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March 2018

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2018 – Meet A Rocket Woman: Kristen Facciol, Robotics Flight Controller, Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

8 March, 2018
Kristen Facciol, Robotics Flight Controller, Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

Kristen Facciol, Robotics Flight Controller, Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

Happy International Women’s Day 2018! On International Women’s Day, Rocket Women are celebrating the achievements of trailblazing women in space!

This week we’re featuring Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Robotics Flight Controller Kristen Facciol! Growing up in Canada, Kristen was inspired by the achievements of Canadian astronauts Roberta Bondar and Julie Payette and always hoped that she could be involved with Canada’s contributions to space exploration one day.

Kristen tells Rocket Women about her path to work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, astronaut training and why she believes it’s important that we show the next generation that it’s possible to be successful in non-traditional careers.


Tell me about your journey to the space industry and to where you are now?

My journey began when I was about 10 years old and was able to attend Space Camp in Montreal, Canada. I learned about the Canadarm, the Space Shuttle program, and the Hubble Space Telescope, and immediately became intrigued. Space exploration was a passion that fuelled my interest in science and math.

When it came time to select a university, the University of Toronto stood out because of the affiliated Aerospace Institute (UTIAS), and the ability to major in Aerospace Engineering through the Engineering Science program. It was during university that I realized my interest in robotics.

The opportunity of a lifetime came up when I joined the Mission Control Group. I am now living in Houston, Texas and training as a Robotics Flight Controller at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Following graduation, I started with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) as part of a team designing robotic systems for on-orbit satellites servicing. Upon completion of this project, I moved to Montreal to work as an embedded contractor at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as both an Analyst and an Engineering Support Lead for robotics operations on the International Space Station (ISS). During this time, I also certified as an instructor, training astronauts and flight controllers on the Mobile Servicing System, which includes Canadarm2 (the large robotic arm on the ISS), Dextre (a robot performing maintenance work and repairs), and the Mobile Base (which allows translation along the ISS).

At the end of 2016, I joined the CSA as a Payloads Engineer, working on some of the human research projects conducted on the ISS. Soon after, the opportunity of a lifetime came up when I joined the Mission Control Group. I am now living in Houston, Texas and training as a Robotics Flight Controller at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Describe a typical day at work for you.

A typical day at work can really vary, which is one of the many reasons why I love my job!

When we are planning for robotic operations, we need to go through the Mission Design process. We look at requirements or objectives that need to be satisfied during an operation, and take into consideration the complexity of the ISS operational schedule. Using a simulator, we then develop the procedures and other associated products that allow us to control the robotic systems on the ISS from the ground.

The days that I get to train astronauts and flight controllers, are some of my favourite days!

There are also days that I sit on console, either training during real-time operations or learning as part of simulations. Sitting on console involves monitoring our systems and the timeline, as well as the status of all the other systems that comprise the ISS, to ensure the objectives of the operation are met.

Then there are the days that I get to train astronauts and flight controllers, which are some of my favourite days! It is an opportunity to ensure that I am constantly learning and understanding how our systems work, as well as pass on this knowledge to future operators of Canadarm2, Dextre, or the Mobile Base.

Kristen in NASA's ISS Mission Control Center

Kristen in NASA’s ISS Mission Control Center

Who were your role models when you were growing up? How important are role models to young girls?

Growing up, my role models were anyone that took the time and effort to teach me, or anyone I felt I could learn from. This included my parents, my coaches for various sports, my teachers, and my colleagues. I never shied away from an opportunity to learn and improve, and always had a desire to be better at whatever it was that had my attention at the time.

I always admired the achievements of Roberta Bondar and Julie Payette. I hoped that I could one day be involved with Canada’s contributions to space exploration.

I never shied away from an opportunity to learn and improve, and always had a desire to be better at whatever it was that had my attention at the time.

I think it is exceptionally important for young girls to have role models. One thing that has always stood out to me is the way females are portrayed in the media, and the stereotypes that continue to exist today from previous generations. We need to show the next generation that: it is possible to be successful in non-traditional careers; it is possible to have a career as well as a family; and it is possible to be driven and successful without that having a negative connotation.

We need to show the next generation that: it is possible to be successful in non-traditional careers; it is possible to have a career as well as a family; and it is possible to be driven and successful without that having a negative connotation.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career so far?

There have been technical achievements that were quite exceptional, but there are also the “softer” moments that have made an impact as well.

Two of the technical achievements that stand out were the first time an astronaut I had trained was on-board the ISS and the first time a procedure I had written was executed on-orbit. It was so surreal to watch live video from the ISS of something that I had worked on from the ground. It is still difficult for me to truly express the way each of these moments felt.

 It was so surreal to watch live video from the ISS of something that I had worked on from the ground. It is still difficult for me to truly express the way each of these moments felt.

I have also received some incredibly heartwarming messages from people that I have interacted with as a mentor. To know that I have somehow influenced the career path of another person is something I am so grateful to have experienced, and there really is nothing quite like it.

What would you recommend to someone looking at a career in space robotics to focus on?

To develop a foundation for a career in space robotics (or robotics in general), it is important to focus on more than just the technical courses and training that are required. You also need to keep apprised of what is happening in your field of interest. There are advancements every day – not just in space, but also in how what we have learned in space is utilized here on Earth. Knowing where we have come from and the direction we are moving in will help you to strategically position yourself to be a part of the way forward.

Knowing where we have come from and the direction we are moving in will help you to strategically position yourself to be a part of the way forward.

For any career consideration, it is also important to keep in mind that a technical career is more than just the technical elements. Working in space robotics, as part of an interdisciplinary team, has really emphasized the importance of being able to work with others and to understand how your systems interact. You need to be able to communicate the state of your system and to adapt to changes in the surrounding environment. It also often involves working under pressure.

Kristen Facciol simulating Canadarm operations on-ground

Kristen Facciol simulating Canadarm operations on-ground

Was there anything unexpected about your career journey that you thought would be different to your initial expectations?

Looking back to when I first started, I thought that I would stay in Toronto and be a career “lifer”. I really admired my colleagues that had established a reputation for themselves to be a go-to person and become indispensable to a certain extent. I thought that was what I wanted. I took somewhat of a leap of faith when I moved to Montreal.

If it had not been for that move, some of the most important events in my life would have never occurred. My life has been ever changed because I took that leap.

Being given an opportunity to work at the CSA was a daunting decision at first, but it was definitely a clear one. This was the Canadian Space Agency that I would be working at! If it had not been for that move, some of the most important events in my life would have never occurred. My life has been ever changed because I took that leap.

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be? Would there be any decisions that you’d have made differently?

My 10-year-old self already exhibited many of the qualities that I think are important contributors to where I have reached at this point in my life. She approached everyone in the same way, whether stranger or friend, superior or equal. She was a team player but a definite leader. And she always strived to be the best.

She also had her moments of self-doubt, and I would want to tell her to never doubt herself, her achievements, or the decisions she made. I would tell her that she was going to end up somewhere she never even dreamed was possible. I would probably also mention that being a nerd would become the new cool, but I doubt she would have believed me.

I would want to tell [my 10-year-old self] to never doubt herself, her achievements, or the decisions she made. I would tell her that she was going to end up somewhere she never even dreamed was possible. I would probably also mention that being a nerd would become the new cool, but I doubt she would have believed me.

If I went back and made any decision differently, then I don’t know that I would have ended up where I am now, which I am very proud of. I really wouldn’t want anything to be any different. So looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.