Kari Bosley is in charge of planning when giant satellites will make contact with the James Webb Space Telescope as it moves through outerspace.
Kari Bosley is the lead mission planner for the James Webb Space Telescope at the Space Telescope Science Institute.
She was told growing up she couldn’t be part of aviation because of her gender.
She was a stay-at-home mom before she revived her career to work on the world’s most powerful telescope.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Kari Bosley, about her career as lead mission planner for the James Webb Space Telescope at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which partners with NASA to run missions. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I wasn’t always interested in space, but I always wanted to fly. When I was a little girl, Amelia Earhart was my idol. I wanted to become a pilot, just like her.
When I had to get glasses in the fifth grade, I knew I had to find something else to aspire to because at the time, you had to have 20/20 vision to be able to fly.
So, since I couldn’t be a pilot, and wasn’t interested in the idea of becoming a mechanic, I became excited at the idea of becoming an air traffic controller.
But I grew up in the ’80s, times were different. I was told that I couldn’t direct planes because I was female. So I had to reroute my life plan, again.
When they announced that they were going to send a teacher to the moon for the Challenger mission, I thought that was really cool. It showed me that anyone could go to space.
Of course, it turned out to be an awful tragedy, but it was my first experience of really being able to learn about space.
I didn’t really know where to go from there, and I ended up taking some pre-medicine classes at our community college. After about a year, I decided to leave that behind to get married and start a family. I thought being a mom was all I was destined to do.
I find the work fascinating and it’s inspired me to go back to school
Eventually, when my three boys were older, I went back to work. Thirteen years ago, I landed a job in the grants department at Space Telescope Science Institute.
The James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful space telescope ever built, and has led to numerous scientific discoveries and firsts since it was launched to space.
I eventually moved from the grants department into my current role as mission planner. When I was put on the James Webb project in 2016, I didn’t know a thing about the telescope. But I was quickly educated.
The more I learned, the more I loved what I was doing.
Now, I work with another mission planner to schedule the normal activities that happen on each pass of the telescope. To do this job, you need to be detail-oriented and very organized, there is very little that is done on the fly for these missions.
I have to know when the telescope will align with the Deep Space Network, which receives information from the craft, each day. The planning we do ensures people can get the data and photographs they need from up in space.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope captured the Ring Nebula in unprecedented detail with its mid-infrared instrument.
ESA/Webb, NASA, CSA, M. Barlow (UCL), N. Cox (ACRI-ST), R. Wesson (Cardiff University)
Some people might say that the daily work I do is a little boring, but I still find it fascinating.
It’s inspired me to go back to school part-time, taking systems engineering courses. I’ll be getting my degree in the Spring of 2025.
I can do anything I want to
I may not be an astronomer or a scientist, but I am an organized person who does well under pressure, and I love that I get to play a role in the important discoveries that the telescope makes.
Through working on JWST, I began to realize that I can do anything I want to, it doesn’t matter if I’m a female.
An antenna at the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex, located in the Mojave Desert in California.
There are so many different teams, with people from different backgrounds, and in different roles, that work together to make a space project happen. It’s not just one person doing anything here, it’s a whole team working towards one objective: a successful mission.
I consider myself pretty lucky.
Not a lot of stay-at-home moms get a chance to revive their careers. My kids are very supportive and encouraging of my choice to go back to school and work. They still encourage me to this day, even though they’re all grown up.
The only way the mission works
I have no plans to stop anytime soon. I love what I do, I love this mission.
It’s amazing to me that I was told I couldn’t be what I wanted to be when I grew up because of my gender, and now I can work in the space industry and be seen as an equal.
I work with so many other females who are respected, and some of my favorite space educators are women too.
I think that’s one of the reasons I feel so fortunate, to have a team that accepts, encourages, and respects me and the unique attributes I bring to the table. That’s the only way the mission works.