Judith Bruner

I am very honored to be part of the Women@NASA series. As I look back on my career, I am filled with gratitude for the opportunities that I have had. I could have never dreamt how the things that I loved to do as a young girl growing up in rural Ohio, would shape my professional and personal life. My father managed a small airport in rural Ohio where I grew up. He taught me to fly and I soloed when I was 16. And on clear evenings we would go into the backyard where he would point out constellations and we would look through a small telescope searching for planets. It is amazing how my love of aviation and space would unfold in my life.

I always enjoyed flying, but early on I never viewed it as a profession. Instead, I wanted to work at NASA. I wanted to be an astronomer and find life in the universe. I was always interested in NASA. With that in mind, I put myself through college starting out as an astronomy major. But I soon realized I would need a Ph.D. to do what I wanted to do in that field, so I switched to computer science. I figured I would approach my goals from a different direction.

At the end of my junior year in college, an Army recruiter came to my dorm to discuss an Army program that would pay for my senior year if I enlisted then. I went to see if the other military services had similar programs. While the Navy did not, I became intrigued with what the recruiter said and enlisted at the end of my junior year. I completed part of my basic training that summer, then returned and completed my senior year. I graduated in the morning receiving my bachelor’s degree, and was commissioned as an Ensign in the afternoon.

At that time, flying was not open to women, and I was assigned to a computer command in San Diego, California. But during my first tour, the Navy opened up flight training for women, something which I had not expected. I applied and was in the first group of women selected to go through Navy flight training. I reported to basic flight training in Pensacola, Florida and went on to advanced flight training in Corpus Christi, Texas. When I got my wings, I flew 4-engine P-3s, first in a weather squadron doing hurricane reconnaissance and then in an oceanographic research squadron. I ended up flying around the world several times! I set foot on every continent except Antarctica, but I once actually had Thanksgiving dinner in the air while flying over Antarctica. It is amazing what you can do with a hot plate in a P-3 aircraft galley! After 10 years on active duty, I decided to transfer to the Naval Reserve so I could pursue my dream of working for NASA. I went on to serve 18 years doing Naval Reserve assignments on the weekend and working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center during the week.

NASA Goddard is an awesome place to work. We have world-class scientists and engineers doing things that have never been done before. Being part of that has been very special for me. I have had many great opportunities at Goddard. My first job at was to design and develop the real-time command ground system for the Hubble Space Telescope. I wrote and tested the code that was used to command Hubble from the ground control center. I went on to serve in various roles on other missions. It is hard to pick my favorite assignment. Each one broadened my perspective and helped me grow in ways I had not anticipated. I have served on teams which have accomplished amazing things. One of those teams was tasked to return the SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft to routine operations following the loss of its’ last functioning gyro. This was very challenging, but the team figured out a solution, implemented it, and thanks to that team, SOHO is still flying and still doing amazing science!

Teamwork and collaboration are absolutely critical for Goddard. One person cannot do it alone, but together we accomplish extraordinary things. We are strongest when we work as partners: project managers, scientists, engineers and the support staff which enables Center operations. The goal for all of us is the same: mission success.

I have had many special moments during my time at Goddard. I have done details at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility, in Virginia, and at NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Facility in West Virginia. I even worked behind the scenes preparing for a visit from the Queen of England! Each experience was different and helped me grow in new ways.

I am often asked what advice I would give to individuals early in their career. I tell them to look five to ten years into the future and decide where they want to be and then figure out what they can do today to help them get there. While I have worked very hard to get where I am, I feel extremely fortunate that I was given many opportunities. I was in the right place at the right time. When I enlisted, I had no idea that the Navy was going to open up flight training to women. When that happened, the course of my life and career changed. It taught me a lesson that has served me well throughout my life – always be open to new opportunities and when a door opens take advantage of it.

photo of Judith Bruner


Judy Bruner grew up in rural Ohio, where she developed an early love of space and aviation, which would become the cornerstones of her future professional life. Her love of space began as she peered through a small telescope in the backyard looking at the moon and then followed NASA’s journey to the first moon landing. Her love of flying began at a small airport her father managed where she learned to fly as a teen. She went on to college and majored in computer science. At the end of her junior year, a chance meeting with a military recruiter set her on a path she had no idea would lead her around the world, and ultimately tie together her love of aviation and space. She was commissioned as a United States Navy Ensign the day she graduated from college with her computer science degree. During her first tour of duty at a computer command in San Diego, California, the Navy opened up flight training to women. She applied, was accepted, and earned her wings in 1974. She went on to a weather squadron flying hurricane reconnaissance flights and then to an oceanographic research squadron, flying research missions around the world. Though she loved her work in the Navy, she decided to try to follow her first love and work for NASA. She continued to serve in the Naval Reserve, retiring at the rank of Captain, while working at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, first as a contractor, and later as a Civil Servant. She had a wide variety of assignments, including designing the real time command system for the Hubble Space Telescope control center, and served as the Branch Head in several organizations. In 1997, she was assigned to the Director’s staff as the Manager of Wallops Mission 2000, and then in 1998, she was appointed as the Acting NASA SOlar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) Program Manager, where she led the team responsible for returning SOHO to routine operations following the loss of its last functioning gyro. From there she was detailed to the NASA Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in West Virginia to coordinate the transition of the Facility from NASA’s Ames Research Center to NASA Goddard. She then returned to the Director’s staff and is currently the Director of the Goddard Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate. She had a wide range of assignments. With each one she learned new skills and used the skills she gained from both her previous Navy and NASA assignments. As she progressed through her own career, she tried to offer guidance and encouragement to others, always giving the same advice: Be open to new opportunities, and always take advantage of each one. You never know where it will lead! Judy has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science from Ohio State University, Colombus, Ohio and a Master of Science degree in Engineering Management from George Washington University, Washington, D.C.