When she was four-and-a-half-years old, Josephine (Josie) Burnett watched the Apollo astronauts set foot on the moon.
“I watched Neil Armstrong place his foot on the moon. Part of me is saying this is a big deal,” Burnett said.
Most people forget what they see on television at age 4, but Burnett didn’t.
“When I was 10, we had to pick three careers,” she said. “My mom wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. And she made me do one on being a doctor. I wrote off to NASA and the public affairs group sent me a package.”
That package included the requirements for becoming an astronaut.
“I still have that package,” Burnett said.
Burnett was born in Florida but her father worked in the auto industry so he was transferred to Detroit. When she was 16, her dad decided it was time to move back to Miami.
The family settled into Calusa in West Kendall where Burnett was part of the second graduating class at Sunset High School. At Sunset, her math teacher encourage her to go into engineering — which at the time was not a career attracting many women.
She attended the University of Florida and got a degree in aerospace engineering and later earned a master’s from the Florida Institute of Technology while working at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
She did apply a couple times to become an astronaut. Although she was disappointed to not be able to go into space, she was happy to be involved in the space station program.
Today she is the director for the International Space Station Ground Processing and Research.
“The research piece, we finished in 2011, with the last shuttle mission,” she said. “We are in the full utilization mode. The things we are learning on the space station… they are helping us not only on earth, but [teaching us] how to live in space, so we can ultimately go to Mars.”
It was recently announced that Burnett soon will gain even more responsibility.
“KSC is consolidating all research and technology and putting it into this group,” she said.
While Burnett is making waves at the Space Center, she also touched lives at Calusa Elementary School, where her mom, Adelina Bimbler, was the lunch monitor for 20 years. Everyone knew and loved Mrs. Bimbler, who told everyone her daughter was a rocket scientist. Students were thrilled when Burnett visited the school a couple of time to talk to students about the space program.
When Mrs. Bimbler became ill and it became known that her condition was terminal, children flocked to her door.
“As soon as I got her home, the doorbell start ringing; the children and their parents were there looking for her,” Burnett said. “At first I was a little worried. She’s not well; she’s really not well. She came alive again because the children came to see her. Word was getting out that she was not well. Young adults would come to the house to say ‘hi’ to my mom.”
Burnett said hundreds of people came.
“I was in awe in how many people she influenced and had a positive impact on,” Burnett said. “Every child who went to Calusa went to lunch. You couldn’t go out to a movie theater without someone [coming up to say hello].”
Burnett’s dad, Fred Bimbler, still owns the Calusa house but has remarried and now lives in Palmetto Bay.