When Jennifer Gruber (AME ’99) landed a co-op at NASA before her junior year, she could not have foreseen that her association with the space agency or Boston University would last this long.
Gruber, who is a trajectory officer in Space Shuttle Mission Control at NASA, was one of two recipients of the Young Alumni Award for service to the field and the University on Jan. 19. She was the first ENG alumnus to be honored with the award.
Gruber, a former Rhodes Scholar with a doctoral degree in engineering science from Oxford University, said she was “excited about the award.”
The Young Alumni Award recognizes a graduate of the last fifteen years, who brings honor to Boston University through their personal and professional achievements, their character, and their support of the University, said Meg Umlas, executive director of Alumni Relations at the University.
“I had a really good experience here,” Gruber said. “Boston University made an investment in me and my professors made an effort. I don’t want to let them down. This award tells me they think I’m doing all right.”
Earlier in her trip back to Boston, Gruber had two meetings scheduled with ENG students, one solely for sophomores to help them apply for a NASA co-op. “If you want to co-op at NASA, it is key to get involved in planning it by your sophomore year,” said Gruber, who serves on the AME advisory board.
“I come from a socio-economically deprived background,” said Gruber. “I strongly believe in a meritocracy and I’m here to tell them that you can have your dream job. You really can’t let people stop you.”
At NASA, as an orbit trajectory officer, Gruber’s responsibilities include tracking the shuttle, modeling its orbital mechanics, and backing and synching the shuttle’s onboard computer with Mission Control’s model, which is enhanced by ground tracking. Gruber was on assignment during the Atlantis shuttle mission in September and, more recently, during entry for the Discovery space shuttle in December.
“On orbit, we track the shuttle, and we plan and monitor the execution of its maneuvers to rendezvous and dock with the Space Station or Hubble [telescope],” she said. “During entry, we track the shuttle and manage its energy to ensure it makes the runway and touches down at a good speed.”
At “entry-interface” the shuttle is 400,000 feet up, 4,300 miles away and moving at Mach 25 without its main engines, which do not work after the external tank is dropped soon after launch. “The shuttle cannot circle around and have another shot at the runway if we miss it. We have to get it right the first time,” she explained.
Gruber, who was on the gymnastics team at BU, is also training to be a flight dynamics officer and is applying to be an astronaut.
During the annual Alumni Awards Dinner and Ceremony, President Robert Brown said the recipients’ “achievements say something about the impressive quality of education we hope you received here. The honorees reflect the University’s highest ideals: creativity, innovation, leadership, service and academic accomplishment.”
This award was traditionally presented during Homecoming Weekend at a special Young Alumni event, said Alumni Relations’ Umlas. Last year, the Alumni Awards committee made the decision to incorporate the Young Alumni category in the University-wide Distinguished Alumni Awards ceremony. This year, like last, the University conferred these awards during Winterfest Weekend, in the Metcalf Trustee Center.