Space cowgirl

Johanna Lucht in front of an aircraft at NASA

Johanna Lucht sat in a control room at the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, north of Los Angeles, on a clear day in April 2017. In the sky, a flight crew was testing an aircraft with an experimental, twistable wing flap for the first time. On the ground, alongside at least 10 other engineers in the quiet room full of computer screens, Lucht’s job was to help monitor and analyze data to boost flight efficiency. It was an experience few people get to have, and she was both excited and focused.

It was only after the mission was over that Lucht, who graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in computer science in 2014, discovered she had become the first deaf engineer to take an active role in a NASA control center during a crewed research flight.

“I was kind of flabbergasted because I’d just made history without realizing it,” she says.

It was a moment that Lucht had, in many ways, been working toward for years, as she tackled one communications obstacle after the next. Born in Germany, at a time when there were few resources for deaf people, she didn’t learn American Sign Language until she was 9.

When Lucht was 12, her family moved to Alaska, where she was exposed to a deaf community that gave her access to a more complete social world and, she says, “your typical school drama.”

Lucht arrived at the U of M in the fall of 2010. She had been impressed by the interpretation services during her tour the year before, and after working through some initial homesickness, she became involved with groups like the University’s deaf and hard of hearing ambassador program, which taught her about teamwork and leadership.

After graduation, Lucht landed an internship and then a job at NASA, where she has continued to overcome challenges. As a deaf woman at NASA, helping control a test flight last spring was a triumph in more ways than one.

“It proved that deaf people can do something amazing,” says Lucht, who recently spoke with a 10-year-old girl who was star struck to meet her. “It’s not just deaf children but also hearing girls who are inspired. It’s astonishing really.”

Original story by Emily Sohn, published in Minnesota Alumni magazine.
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities