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Nagin  Cox

Nagin Cox

First Generation Martian, TED Speaker, Interplanetary Storyteller, & Space Exploration Engineer


Nagin has been exploring since she decided as a teenager that she wanted to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She was born in Bangalore, India, and grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Growing up as a young woman in a Muslim/multicutural household showed her how easily we separate ourselves based on gender, race, or nationality, and inspired her to do something that brings people together instead of dividing them.  The Space Program helps the world “look up” and remember that we are one world. Thus, she has known from the time she was 14 years old that she wanted to work on missions of robotic space exploration. Read More >

Nagin realized her childhood dream and has been a spacecraft operations engineer at NASA/JPL for over 20 years. Nagin has had held leadership and system engineering positions on multiple interplanetary robotic missions including the Galileo mission to Jupiter and 4 of the 5 rovers the United States has sent to Mars as well as the Kepler exoplanet hunter. She is currently a Tactical Mission Lead on the Mars Curiosity Rover as well as an Assistant Mission Manager on the Operations Team of the Mars2020 Perseverance Rover.  

Before her time at JPL, she served in US Air Force as a Behavioral Psychologist and System Engineer in F-16 Aircrew Training and then as a Space Operations Officer at NORAD/US Space Command. Nagin holds engineering degrees from Cornell University and the Air Force Institute of Technology as well as a psychology degree from Cornell.

Sometimes she is not sure which one she uses more- the engineering degree or the psychology degree! Nagin is honored to be the namesake for Asteroid 14061. She has also received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and two NASA Exceptional Achievement Medals. Her US Air Force commendations include the Joint Meritorious Unit Award and the National Defense Service Medal.

When she can get away from work, Nagin is a speaker for both NASA/JPL as well U.S. Department of State. She has spoken to audiences around the world on the stories of the people behind the missions as well as leadership and the importance of STEM worldwide. TED called her a “first generation Martian” in her talk on one of the humorous sides to robotic space exploration.

In the rest of her volunteer life, she is a past member of Cornell University’s President’s Council for Cornell Women and has served on the boards of Griffith Observatory Foundation and Impact Personal Safety: Self-Defense & Empowerment for Women.  She currently serves on the Advisory Committee for the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch and is an Advisory Council Member board for The Planetary Society.  

In her down time, Nagin has raced with her dragonboating team, competed in sprint triathlons and sung with a Sweet Adelines barbershop chorus & the JPL chorus, as well as participated in Caltech Theatre. She also enjoys exploring this planet with her husband.

Even though it has been two decades.. every day at NASA/JPL exploring space is as rewarding as the first. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

TED: What Time Is It on Mars?

Speech Topics

Living on Two Planets: Working Remotely, Remotely

In 2004, 2012, and now in Feb 2021, Nagin Cox was in mission control when the famed Mars Rovers landed on the Red Planet. As part of the courageous and inventive teams at NASA’s legendary Jet Propulsion Laboratory that take humanity’s first steps out of the driveway, Nagin tells interplanetary stories of the people behind the missions that explore our solar system robotically. She is a “first-generation Martian”, and has shared NASA stories worldwide as an award-winning, STEM speaker for the US State Department.  Read More >

Nagin’s story of her nontraditional journey to NASA to is filled with the importance of diversity in skill sets and insights on how perseverance pays off - especially in a pandemic. In 2020, the whole planet suddenly got a crash course in the kind of working in isolation that is a huge part of space exploration. Stories of space exploration have an enduring ability to inspire and motivate people all over the world and to cut through political/cultural issues and remind us what humankind can do together.  This popular presentation highlights the challenges that ensue when humans try to live on one planet and work on another.  Nagin has more humorous and light-hearted stories of the people behind the missions than there is time to tell. Read Less ^

Leadership, Impostor Syndrome & Being a First Generation Martian

TED Speaker Nagin Cox has been working at NASA’s legendary Jet Propulsion Laboratory and has participated in some of the most exciting moments in space exploration such as being in Mission Control for the Feb 2021 landings of the Mars2020 Perseverance Rover. Through her nontraditional journey to NASA, Nagin has amassed a set of workplace lessons on her journey in a male-dominated field. When Nagin set her sights on NASA, she was warned that she would never be happy because her strengths were not in math and science. She has now been working for NASA and the space industry for over 30 years and every day has been as rewarding as the first! The surprising thing is how many years it took her to truly understand the dangers of imposter syndrome and the importance of differing skill sets across academia, industry and the space agencies. Nagin has unintentionally amassed a body of lessons learned in inclusion, diversity and coping as she has had the chance to work alongside some of the world’s brightest engineers and scientists. She has both engineering degrees and a degree in psychology and she sometimes amusingly is not sure which one she uses more as she works with these amazing innovators.

Technical: Leadership, Risk, Failure & Living in the Land of Big Bang Theory

TED Speaker Nagin Cox has had the privilege of being a system engineer specializing in space operations in the US Military, the private sector and for NASA. The cultures are both the same and radically different. Sending missions to other plans are exercises in engineering and innovation that apply to space as well as earth challenges. Nagin has unintentionally amassed a body of lessons learned in leadership, system engineering and STEM as she has had the chance to work alongside some of the worlds brightest engineers and scientists. She has both engineering degrees and a degree in psychology and she sometimes amusingly is not sure which one she uses more as she works with these amazing innovators.