September 18, 2019

Shooting for the stars: Janine Moses

Hamilton High School Humanities Magnet
Going to: UC Davis

“Ever since I could talk, I told people I wanted to become an astronaut,” said Janine Moses, 18, a senior in Hamilton High’s Humanities Magnet program who plans to major in aerospace engineering at UC Davis and expects to earn her pilot’s license this summer.

As a toddler and later as an elementary school student at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy, Moses was glued to the television as she watched space shuttle takeoffs; she was thrilled — then distraught — when the Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon brought a Torah into space then died as the Columbia space shuttle infamously disintegrated upon re-entering Earth’s atmosphere in 2003.  

“He personified my two passions:  space and Judaism,” she said.

[See the other outstanding graduates here]

About four years later, Moses met astronaut Buzz Aldrin — the second person to walk on the moon — at a book-signing event in Los Angeles: “I told him I wanted to become an astronaut, which I’m sure he’s heard a million times,” Moses said during a recent interview in her Pico-Robertson apartment. Aldrin responded by asking Janine if she was good at math, to which she replied  with a resounding, “Yes!”  

At Pressman, Moses wrote essays in Hebrew about Aldrin and astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. And when the Endeavour space shuttle arrived in Los Angeles in 2012, she viewed the craft three separate times in the course of 24 hours, rising at 2 a.m. to see the shuttle inching its way down Manchester Boulevard on the way to its final destination at the California Science Center.

In Moses’ bedroom, an article on Jews in space is taped to one wall, and astronomy books crowd a bookshelf; her eyes teared up at times as she talked about the cosmos.  

“I can cry when I talk about space, because I’m passionate about it,” she said. “What intrigues me is that it involves the unknown; there’s just an entire universe out there that we don’t know about.

“Carl Sagan wrote a book called ‘The Pale Blue Dot’ [a reference to Earth] that talks about how all our history is just like a tiny blue dot in the expanding universe,” Moses continued.  “It’s realizing how small we really are in the face of the infinite, which is a spiritual experience.”

Just after Moses’ bat mitzvah at Temple Beth Am, a family friend began giving her flying lessons in a Cessna 152 two-seater — the better to possibly pilot a spacecraft one day. Her recent solo flight from El Monte to Temecula, in preparation for receiving her pilot’s license this summer, “felt like the epitome of independence, because you’re 100 percent in charge of your life. It’s literally in your hands,” she said.

At Hamilton’s humanities program, Moses was named outstanding senior and has mentored dozens of students as president of the school’s engineering club; she also has won numerous prizes, including a first-place award for designing a sleek glider in a UCLA-sponsored competition, and hopes to design real spacecrafts one day.

This summer, Moses, who attends a weekly Torah study group with classmates from Hamilton, will serve as a counselor at Ramah Outdoor Adventure camp in Colorado, where she was a founding camper and hopes to stargaze with her charges this year. “The outdoors is another one of my passions,” said Moses, who was also a member of Hamilton’s varsity volleyball team.

In the fall, she’ll be off to UC Davis, which she chose, in part, for its vibrant Hillel and the chance to study with a female professor who teaches advanced subjects such as orbital mechanics and rocket propulsion.

But her goal remains unchanged, she said.

“Being an astronaut is still absolutely my dream.”