Meet Kimberly EnnicoDecember 12, 2008
For Kimberly Ennico, a 1997–98 American Fellow, flight mission research is just another day’s work in her position as project scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center. According to Kimberly, the most rewarding part of her work is “contributing to a body of knowledge that is needed for the survival of our species and working to answer questions about where we come from and where we are going as human beings.”
While Kimberly is involved in a range of NASA projects, for the past two years her main focus has been in support of a robotic mission to the moon to look for the presence of water or ice at the lunar poles. The mission involves using a section of the launch vehicle, roughly the size of an SUV, to strike the moon’s surface at 5,600 mph. The experiment will be visible from Earth, and an extensive campaign is under way to coordinate observations from both amateur and professional astronomers as well as from orbiting satellites.
The second mission Kimberly is supporting relates to extrasolar planets (exoplanets), or planets that orbit stars other than the sun. In the 10 years since this phenomenon was discovered, more than 300 exoplanets have been discovered. A survey satellite will catalog more than 1,000 exoplanets, including many “SuperEarths,” planets with radii about two to three times the radius of the Earth.
Kimberly was awarded an American Fellowship in 1997 to complete her doctoral research at Cambridge University. Afterward, she accepted a postdoctoral position at the University of Arizona and then landed her current job at NASA. Although Kimberly has already traveled a lesser-worn path in her career as a research astrophysicist, she still has lofty goals for the future. She has applied to be an astronaut and hopes to support NASA’s human exploration program. “If I can help keep human exploration alive and well,” she says, “I will be very happy.”
In addition to her work at NASA, Kimberly supports AAUW’s mission of “breaking through barriers” by talking to local Girl Scout troops about being a woman scientist. In her presentations, she tells her young audience, “Choose a field you just love. When you love something, you somehow find the inner strength to overcome any obstacles that may be in the way of achieving your life’s dream.”