Dr. Cooper: Guardian of the Galaxy


Collin Acevedo

A close up image of Mars surface from satellite.

Collin Acevedo, Reporter

The Bakersfield College Office of Student Life and Student Government Association presented Dr. Moogega Cooper on Oct. 4. Cooper was the planetary protection lead on the famed NASA 2020 Mars mission, which saw the Perseverance rover land on the red planet on Feb. 18, 2021. With her new work, she states a new question: Did life ever exist on Mars and can we find it?

Cooper’s profession has been one that she has strived for almost her entire life, though as a child she wasn’t intrigued with school, but that all changed when she was introduced to Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos.”

Sparking a flame like never before within her as she still climbs to her imagination’s peak, graduating from college at 16 and going on to study physics as an undergraduate. Cooper later received a master’s degree and went on to get her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering with a dissertation on spacecraft materials.

Her contribution now to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory looks to see if Mars can be habitable for humans and if any past life ever sprouted on Mars. Collecting samples as the rover should go landing in the Jezero crater which is said to be an excellent place to collect data as it was once a vast lake. But along with going there is also the question of how to keep samples untainted from different microbes in the environments at home and afar.

Working to ensure that we do not taint results within projects, Cooper’s main focus is the effectiveness of cleanliness. Breaking down to the slightest of terms, if the whole football field of Bakersfield College was the rover, and the germs were the size of poppy seeds there would only be two allowed on the field. Remarkably her work on cleanliness ensured that they met and exceeded the requirements of cleanliness.

Dr. Cooper ended the seminar by taking questions from the audience as they picked her brain, elaborating on the measures taken to preserve the samples and also what could take place in space as time goes on.