola Marymount University. She is also a part-time professor at LMU, teaching about the systems engineering of a mission to Mars.

What first sparked your interest in space and science?

I've always looked up at the stars and made a habit of spotting Orion's Belt when I'm outside at night. Mars has always been my favorite planet since I was a kid. It started out with just word association since it's similar to my name – but the more I learned about it, the more I wanted to dedicate my life to the exploration of the Red Planet.

Exploration is a human instinct, a means to advance our collective culture and better understand our world. We'll never know what we're missing until we go.

How did you end up working in the space program?

In my junior year of high school, I was lucky enough to get accepted to NASA Summer Opportunity for Aeronautics and Research, a 3-week residential program with NASA Langley Research Center and that experience solidified my decision to major in aerospace engineering. During undergrad, I interned at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center for a summer. Finally, while I was working at Boeing in 2016, I received a phone call from a former co-worker asking if I was interested in interviewing at JPL to work on Mars 2020. Certainly, can't say no to that!

Tell us about your job. What do you do?

I'm a mechanical engineer in the Spacecraft Design Engineering section so I work on designing hardware and creating drawings for them so they can be manufactured. I'm also a configuration chair in Team X working on conceptual designs of various space missions.

The people I work with are quite an awesome group. I've also always wanted to somehow, someway contribute to the exploration of Mars so my job lets me check that off my life goals.

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

Get your hands on some projects and join groups with similar interests as yours. Pursue what you're passionate about.

What are some fun facts about yourself?

I like playing ice hockey, roller hockey, golfing, scuba diving, and rollerblading at the beach. My friends and I also love to jam so I play drums and guitar. Being from the East Coast, I love to root for the New Jersey Devils, New York Yankees, and New York Giants. However, my adopted team is the Los Angeles Lakers so I enjoy watching them as well.

Where are they from?

Planetary science is a global profession.