In an inspiring tale of resilience and determination, Joan Tubungbanua, an alumna of High Tech High School, recently gained recognition for her pivotal role in NASA's Psyche mission, set to explore a rare metal-rich asteroid. Her journey from a musical theater major to a key player in space exploration captivates the imagination.
Joan's trajectory towards NASA began with a setback—initial rejection from the musical theater program at High Tech. Unfazed, she turned this disappointment into an opportunity, persistently sending singing videos to the vice principal until she secured an interview and pursued the musical theater major for four years. However, a turning point occurred during her junior year when she participated in the Girls Who Code Summer Immersion Program, sparking her interest in computer science. This shift led her to apply to colleges as a computer science major, laying the foundation for her future in STEM.
Acknowledging the impact of influential teachers, Joan credited Ms. Lohf and Mr. Greco for encouraging her to explore engineering and computer science. Her involvement with the Society of Asian Scientists and Engineers (SACE) introduced her to the aerospace field. It ultimately led to a job offer from Lockheed Martin, propelling her into the world of space missions.
Joan's dream of working at NASA materialized through determination, networking, and luck. Her internship with Lockheed Martin set the stage for her transition to NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), where she became an integral part of the groundbreaking Psyche mission. This mission aims to unravel the composition of a metal-rich asteroid between Mars and Jupiter, shedding light on its connection to the formation of Earth and other planets.
Reflecting on the age-old question of extraterrestrial life, Joan, with a touch of humor, emphasized her belief in the potential for microbial life rather than Hollywood depictions. Her scientific curiosity remains grounded in the limitations of current exploration capabilities.
Looking ahead, Joan shared insights into her next project, the Europa Clipper mission, focused on exploring Jupiter's moon, Europa. This mission aims to confirm the presence of water beneath Europa's icy surface and investigate the potential for past life.
Joan's journey is a testament to the transformative power of resilience and pursuing one's passions against all odds, inspiring future generations to reach for the stars. Good luck with your future endeavors! High Tech is rooting for you, Joan!
By: Alexandra Panfilov