Her parents’ willingness to bend Sunday-night TV rules placed Annalisa L. Weigel ‘94, SM ‘00, PhD ‘02, on the path to a career in aeronautics and astronautics. On those nights, the eight-year-old discovered Carl Sagan and his PBS miniseries Cosmos. The show fascinated her. With permission to stay up an extra half-hour, Weigel watched intently, and the notion that she could become an astronaut took root.
Weigel, who grew up in Avon, CT, held on to that goal well into her undergraduate years at MIT. But ultimately she was influenced by humanities classes that taught her about the complex interactions between people and technical systems and by her work experiences at NASA headquarters in Washington, DC, and the Johnson Space Center in Houston. She decided she’d have a greater impact on the space program if she remained earthbound.
“There are a good number of people who are technically competent who can design spacecraft and be the astronauts, but there are very few people who, in addition, have a talent for trying to work the policy, budget, and programmatic sides of things,” she says. “You can have all the technical knowledge and engineering talent you want, but if you don’t have the money, the program is not going to go forward.” Now, after a stint with Lehman Brothers, she’s back at MIT, where she holds a dual appointment as assistant professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems. Her research centers on the connection between policy, economics, and technological design issues for aerospace systems.
Weigel has always been active outside the classroom as well. As a student, she was involved with the Musical Theater Guild and served as musical director of the Muses, an a cappella group. She was also president of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space. Now she contributes to the MIT community as chair of the Alumni Fund Board.
Her student activities, she says, provided practical skills that have bolstered her professional goals. “Those activities taught me to lead, organize, schedule, be creative, fund-raise,” she says. “Those are skills that they just don’t teach you in class. Class is all about memorizing concepts, learning your equations, how the physical world works–nothing about how the people world works.”