Powtawche Valerino

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Powtawche Valerino
Powtawche Valerino October 2017 (cropped).jpg
Valerino in 2017

Powtawche Valerino is an American mechanical engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She worked as a navigation engineer for the Cassini mission.

Early life and education[edit]

Valerino was born to a Mississippi Choctaw mother and African-American father. She grew up on the Mississippi Choctaw reservation and is an enrolled member of the tribe.[1] When she was ten, she moved with her family to New Orleans. A few years later she saw the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion on television and became interested in science.[2] Valerino learned cello at age twelve, and still plays in the Pasadena Community Orchestra.[1][3] During high school, Valerino interned as a mechanical engineer as part of NASA's Summer High School Apprenticeship Research Program, where highly achieving students shadow NASA professionals.[4]

She obtained a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Stanford University, and received her masters and doctoral degrees in mechanical engineering from Rice University.[5] During summers at graduate school, Valerino interned at Johnson Space Center in Houston and Stennis Space Center in Hancock County, Mississippi, where she worked on the X-38 vehicle (International Space Station lifeboat) team.[6] Her dissertation, Optimizing Interplanetary Trajectories to Mars via Electrical Propulsion, was submitted to Rice in 2005.[7] She was the first Native American to earn a PhD in engineering at Rice University.[6]

Research and career[edit]

Cassini-Huygens lifted off with a Titan 4(01)B from Launch Compex 40

Valerino joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's Mission Design and Navigation Section in 2005.[5] She first worked on the proposed Jupiter Icy Moon Orbiter mission, then transferred to the Cassini mission, where she was a navigator with the maneuver and trajectory team.[8][9] The Cassini mission far outlived the predicted four-year lifetime, with engineers like Valerino pushing it to thirteen years.[10] Throughout the Cassini mission, Valerino shared the spacecraft status and findings with the public.[11]

Her most recent project was the Parker Solar Probe spacecraft, which launched on August 12, 2018.[12] It became the first satellite to fly as close to the sun as Helios 2 did in 1976.[13][14]

Public engagement[edit]

Valerino has worked to recruit and encourage the participation of under-represented groups in science.[15] This has included working with Soledad O'Brien to encourage black and Latina young women to pursue careers in STEM at the PowHERful Summit.[16] In 2016 she received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Education Award for her outreach activities.[17] In 2017, Valerino joined 21st Century Fox in their promotion of the film Hidden Figures, which tells of the role of outstanding African-American mathematicians and scientists in the Apollo program.[18][19][20][21]

Valerino is a fan of comic books. She has also discussed strong women in graphic novels on podcasts.[22]


  1. ^ a b "Meet Powtawche Valerino: NASA JPL Navigation Engineer Who Personifies Patience, Persistence, and Perseverance". 2017-05-31. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  2. ^ "Reaching for the stars | Rice Engineering". engineering.rice.edu. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  3. ^ "Cellos - Pasadena Community Orchestra". Pasadena Community Orchestra. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  4. ^ "Academic diversity: expanding the pipeline". New Scientist. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  5. ^ a b "CCD STEMinar series - Caltech Center for Diversity". diversitycenter.caltech.edu. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  6. ^ a b "Powtawche (Williams) Valerino, PhD". The National GEM Consortium. 2014-10-02. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  7. ^ Neengay, Williams, Powtawche (2005). "Optimization of interplanetary trajectories to Mars via electrical propulsion". Bibcode:2005PhDT........56W. hdl:1911/18840.
  8. ^ "Saturn With a Side of Bacon". Cassini Legacy: 1997-2017. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  9. ^ Valerino, Powtawche N. (2014). "Updating the Reference Trajectory for the Cassini Solstice Mission". SpaceOps 2014 Conference. doi:10.2514/6.2014-1880. ISBN 978-1-62410-221-9.
  10. ^ Ash, Summer (2017-09-21). "How a tiny space robot can change your life". Syfy. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  11. ^ Knapton, Sarah; Horton, Helena (2017-04-26). "Nasa's Cassini spacecraft starts bold mission to dive between Saturn's rings". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  12. ^ Chang, Kenneth (August 12, 2018). "Parker Solar Probe Launches on NASA Voyage to 'Touch the Sun'". The New York Times. Retrieved August 12, 2018.
  13. ^ "ARO 309 (Winter 2017) Class Page". www.trylam.com. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  14. ^ Jones, Drew R. (2016). "Solar Probe Plus: Force Modeling and Unique Navigation Challenges". AIAA/AAS Astrodynamics Specialist Conference. doi:10.2514/6.2016-5425. ISBN 978-1-62410-445-9.
  15. ^ "CaSGC Supports Fresno State's Lyles College of Engineering Girls Summer Engineering Experience | California Space Grant Consortium". casgc.ucsd.edu. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  16. ^ "A passion for sharing | Rice Engineering". engineering.rice.edu. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  17. ^ "Check out NAACP Pasadena 31st Ruby McKnight Williams Awards Dinner - 2016 at Hilton Pasadena on Oct 13, 2016". Eventful. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  18. ^ "Fox's 'Hidden Figures' inspires historic State Department program to support women in STEM around the world". 21st Century Fox Social Impact. 2017-11-02. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  19. ^ "AMPAS, NASA Talk Science, Movies and Diversity at SIGGRAPH". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  20. ^ "Hidden Figures/Modern Figures: A Journey of Breakthroughs in Cinema and Space Travel". Oscars.org | Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. 2017-11-07. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  21. ^ "Sloan Science & Film". www.scienceandfilm.org. Retrieved 2018-01-13.
  22. ^ "There's so much out there". ART19. Retrieved 2018-01-13.