COOPERMADE: The Voyager Probe Missions
In the 1970’s Cooper graduate Maxine Nietz CE’76, served as a mission operations controller for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), coordinating communications with the Pioneer, Helios, Viking, and Voyager probes. These unmanned spacecrafts provided (and in some cases, continue to provide) data from extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that deepen our understanding of the solar system and beyond. Many of our most iconic images of space come from these probes, and Voyager I and II are still functioning today making them the longest running and farthest traveled of any space mission in history.
Nietz credits her Cooper education with giving her the fortitude to seize opportunities like this that were initially closed to women: “Cooper prepared me for almost anything. It made me open to learning new things, understanding the technical sides of things, being adaptable, following through on projects.” After graduating from Cooper and moving to Southern California, Nietz answered a newspaper ad for a job at NASA, where she first worked as a negotiator managing communication between distinct satellite operations. She eventually worked as a mission operations controller, monitoring data from spacecraft and ensuring that communication remained sound throughout a mission. “It’s 24-hours-a-day shift work, and I was the first woman ever to do that. We were getting ready to track the Voyager spacecraft, and I guess the other controllers were flustered because after we set up our download, they called in and said, ‘Was that really a lady just now?’”