To the Stars
Kapusta pretty much grew up in a metal shop. Her father and grandfather were both toolmakers, inventors, and entrepreneurs, and she knew her way around a lathe and other machinery early on. “It was baked in,” she says. “I learned how to program the machines and was playing with CAD software in my teens.”
Raised in rural western Pennsylvania, an area free of light pollution, Kapusta walked the cornfields at night and was captivated by the expanse of the cosmos above. Her engineering brain kicked in, and she began to contemplate how to measure the distances to stars and determine their ages. She majored in astronomy and made two trips to the famed Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona to research binary stars..
Kapusta helped Lockheed develop a telescope that observes solar weather phenomena, then headed to NASA—where astronaut colleagues selected her for a lifetime achievement award. She now runs Mission Operations, a consultancy that works to make space travel and exploration more inclusive. Last year, during her stint as executive director of the Space Frontier Foundation, she organized a zero-gravity flight for 12 disabled passengers who performed experiments in the weightless cabin. “It’s seriously impressive to see Ann juggle so many important balls at the same time,” says Cady Coleman, a former astronaut with more than 180 days in space who coached the experimenters.
“There are four new space stations being developed, and we have a unique opportunity to incorporate accessible design now, which is much easier than trying to retrofit,” Kapusta says. “We’ve learned so much in 60 years of space exploration. Let’s make sure that we don’t bring the inequities we’ve created here on Earth with us to the stars.”