Did you know Kansas is home to many who have contributed to space exploration? These “Kansas Stars” are integral to our understanding of the Solar System and their curiosity blossomed under the Kansas skies. Their stories serve as inspiration and encouragement for those who dream of exploring space. These contributions have come from many different fields, backgrounds, and professions including scientists, engineers, and astronauts.
Nagin Cox - Systems Engineer
“I remember looking up at the stars and thinking ‘I’m going to get through this,’” Cox says of her teenage years in Prairie Village after her family’s immigration from India. This fighter mindset was fueled by her mother’s love and in resistance to her father’s views that math and science were subjects better suited to her brothers. She was interested in space science and robots as a youth and realized early that NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was the place to achieve her dreams. After reading the credits to the PBS miniseries Cosmos (1980), she learned that the show’s host, Carl Sagan, attended Cornell University. Following this inspiration, she graduated from Cornell in 1986 and then joined the Air Force. She spent six years on active duty working as a systems engineer and building F-16 training systems before joining JPL. For the last 25-plus years, she has worked on Galileo, Kepler, the Mars rovers Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity, and the InSight lander. She also speaks around the world on STEM, inspiring a new generation to explore the Universe.
Mona Kessel - Scientist, Space Physics
A Kansas City native, Dr. Kessel attended Baker University for her undergraduate degree then became a Jayhawk (KU) for her graduate degrees. Growing up, she knew she enjoyed math and later discovered a love of physics. While pursuing her PhD in physics, she was intrigued by space science thanks to stargazing with friends, most notably the 1986 return of Halley’s Comet. After turning her interest into a career, she works for NASA as a Program Scientist in the Heliophysics Division. She’s worked on the Magnetosphere Multiscale Mission, the Van Allen Probes, and the TWINS mission. Recently she has focused on understanding “Space Weather,” or the solar variability and its diverse effects on Earth, human technology, and astronauts.
Nick Hague - Astronaut
Nick Hague grew up in Hoxie. After graduating from Hoxie High School in 1994, he joined the Airforce and was part of the NASA astronaut class of 2013. For his first mission, he was assigned as the flight engineer for Expedition 57. Nick and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin boarded Soyuz MS-10 on October 11, 2018 on their way to the International Space Station (ISS), but a booster failure forced them to abort the mission. Hague piloted the capsule safely back to Earth. Hague was awarded the Order of Courage of the Russian Federation for his heroism. He finally reached the ISS on Soyuz MS-12 as part of Expedition 59/60 where he participated in three EVAs (spacewalks).
These Kansas Stars and many more are featured at our website https://www.kansascosmos.org/. Visit today and learn more about the history of space science across the great state of Kansas. With Kansas Cosmos, the plains are your gateway to exploring our solar system. Explore the future today with the boldest and brightest that Kansas has to offer. Blast into orbit today by standing on the shoulders of these giants.
Carry on my Wayward Star
How to count all those shining Kansas stars?
Brave heroes exploring this vast frontier,
Down Massachusetts St. in Jayhawk bars
Are these dreams born of facing empty fear.
A vacuum is empty indeed my friends,
But my friend Nick sees it fit for a stroll,
While Mona’s heliophysics births TWINS,
Nagin pilots her roving Martian soul.
A vacuum is empty, but here we are,
Filling the empty with abundant space,
Like the prairie shining gold yellow star
That falls in freefall in a spinning chase.
Ever expanding, endlessly tragic,
Just don’t tell the scientists its magic.
Kansas Cosmos is a web application that maps the Solar System over the state of Kansas. Accurately modeling our Solar System requires something as vast as the state of Kansas so that the sizes of the planets are visible while also maintaining the correct scaled distances between their orbits. Learn more by visiting our earlier Kansas Travel blog post. This project is coordinated by Johnson County Community College’s Kansas Studies Institute, bringing together students and faculty from the Web Development, Graphic Design, and Astronomy Departments, as well as the Honors Program, where students researched, designed, and developed all aspects of the app