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TARC Star Johnna Esposito

EspositoShe didn’t plan it this way, but Johnna Esposito proved that girls can do rockets as well as boys, and maybe better.

After Bob Hawthorne, her high school engineering teacher, encouraged her to join the Team America Rocketry Challenge club at Long Reach High School in Columbia, Md. in 2006, Johnna quickly became the leader of an all-female TARC team. Not only did they compete in TARC, her team also waged an internal “girls vs. boys” school competition.

“It was rock-on awesome!” Johnna says.

Johnna’s TARC experience produced some fond memories. During prep for a qualifying flight on a rainy April day they found they needed to cut down on altitude, so her team used what they had on hand to add weight, which happened to be a stack of quarters. The team named the rocket “Big Bucks.”

Her TARC experience instilled in her a love of rocketry, and Johnna is currently a junior at Virginia Tech double majoring in aerospace and ocean engineering.

Esposito Rocket
“Rocketry was the reason why I went with aerospace and ocean engineering; it made engineering fun!” she says. “I liked designing vehicles and figuring out how each part worked together − what I now know to be systems engineering. It’s nice to see something that you spent a lot of time designing in action!”

Now she’s navigating through the engineering field with challenging courses and extracurricular activities. She got into a Co-Op program with Northrop Grumman on the NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract at the agency’s Wallops Flight Facility. Johnna credits being a TARC team leader with helping her succeed in project management.

Teamwork is a vital part of the industry, she found, and it takes many different types of engineers to have a successful rocket launch.

Esposito Team
Her advice to future engineering majors? Prepare for late hours. Maintain balance and focus. Take a Co-Op - it’s a great opportunity for education outside of the classroom. And don’t be afraid to ask questions and interact with your professors.

In fact, an after-class conversation with a professor revealed his own interest in model rocketry, and eventually led her to working with him on a design project and to the Co-Op at NASA Wallops.

“For some people, engineering comes easy; for others, not so much, but I really feel that success comes from motivation,” says Johnna. “For me, that motivation is rocketry.”

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