Jennie Johannesen calls herself an "armchair astronaut." For a living, she designs the paths that spaceships must fly to reach their destinations. Sitting in front of her computer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, she says it's as though she were inside the spacecraft whose journey she's plotting, watching moons and planets pass by.
She was born in East Chicago, and was raised and attended high school in nearby Hobart, Indiana. Before she went to high school, she knew she was interested in space. Back when she was in an Apollo 7 Space club, she wanted to be an astronaut. Later, she went to Purdue University to study math, then physics, ending up with a master's degree in physics.
Later, she worked to put her husband through school. Then she decided that even though she wasn't going to be an astronaut after all, she could still get involved in the space business. So she went back to school and got another master's and a PhD, this time in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan.
She's worked now at JPL for 16 years, mostly on missions to Jupiter, including the behemoth Galileo mission, which passed by Venus and Earth to get energy boosts to get to Jupiter and uses the gravity from Jupiter's moons to shape the orbits around Jupiter. Her current assignment is to design a flight path, or trajectory, for the Deep Impact mission. Deep Impact will leave Earth in 2004, loop once around the Sun before flying by Earth, then approach comet Tempel 1 and make a crater in it. "Designing trajectories is a fun job," she says. "It's a great challenge for me to stay within the budget and make a trajectory that meets the customers' needs."