Hibah Rehmani – Meet first Pakistan-born woman to work as NASA engineer

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Driven by passion and big dreams, Hibah Rehmani, a Pakistan-born woman, survived the Gulf war and spent days at refugee camps before she made her way to the US space agency, NASA, as an engineer.

Being fascinated with the beautiful night sky, Rehmani developed a passion for science, space and astronomy at a very young age.

Today, she is serving as an avionics and flight controls engineer in NASA’s Engineering and Technology Directorate, helping launch rockets from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Rahmani was born in Pakistan, but she and her family moved to Kuwait when she just a month old.

“My fondest memory growing up is taking walks with my family at night, either in the desert or on the sidewalk by the Arabian (Persian) Gulf, looking up at the sky to admire the moon and stars, and thinking about astronauts such as Neil Armstrong who have stepped on the moon,” she said in her biography available on NASA webiste. “It was around this time I developed a passion for science, space and astronomy.”

Her childhood was interrupted when Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait in August 1990. While the attack was condemned by the world, refugees fled westward across the desert. Rahmani, her mother and sister were among them, taking a bus and eventually reaching an area known as “no-man’s-land” near the Iraqi-Jordanian border.

“We arrived late at night,” she said. “We could not get a tent since all of them were taken by other refugees. Even though this was a tough time for us, one of the things I remember from that night was having a nice view of the sky with the golden moon and stars, while trying to sleep on the cold desert sand. It reminded me of my goals and dreams.”

After staying in Jordan for a few days, Rahmani along with her family travelled back to Pakistan. Her father was in the US when the invasion occurred, but flew to Pakistan to be reunited with his family.

Rahmani and her family moved back to Kuwait after the war ended and her aspirations continued as she decided to become an engineer.

“My parents always emphasized the value of a good education and hard work,” Rahmani said. “Math and science were my favorite subjects in school. Math was also my dad’s favorite subject and he used to tell me that I should try to get 100 percent marks on my math tests.”

After completing high school in Kuwait, the passionate woman moved to the US in 1997 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at the University of Central Florida (UCF).

“I remember physics being my first hard class and I did not do well on the first exam,” she said. “I went to the library and spent hours and hours there, reading physics books and practicing problems. When time came for the final exam, I calculated that I needed to get exactly a 100 on the exam to get an ‘A’ in the class. I could not believe that I received a 105 on the exam. I even got the bonus question right.

“This experience reemphasized to me that anything is possible with consistent hard work and dedication, and to never give up on your goals and dreams,” she said.

After completing graduation from UCF in 2000, Rahmani got employeed at Boeing at Kennedy as a systems engineer working on processing the International Space Station (ISS).

“I was involved with integrated testing of the ISS components and sometimes astronauts would stop by to either view or participate in the testing,” she said. “It is during this time that I developed a strong desire to become an astronaut and started taking steps toward that goal.”

“I knew that in order to become an astronaut I had to pursue an advanced degree,” she said, “so between 2002 and 2005, I obtained a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from Georgia Tech.”

In 2008, Rahmani accepted position with NASA at Kennedy in the Engineering and Technology Directorate.

“I support NASA’s Launch Services Program, working on expendable launch vehicles such as the Pegasus XL and Falcon 9,” she said. “I provide technical expertise, follow launch vehicle testing, perform data reviews and provide technical assessments of engineering issues.”

“The happiest and most exciting moment of my job is to watch a rocket take off from the launch pad and go into space,” she said.

In her free time, Hibah loves to paint with water colors, scuba dive and volunteer for lake restoration projects. She aspires to become a NASA astronaut one day.

Hibah considers herself extremely blessed to have a job that she absolutely loves, working with an amazing team, making contributions to the U.S. Space Program. She believes that you can achieve anything you want with consistent hard work.

Pakistanis Hails Hibah’s Successful Journey

Pakistanis appreciated the Hibah for making their heads high after the US Embassy in Islamabad paid tribute to Hibah Rehman on Twitter, saying: “Rocket Women NASA Engineer Hibah Rahmani was born in Pakistan and moved to the United States after high school. She was fascinated with the beautiful night sky and at a young age developed a passion for science, space and astronomy”.

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