Scientist-Engineer Nagin Cox shares ‘Journey to Mars’ for the Malibu Library Speaker Series

A sizable audience attended a presentation by NASA Scientist and Jet Propulsion Laboratories Engineer Nagin Cox on Sept. 20 as part of the Malibu Library Speakers Series. Photos by Samantha Bravo.

While it takes seven to nine months to get to Mars, NASA Scientist and Jet Propulsion Laboratories (JPL) Systems Engineer Nagin Cox said engineers are at work.

“From the scientist’s perspective it’s like ‘Are we there yet?,’ but from the engineers, we are very busy at this time period,” Cox said. “I’ve actually wanted to work at JBL since I was 14, and that was because when I was growing up, I saw the way that we then — and still — find ways to innovate ourselves.” 

Cox shared stories of NASA’s Mars missions from the early rovers to the newest U.S. traveler, the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover, during the Malibu Library Speaker Series on Tuesday, Sept. 20. The Malibu Library Speaker Series, a program of the Malibu Library, part of LA County Library, and the City of Malibu, has featured experts, authors, and other notable figures discussing a wide range of subjects, including the entertainment industry, literature, science, education, art and more. The events are free and open to the public.

Mayor Paul Grisanti was among the members in attendance and introduced Cox to the audience members. 

“I love coming to the library even for the books,” Grisanti said. “Being curious is a blessing and this [speaker series] is powered by curiosity.”

Cox has held leadership and system engineering positions on interplanetary robotic missions, including the Galileo mission to Jupiter, the Mars Exploration Rovers, the Kepler exoplanet hunter, InSight, the Mars Curiosity Rover, and now the 2020 Perseverance Rover. She was also involved in the MOXIE (Mars Oxygen ISRU Experiment) team, prototyping making oxygen on Mars from the Martian atmosphere. 

Prior to her time at JPL, Cox served in the U.S. Air Force in space operations. She received her engineering and psychology degrees from Cornell University and engineering degree from the Air Force Institute of Technology. Cox is currently a tactical mission lead on the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover and the Mars Curiosity Rover.

While the Malibu Library Speakers Series was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Community Library Manager Melissa Stallings said she was glad people participated in the event again. 

“It’s really exciting for us to have people back for the speaker series in person at the library, especially to see all the people that used to come who we haven’t seen in three years, that’s the best part,” Stallings said. “People are so happy that this is back, and an opportunity to see someone like her. I’m really glad they all came out.”

After the presentation, members of the audience were able to ask questions. Cox was glad to see young members in attendance and made sure their questions were answered.

“I was so glad to see that there were young kids here and I always try to get to their questions because they can be remarkable in terms of the debt,” Cox said. “it shows what they’re thinking about and hopefully seeing themselves in these missions that we described so that they know it’s not just for the astronauts, it’s not just for the boys, it’s for all of us and hopefully they can see themselves somewhere in these stories.” 

Cox said she enjoyed the presentation and that it was in person.

“I so love in person discussion and the mix of kids and adults and a chance to really have the time to talk and answer questions, it just reminds us of the stories we can tell each other,” Cox said. “Malibu is not far from JPL so it was a wonderful opportunity to share stories.”