Aiming for space, with eyes on a more inclusive home planet
Mary Cooper, who grew up in a military family, will graduate in June with a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering and computer science. After a summer working at SpaceX and a semester of study at Oxford, she’ll return to Stanford to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.
Mary Cooper has her eyes on space, with all of its possibilities and unknowns. But her ultimate goal is to open up new frontiers here on Earth.
A para-athlete – the only one currently competing in the Pac-12 – and member of the varsity women’s rowing program at Stanford, Cooper has served during her time in college as an ambassador for Mission: AstroAccess, a nonprofit promoting disability inclusion in space and paving the way for disabled astronauts in STEM.
Cooper was born with a rare disease that required her left leg to be amputated below the knee, and she grew up tinkering with her specialized prosthetics – optimized for everything from CrossFit to high heels. When it came time to choose an academic focus at Stanford, engineering was a natural fit.
“To me, my disability is part of the reason I study engineering here at Stanford,” Cooper says. “Duct taping toes when they fell off, whatever it might be, was always leading me towards a problem-solving mindset.”
Cooper grew up with an interest in aviation thanks to her father, a Coast Guard helicopter pilot, and has long dreamed of becoming an astronaut. After wrapping up her capstone project for an individually designed major in aerospace engineering and computer science, she’ll spend the summer working at SpaceX and then travel to England for a semester of study at Oxford – joined by her mentor, Mykel Kochenderfer, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics.
Cooper will return to Stanford in winter 2023 to earn a master’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering.