Join this fantastic opportunity to hear from these inspirational women discussing their careers at NASA at noon EDT/4pm GMT on Wednesday 16th March, livestreamed on NASA TV. The event will take place at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland and moderated by Christyl Johnson, Goddard’s deputy director for Technology and Research Investments.
Here’s an excerpt from the article in which I discuss the importance of encouraging girls to consider a career in STEM, my reasoning behind starting Rocket Women and the path to achieving my goals in the space industry:
The sky is no limit for space consultant Vinita Marwaha Madill, who is keen for young women interested in STEM to have role models.
‘In space, no-one can hear your bones weaken, but some exercise and a specially-designed spacesuit can help – and this is where space engineering consultant Vinita Marwaha Madill comes in.
“Astronauts carrying out six-month missions on the International Space Station [ISS], including Tim Peake, can grow up to 5cm to 7cm in height, with the spinal growth causing tension in the vertebrae and back pain,” explains Marwaha, adding that, in microgravity, humans can lose 1-2pc of their bone mass per month and their muscles can waste.
Exercise can help protect against these changes, but what else can be done? Marwaha has been involved in designing a ‘gravity-loading countermeasure skinsuit’ with the European Space Agency to mimic the effects of gravity on the body and help prevent elongation of the spine.
The suit, which draws on several years of research and development, was evaluated last year onboard the ISS by Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen.
“With a force close to that felt on Earth, the suit effectively squeezes an astronaut’s body gradually in hundreds of stages from the shoulders to the feet,” explains Marwaha. “The suit could also be used alongside current exercise countermeasures on the ISS to help prevent bone loss. Bone responds to loading and the suit’s pressure on the skeleton could help to stimulate bone growth.”Marwaha Madill has also helped astronauts to get to grips with spacewalk (EVA) skills at the European Space Agency’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany.
“The astronauts train to carry out EVA,s or spacewalks, underwater,” she explains, because training underwater provides a microgravity-type experience. “Astronauts initially learned how to translate, or move along, the Station using its handrails, move in the spacesuit and operate tools, before eventually moving on to training for full-length spacewalks.”
Currently based in the UK and Canada, Marwaha has worked too on ISS operations at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), guiding and training astronauts through experiments on the Station as it orbits Earth.
Marwaha credits role models such as astronauts Helen Sharman and Sally Ride for inspiring her to work in the space sector.
Aged 12, Marwaha went to the library and printed the astronaut candidate guidelines (you can see a contemporary version here) from NASA’s website, then stuck them to the inside cover of her school folder. She recalls them as being a daily reminder of how to reach her goal and set her focus on achieving them. “Those guidelines set the direction for my career,” she says.
Today, as well as working as a consultant focusing on space engineering, Marwaha is heavily involved in STEM Outreach through talks and through her website Rocket Women, for which she interviews women in STEM and space around the world.
“Only 6pc of the UK engineering workforce are female, meaning that UK companies are missing out on almost 50pc of their engineering talent. This is coupled with the fact that girls make up under 20pc of students taking physics A-level,” she says.
“My passion, and the goal of my website Rocket Women, is to try and reverse this trend by inspiring girls globally to consider a career in STEM. I think you need those role models out there, tangible and visible, to be able to inspire the next generation of young girls to become astronauts, or be whatever they want to be. I started Rocket Women to give these women a voice and a platform to spread their advice.”
Read the full Silicon Republic article here.
Only 3% of engineering degree applicants in the UK are girls and 6% of the UK engineering workforce are female. That’s right, it’s in the single digits!
Having carried out physics and engineering degrees in the UK, this statistic pains me. Relatedly, physics is the 3rd most popular A-level for boys but only the 19th for girls. Half of all state schools in the UK don’t have any girls studying physics A-levels at all. With a similar trend seen globally obviously something needs to change.
The United Nations (UN) has declared 11th February the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrating their scientific achievements and taking place for the first time this year. So it’s apt today to look at how we can encourage girls to study science, including physics, ensuring that they have access to STEM jobs in the future.
The Impact of Technology
When speaking to young girls, one thing that has always helped me to portray the wonder of science, is rather than always thinking about the technology itself, think about the impact that technology will make on people. Humanize the technology itself. Take satellite technology for example: initiatives are now being undertaken to provide affordable internet access worldwide through a constellation of microsatellites, a project with the potential to have an unprecedented impact on those around the world without access to basic communication. Rural communities will have high-speed internet access where once there was none, providing education and knowledge to those currently without. The impact of the project is from where, I believe, you can inspire an increasing number of girls to study science.
Rather than thinking about the technology itself, think about the impact that technology will make on people. Humanize the technology itself.
Find Role Models
Allowing girls access to women in STEM is key. As the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, said, “If you can’t see, you can’t be.” With movies and media portraying mainly male scientists, meeting one female scientist can change the life of a young girl as many don’t realize that a career in STEM is an option. Their future options can be influenced by a decision they make at a very young age. Positive female role models are essential to provide women with examples to look up to when they’re making the most critical decisions in their educations or career. Girls can be inspired by independent, fearless, female main characters in books or on TV as well as in real life. Knowing that there is somebody that looks like them and is a scientist can be pivotal in their educational journey.
Take a look at the Inspirational Women section of Rocket Women to read interviews with accomplished women in the space industry.
Encourage Girls When Young
To encourage more women into engineering you need to inspire them when they’re young. Girls at the age of 11 decide to leave STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), when they’re in an education system where the choice of subjects at school severely limits their options for working in other fields later. Girls need to be allowed to be creative and inquisitive from a young age, rather than being told to play with toys that are seen by many as more appropriate for young girls is key. At 8, I was learning to programme the VCR and encouraged to read voraciously about science. The key is to initially spark an interest in STEM and then to allow that to grow over years, overcoming gender bias, especially in the early years and secondary school. There are an increasing number of companies helping parents to encourage girls when younger and avoid toys that are infused with gender stereotypes, including Goldieblox which allows girls to build and become engineers and Lottie Dolls who recently launched a Stargazing Lottie doll, designed by a six-year-old girl called Abigail, to the International Space Station (ISS).
Girls need to know that it’s fine to be nerdy
Changing The Stereotype
The typical stereotype of a physicist or engineer is usually male and nerdy, which needs to change. Many men and women that work in STEM don’t consider themselves a stereotypical ‘nerd’. Girls also need to know that it’s fine to be nerdy, or simply smart, in fact as an increasing number of jobs incorporate at least a moderate level of technical skills, it’s going to be necessary for girls to learn to code and feel comfortable in a technical environment in order to succeed and thrive in any chosen career. According to US CTO Megan Smith, tech jobs pay 50% more than the average American salary.
96% of the world’s software engineers are men. The average salary for a software engineer in the US was close to $100,000, one of the top paying jobs in the country, with a similar trend worldwide.
On this inaugral International Day of Women and Girls in Science, lets share this advice with young girls around the world to help them reach their potential in the future.
A stunning new animated video highlights Sally Ride‘s interview with icon Gloria Steinem in 1983, mere months after Sally became the first American Woman in Space. Her flight invigorated the imagination of thousands of young girls, showing them that it was possible to be an astronaut, or in Sally Ride’s own words and one of my favourite quotes, “If you can’t see, you can’t be.”
But although NASA were looking to the future, some were still lagging behind. Prior to her flight, rather than focusing on her technical acumen and performance, the press asked Sally whether she cried when there were malfunctions in the shuttle simulator, about the bathroom facilities or what kind of make up she was bringing up with her.
“I wish that there had been another woman on my flight, I wish that two of us had gone up together. I think it would’ve been a lot easier” – Sally Ride, First American Woman In Space
A recording of the interview was found by PBS Digital Studios in the archives of Smith College, who transformed the interview into an animated video (above) for its “Blank on Blank” series, posted this week.
“I wish that there had been another woman on my flight,” Ride says in the video “I think it would have been a lot easier.” She also overcame early education barriers, “I took all the science classes that I could in junior high school and into high school.”
“I went to a girls’ school that really didn’t have a strong science programme at all when I was there. At the time it was a classic school for girls, with a good tennis team and a good English teacher. Essentially no math[s] past eleventh grade, no physics and no chemistry.”
NASA has come a long way since Sally Ride’s flight in 1983, with four female astronauts chosen out of the eight candidates in the recent NASA Astronaut Class. Their selection in 2013 means that women now represent 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps, thirty years after the flight of America’s first woman in space.
Although a greater number of women now than ever have the opportunity to become an astronaut and fly, implicit (and explicit) gender bias still remains, notably seen in the questions asked of the crew pre-flight. Six accomplished Russian women underwent an 8-day analogue mission to the Moon last year. Prior to their mission they were asked by the press how they would cope without men, shampoo or makeup for the next week.
This is similar to the line of questioning faced by cosmonaut Yelena Serova, Russia’s 4th female cosmonaut and the female cosmonaut on the International Space Station (ISS). Yelena, an engineer with significant experience, was asked prior to her mission in 2014 how she would style her hair in the microgravity conditions on the ISS and how she would continue to bond with her daughter during her 6-month mission. Remarks about Yelena’s mission by the the editor of Russian magazine Space News including, “We are doing this flight for Russia’s image. She will manage it, but the next woman won’t fly out soon,” do little to inspire hope in the numbers of Russian women in space increasing in the near future.
However, by being honest about these viewpoints, both historical and recent, and exposing the gender bias that still remains globally, there is hope for change.
Watch the interview above or read it here:
Sally Ride (SR): I wish that there had been another woman on my flight, I wish that two of us had gone up together.
Gloria Steinem (GS): It’s tough to be the first but you’ve done it with incredible grace. You also have the only job in the world that everybody understands.
SR: [Laughs] My father I think was so grateful when I became an astronaut because he couldn’t understand astrophysicist. He couldn’t relate to that at all. But astronaut was something that he felt he could [relate to].
GS: And you could see people all over the world connecting with what you were doing.
SR: Roughly half of the people in the world would love to be astronauts, would give anything to trade places with you. The other half just can’t understand why in the world you would do anything that stupid.
GS: If you don’t have 20:20 vision can you become an astronaut candidate or is it disabling?
SR: I think it used to be. Now as long as it’s correctable to 20:20 it’s ok. So you’d probably qualify!
SR: I didn’t have any dreams of being an astronaut at all. And I don’t understand that, because as soon as the opportunity was open to me, I jumped at it. I instantly realised that it was what I really wanted to do. I took all the science classes that I could in junior high school and into high school. I went to a girls’ school that really didn’t have a strong science programme at all when I was there. At the time it was a classic school for girls, with a good tennis team and a good English teacher. Essentially no math[s] past eleventh grade, no physics and no chemistry.
GS: I’m curious about the reception that you got inside NASA. What kind of thing happened to you?
SR: Really, the only bad moments in our training happened with the press. The press was an added pressure on the flight for me and whereas NASA appeared to be very enlightened about flying astronaut, the press didn’t appear to be. The things that they were concerned with, were not the same things that I was concerned with.
GS: For instance the bathroom facilities. How often did you get asked that?
SR: Just about every interview I got asked that. Everybody wanted to know what kind of make up I was taking up. They didn’t care about how well prepared I was to operate the arm, or deploy communications satellites.
GS: Did NASA try to prepare you for the press or pressure?
SR: Unfortunately no they don’t. In my case they took a graduate student in physics, who spent her life in the basement of a physics department with oscilloscopes and suddenly put me in front of the press.
GS: What do you suppose are the dumbest kinds of questions that you’ve been asked to date?
SR: Without a doubt, I think the worst question I have got was whether I cried when we got malfunctions in the simulator.
GS: That surpassed the one about whether you were going to wear a bra or not. Did somebody really ask you that?
SR: No, the press I think decided that was a good question for someone to have asked me and for me to have answered. But I never got asked that.
GS: But they made you up a good response. Something about in a state of weightlessness it doesn’t matter.
SR: Yeah I was never asked that question.
GS: What about your feelings during the launch? Was there any time that the enormity of what was going on came over you?
SR: The moment of the launch, when the engines actually ignited and the solid rockets, that everyone on the crew was for a few seconds just overcome with what was about to happen to us. But a year of training is a long time, a year of sitting in simulators and being told exactly what’s going to happen, and you hear the sounds and feel the vibrations. It prepares you very well and it worked. We were able to overcome being overcome and do the things we were supposed to do.
GS: Just watching there at the launch, there were people with tears streaming down their faces. People I never would’ve expected and I guess they were all very moved by the human audacity of it.
SR: I think that when you see the long trail of flame and to imagine that there are really people inside that. That’s really something. Inside of course you don’t see the long trail of flame, and what you feel is more of an exhilaration.
GS: Well there are lots of people who are looking up there and feeling proud. Not just of you but of people on the ground.
SR: Thank you.
GS: What do you think it might be like in 2001 in fact? What’s possible for us?
SR: Well 2001 is a long ways in the future to speculate on. But probably the next step after the space shuttle is a space station. I would forsee a station as not just something that’s orbiting the Earth and used for experimentation but would also be used as a launching platform back to the Moon or to Mars. I’m sure that both of those are inevitable. We’ll go back to the Moon and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we go to Mars.
GS: Do you have any speculation about how long it might be before there are such a thing as ‘peopled’ space colonies?
SR: I’d guess that by the year 2000 there will be. I’d think that we’ll have a space station up by the end of this decade.
GS: On which it’ll be possible to live for long periods of time?
The four accomplished crew selected are Crew Commander Michelle Courtney, a Virgin Galactic aerospace engineer, Flight Engineer Julielynn Wong, a physician and researcher, Mission Specialist LaShelle Spencer, a NASA scientist focused on International Space Station (ISS) air and water purification along with food growth in space and Mission Specialist Leah Honey, a NASA ISS Flight Controller based at Johnson Space Center’s Mission Control. Typically previous HERA mission crew have been composed of two male and two female crew members, though as HERA IX crew member Leah Honey describes, “our mission is four women”. Similarly, three months ago Russia featured an all-female crew in an eight-day experiment to simulate conditions for a potential 2029 mission to the Moon.Seven stars were incorporated into the the HERA IX mission patch design to represent and commemorate the seven Challenger crew members. The badge was “inspired by the eye of a peacock feather, a symbol of Hera – the Greek goddess of women” with the globe symbolizing the Earth. “The moon, a near-Earth asteroid, and Mars highlight past, present, and future destinations for human space exploration missions,” as crew member Julielynn Wong describes in her Huffington Post article. Crew member Leah Honey discussed her excitement related to building a robotic rover during the mission, saying that it should be easier than “tearing apart [NASA’s] Robonaut”, referring to her experience as Robonaut Operations Engineer in which she operated Robonaut onboard the ISS. She discusses her training prior to the HERA IX mission at Rocketsfromcassiopeia.com.
Being in the VR gear and feeling like I’m actually flying around an asteroid is definitely my favorite part of all this so far.
During HERA IX crew members will conduct experiments involving sea monkeys, plants and a 3D printer, however a great deal of their time will be spent training for “EVAs” or “spacewalks” the crew will simulate once we reach the asteroid. As Leah Honey describes, “Two of the crew members will stay inside the habitat and pilot our MMSEV (Multi-Mission Space Exploration Vehicle) to bring us from the habitat to the asteroid. Meanwhile, the other crew-mate and myself will be released from the robotic arm of the vehicle and use jet packs to get us to the specific parts of the asteroid that are considered the highest priorities for sample return. Of course, we’re not actually on an asteroid but rather in the airlock wearing virtual reality gear; after spending just 30 minutes in the VR gear today learning how the controller manipulated each degree of freedom, I definitely can see how real this whole mission can feel when all is said and done!” “Being in the VR gear and feeling like I’m actually flying around an asteroid is definitely my favorite part of all this so far.” Training for the crew also involved essential team building activities, psych screenings, learning how to design and plan the construction of water wells for a Martian colony and being taught how to use the Robotic Work Station to control the SSRMS (or Canadarm2)!Although the all-female crew are exploring an asteroid and conducting spacewalks (EVAs) through virtual reality for now, I’m excited for the science to be gained from the first women-led HERA mission. The results from this 9th HERA mission, and all other NASA HERA simulated missions, will be essential to enable future crewed exploration of the Moon, Mars and even asteroids.
The Fast Company piece details:
Prominent women in STEM are ensuring their stories are part of the narrative about space careers—with the explicit goal of attracting more.
Vinita Marwaha Madill, a consultant in space engineering and STEM outreach and the founder of Rocket Women, a website focused on women and space, likewise wants to encourage more women to enter the field. Madill’s career has included stints as an Engineering Manager leading the Intelligent Transportation Systems Engineering Team in Canada, and as an International Space Station operations engineer at the German Aerospace Center, among other things.
On Rocket Women, she posts interviews with women around the world in STEM fields, especially space-related, as well as advice to encourage girls to become involved in STEM.
“Watching Helen Sharman’s Soyuz launch on BBC News at a young age, and knowing that there had been a British female astronaut, helped me push through any negativity around my chosen career path when I was younger,” Madill says. “I knew that I wanted to be an astronaut, or at least work in human space flight. And eventually I did. But I wouldn’t have had that impetus and drive if I hadn’t known that someone had come before me. There had been a female British astronaut, and maybe there could be again. It was possible. Through featuring advice and stories of women in STEM, I want Rocket Women to give other girls and women that same realization.”
Other women featured include Natalie Panek, Mission Systems Engineer at MDA (Canada) and Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago (USA).
[Disclaimer: The following represents Emma’s personal opinion, not that of her employer NASA]
Q) You work at NASA as an Operations Research Analyst, and previously worked at The Tauri Group as a Technology Analyst. What was the path to get to where you are now? How did you get your job at NASA?
The path started when I was in college & grad school. In college I studied Politics & Astronomy and in grad school I went to George Washington (GW) University and studied space policy. When you do a job like space policy, a lot of people are aiming towards NASA and I thought that after graduation I would go straight to NASA, especially since as I had done an internship at NASA Headquarters in my last year as a grad student. But it’s really hard to get a job in the US Civil Service. So what happened was right as I was graduating I was going to the International Space University and I wanted to make sure I had a job lined up for when I got home. Nothing was happening with the applications that I was putting in with the government and I got a job offer just out of the blue on the spot, a fantastic opportunity with Booz Allen Hamilton, the consulting firm. Booz Allen Hamilton, the government services company, worked a lot with the airforce, with DARPA and NASA. It was a really good first job for me.
I had wanted to go and work for NASA, but here I was consulting for them. I got to do some good projects for the applications division of the Earth Science part of the [NASA} Science Mission Directorate and also work for other government clients, but to be honest I had in my brain that I would always become a civil servant for NASA. It was just a long process to get there. So I worked at Booz Allen for about three years and then went to go and work for The Tauri Group, also aerospace consulting and contracting for NASA for another three years. During that entire time I was trying to get jobs at NASA, and it took that long to get the right match through the USA Jobs process and get hired.
So it was honestly a little bit of luck, but my work at The Tauri Group being an onsite support contractor helped tremendously. Because I got to spend two years doing basically the exact same job that I got to come into as a NASA Civil Servant.
One of the women who really had an impact on me when I was an intern at NASA in 2007/2008 was Lynn Cline. I only ever had one meeting with her, but I was absolutely struck that a French literature scholar became the Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Operations.
Q) How did you choose to take politics & astronomy? Did you originally wanted to choose both and then figure out exactly which way to go?
That was a complicated decision. I grew up a complete space nerd. My parents’ dining room at home is their library. The table is right in the middle of all these books and they’re all classic science fiction. So growing up I loved space, loved science and got the opportunity to take geology and astronomy during my senior year at high school, which I don’t think a lot of people get the chance to do. I loved astronomy and thought that I wanted to go into that at college and a career.
I noticed that one of the questions that you have on the [Rocket Women] website is about ‘What piece of advice would you give your 10 year old self?’. For me it would be don’t listen to the people who tell you that you can’t do math. I firmly believed that I could not do math, yet I really liked astronomy. I got to Calc 2 in college and it wasn’t going so well. Right about then I discovered this thing called the Space Policy Institute. I’d also been taking some politics and political history classes, loved those too. I figured that if my college would let me do a major in politics and a minor in astronomy, instead of a major of astronomy, that that would be a really good combo to set me up for space policy in grad school. And they let me do that and switch things around.
One of my astronomy professors in college sat me down and asked me what I thought a career in astronomy was. I think I had very romantic visions of Jodie Foster in Contact, and observatories and seeing the stars overhead at night. And my professor said, “No it’s by yourself with a computer, running simulations with a computer. It’s not this romantic vision that you have. So if you are not actually interested in this maybe you should think of something else.”
There are lots of different pathways to working for an organization like NASA. We need more STEM graduates, absolutely, and I want to encourage young women especially to pursue those fields, but we also need policy wonks, like me, accountants, lawyers, artists, English majors, you name it. One of the women who really had an impact on me when I was an intern at NASA in 2007/2008 was Lynn Cline. I only ever had one meeting with her, but I was absolutely struck that a French literature scholar became the Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Operations.
Q) Can you tell me about when your interest in space grow when you were younger?
I’ve thought about this a lot and tried to figure out where it came from. I’m sure there must have been something younger than this. When I was in high school, my friends and I did not want to eat lunch in the cafeteria. So we used to go to the Astronomy Room, which was open and plastered wall-to-wall with images of Jupiter and Mars. And a big globe of the Moon. I found that really inspiring. My astronomy teacher when I took the class in my senior year of high school was Mr.Gallagher and I think about him a lot. Not only was it an astronomy class, we had star watching nights after school and we had a huge inflatable planetarium that we, the high school students, would take around to the elementary schools and do star shows for the elementary kids. We also went to the Space & Flight Museum in Seattle and I think they must have a Challenger Centre there. The astronomy class did a mock up Mars mission and I think I got to be the Mission Commander. All of that really just became such a firm foundation for everything afterwards.
I’m very fortunate that nobody ever said to me you can’t do X,Y and Z because you’re a girl.
Q) How important are role models to young girls? Do you think more need to be done to allow the younger generation to interact with women working in STEM?
It’s very important to be able to visualize someone like you. I honestly can’t picture who it was that I idolized or looked up to as a role model when I was a very young girl. I’m pretty sure they were all fictional characters. One of my professors recently posted on Facebook asking for book recommendations for his young grandson who had just devoured the Harry Potter books and was looking for something next, I went back and looked at the Young Adult and SciFi books that I had read when I was in middle and high school and found to my astonishment that my mother had given me all these fantastic books that resonate with me to this day, I’ve just gone back and re-read some of them, that all happened to have independent, fearless, female main characters. I didn’t know what she was doing at the time but I do now! It’s really important to see characters like Rey in the Star Wars film. I also thought about Ridley from Alien. They’re awesome characters, not awesome female characters.
Q) When you’re having a stressful and bad day, what helps you get through it?
I’ve been trying a lot recently to remind myself where I am, which is in a job that I’ve always wanted to have, and that I’m very fortunate and I’m very proud of myself. Even when I’m having a rough day, everyone has a rough day, I’m lucky enough to have a fantastic team that I love seeing everyday. That’s very helpful. Starting to take yoga about 5 years ago was fantastic and learning to breathe deeply is probably the most important thing. Taking a breath, walking away and then all of a sudden everything feels better.
Having a husband that you can talk through everything with, even silly office drama also helps a lot. We’re very mindful of the partnership that we craft. I really like the word partner and how you think of each other. Theoretical physicist Mary K. Gaillard was recently asked, “What piece of advice do you have for young women?” She said, “Do What You Like. Find A Nice Partner.” And that was it. I read that sentence over and over again and yes that was it! I like to think of myself as Kris’ [Emma’s husband] career manager and he’s my career manager. Every step is discussed and analyzed over glasses of wine.
I got to a point when I was pretty unhappy in a previous job, when I was coming home every day crying and complaining. Kris listened and was supportive but also said, “I can’t help you in this situation. You need to say something to the people involved.” It took months, but I finally did. Now years later I think I’m much better at speaking truth to power and being honest with my bosses when something’s not right. Because you have to make your own happiness. It take a lot time to get there, especially if you’re not naturally contentious. If you don’t good things won’t happen if you don’t speak you’re mind.
Q) Was there anything unexpected about your career journey that you thought would be difficult or different to your initial expectations?
Not getting to be a government employee right off the bat after grad school was certainly one of them, and the other was meeting Kris [Emma’s husband]. I went to ISU [International Space University] saying, I’m not going to be one of those girls, I’m not going to be an ISU couple. Now 7 years later we’ve just celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary. It was unexpected for me, but more a major life upheaval for him having to move the United States. I’ve been in Washington DC now for 10 years and I’m so grateful that Kris was able to come down here, and that he’s had a rewarding career in the field that he wanted here. I think the next phase is going to be driven by his next decisions and that’s only fair. Because last time it was because of me here in Washington DC. It flips flops. People in our generation can have 2 or 3 entirely different careers in their lifetimes. They never know where things are going to go.
An interesting thing the other day when the Forbes 30 under 30 list came out. The website had some infographics where they asked ‘How do you define success?’ and 2% said ‘Wealth’. The majority said the equivalent of ‘Personal well-being’ and ‘Happiness’. I looked at that graphic and I thought that is the one thing I would show to people in my industry, at NASA, who come from a different generation and don’t understand this one. I think that would help them understand it to see that it’s a different way of looking at your life. Sometimes it takes you by surprise.
Another unexpected thing that happened to me was learning how much I like budgets. When I was in my first year in grad school, my professor heard that the Office of Management and Budget was going to have an internship for the summer. He said, ‘You’d be great for this, you should apply,’ and I think I might have rolled my eyes at him because I thought the Office of Management and Budget sounded like the most boring thing ever and do I really want to have my head stuck in an Excel page for all summer long? And I LOVED it and it’s what I love to do now still.
Senior mentors and role models are fantastic, but people should also really value more near-peer mentors. People that are just 5 or 10 years older than you can be so incredibly helpful.
Q) You work in Washington DC and we were talking about mentors earlier. Have mentors, both men and women, been influential in your career choices and path?
Absolutely. One of my favourite things to do now is go out to coffee with people and just talk about all of the options on the table. One of the surprising and best thing that I’ve discovered in the last two years as a civil servant is that you really have the opportunity to move around lot. I went on detail [at NASA’s Office of the Administrator] for 5 months, it seems like there’s always another option around the corner, something fantastic. I finally got over the nervousness of asking people for advice and help. People love talking about that. The thing I’ve discovered recently is that senior mentors and role models are fantastic, but people should also really value more near-peer mentors. People that are just 5 or 10 years older than you can be so incredibly helpful.
I got to see our senior leaders really struggling with some core questions, one of which is “What do we NASA want to do?” and “What do we the leadership want the NASA workforce to do?”
Q) Has NASA changed at all with the rise of the commercial space sector?
NASA really has changed. When I started in Washington DC the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services Program was still relatively new and hadn’t had a lot of successes yet, and there was a feeling within NASA, within the White House that this was a test. This was a brand new way of doing business, we’re not sure about these partners, let’s see how this goes. And now it is so ingrained as a way of doing business, that when we think about our next steps beyond the International Space Station we’re thinking about Public-Private-Partnerships and the Space Act Agreement Model, it’s not just a new and different acquisition mechanism, it’s a new way of thinking about how NASA can accomplish its mission.
We are at a bit of a critical juncture as an agency and over the past 5 months I had the opportunity to work at the Office of the Administrator. I got to see our senior leaders really struggling with some core questions, one of which is “What do we NASA want to do?” and “What do we the leadership want the NASA workforce to do?”. The idea that within ten years’ time, in twenty years’ time with looming huge massive numbers of retirements that the workforce would shift to become just an acquisition workforce is not the vision that we’re going towards, I don’t think. We just need to define our niches where our workforce will still be the technical leaders in the world, in these certain areas. So we will still be an R&D agency absolutely. Especially for the things that there is no business case for, yet. Planetary Exploration for example.
The latest NASA astronaut class to be chosen had the highest percentage of female astronauts selected at 50%. This taking place in 2013, the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of the First Woman In Space, Valentina Tereshkova (& the 30th Anniversary of the First American Woman in Space, Sally Ride). Four out of the new eight astronauts are female with a breadth of experience among them, with women now representing 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps. It’s really wonderful to see these women being recently featured in mainstream media, especially Glamour Magazine, a media outlet that’s followed by millions of women around the globe (1.17M followers on Twitter!).
Glamour does a fantastic job of interviewing the most recently selected female NASA Astronauts, experts in a variety of scientific fields. Namely, Christina Hammock Koch, former NOAA station chief in American Samoa, Nicole Aunapu Mann, US Marine and F18 fighter pilot, Dr.Jessica Meir PhD, former Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and Anne C. McClain, US Army and OH-58 Helicopter Pilot. (Dr.Jessica Meir PhD is also a graduate of my alma mater, International Space University (ISU) (MSS00), making me proud to be an ISU alumna myself!) The article also featured quotes from the inspirational Dr.Dava Newman, Deputy Administrator of NASA.A highlight from Glamour’s feature includes:
Governments around the world—in China, Europe, and Russia—have plans in the works to at least land robots on Mars, while in the U.S., private companies like SpaceX are partnering with NASA on a human mission and plotting their own commercial trips. And unlike the 1960s race to the moon, this time women are playing pivotal roles—building rockets, designing space suits, and controlling the remote rovers that are already sending momentous insights back from Mars.
This emphasises an important point, women are contributing to missions on an increasing basis, compared to the days of the Apollo programme. In fact the New Horizons mission team, which last year provided the world with the closest encounter of Pluto and it’s moon Charon, is 25% female, making it the NASA mission with the highest number of female staffers, including engineers and scientists.
The newest four female members of NASA’s astronaut corps also describe how they felt the moment they realised they were chosen in 2013 and how they were inspired to apply.
Anne McClain: There were more than 6,100 other applicants for our class of eight, and I’d made my peace with not getting in. I still remember getting the call that I’d been selected. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t talk. I started crying. I grew up in Spokane, Washington, and I can’t recall ever not wanting to be an astronaut. I learned a lot [serving 15 months] in Iraq, flying attack helicopters at the front of the front lines. I joined the Army out of a deep sense of duty, but wanting to be an astronaut feels more like my destiny. With so much conflict in the world, space exploration can be a beacon of hope. No one cares about race or religion or nationality in space travel. We’re all just part of Team Human.
Jessica Meir, Ph.D.: I had a fantastic view of the stars from the teeny town in Maine where I grew up. Maybe that’s why I wanted to be an astronaut from such a young age. I’ve always been drawn to remote places—and extreme challenges. While doing research on emperor penguins for my Ph.D. in marine biology, I lived and worked in Antarctica, where I also went scuba diving under several feet of ice.
Christina Hammock Koch: My bedroom wall in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was covered in posters of the space shuttle alongside ones of New Kids on the Block. I had always set my sights on working with NASA, but I didn’t want to get there by checking the usual boxes, like learning to fly and scuba dive. I wanted to get there because I was passionate about science and the next frontier. When the opportunity to spend a year at the South Pole came up, I took it. There I was in charge of more than 10,000 gallons of liquid helium to keep the telescopes supercool. Our motto was “When the South Pole isn’t cold enough, call us.”
Nicole Aunapu Mann: I’m probably one of the few astronauts who didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do as a kid. “Astronaut” seemed like a far-fetched dream. I’m from Penngrove, California, and it wasn’t until my first tour in Iraq flying fighter jets with the Marine Corps that I realized one day I might actually be a good candidate. Going into space will be the absolute coolest thing in the world.
Glamour’s feature also discusses the logistics of relationships in space whilst on a multi-year interplanetary mission and the intricacies of astronaut training. From the feeling of being weightless in a zero-g plane, practicing a spacewalk underwater and even to learning to be a dentist.
NASA recently opened a call for the next generation of NASA astronauts, closing mid-February. If you’re a US citizen and would like your chance to explore the Moon or even Mars, apply now! Women currently represent 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps, let’s work to bring that up to 50%.
With 2015 almost over, it’s time to look back at the inspiring women that took a leap and broke records this year worldwide.
1. Samantha Cristoforetti
World Record Breaker For Longest Serving Female Astronaut In Space & First Italian Woman In SpaceWhen European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti landed in her Soyuz descent module on a desert steppe in Kazakhstan on 11th June 2015, she did so breaking the world record for the longest serving female astronaut in space. Samantha spent 200 days on the International Space Station, beating the previous record of 195 days held by NASA astronaut Sunita Williams (Sunita herself is on track this year to become the first female NASA astronaut to fly to space on a commercial vehicle). On her launch day to the ISS, 200 days earlier, Samantha became the first Italian woman in space. Her mission, along with that of crewmates NASA astronaut Terry Virts and Russian commander Anton Shkaplerov, was extended from an original May end-date, due to an incident with the Russian Progress 59 resupply mission. Samantha wasn’t at all disappointed by the delay tweeting, “Looks like it’s not time to get my spacesuit ready yet… what a present! #MoreTimeInSpace.” Whilst on the ISS she spoke to Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon, thanking Susan for her interest in girls in STEM and commitment to help girls find their way to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math[s], “..maybe in the future we can event work together to help sparkle that passion and interest for STEM and to show that no dream is too big”.
2. Susie Wolff
Williams Formula One Test Driver. Announced Her Retirement in 2015 After Becoming The First Woman in 2014 To Participate In A Formula One Weekend Since 1992
She’s an inspiration for women worldwide dreaming of becoming a Formula One (F1) driver. Susie Wolff, Williams F1 Test Driver, announced her retirement from the sport at the end of 2015. At the 2014 British Grand Prix Susie became the first woman to participate in a Formula One weekend since 1992 as a Test Driver. That’s 22 years without a woman on the Formula One track, let alone as a F1 driver. The last woman driver to actually qualify for a Formula One Grand Prix race was Italian Lella Lombardi who competed in three seasons, from 1974 to 1976. only scoring points in 1975 and finishing sixth.
When Susie was asked if she was surprised there weren’t many women in Formula 1 she replied, “Well there are lots of women in Formula 1 actually, just not many on the race track. But there are many fantastic women doing very good work in the paddock, that is just not as visible as what happens on track and sadly there aren’t as many on track. But the next generation is coming and I will definitely dedicate some time and energy to helping that next generation.”
3. Dr.Fabiola Gianotti
Selected by CERN Council in 2015 as the first female CERN Director-GeneralBeginning tomorrow, 1st January 2016, Dr.Fabiola Gianotti will become the first woman to hold the position of CERN Director-General since the organisation’s conception in 1974. Prior to her new role Gianotti led a 3,000-person team working on CERN’s “ATLAS Experiment” at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), leading to the ground-breaking discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012. Fabiola also handled a proton beam malfunction in 2009 and as a colleague described, “showed the whole of CERN that she could really handle that kind of pressure. It doesn’t really get worse than that”. On being selected for the role, Dr.Gianotti stated, “I didn’t feel I was treated a different way because I was a woman. But I also have to tell that some of my colleagues had a more difficult life. Some others suffered a bit and had to face some hurdles and some difficulties. I am very much honored by the role, not so much because I am a woman, but because I am a scientist, and having the honor and the privilege of leading perhaps the most important laboratory in the world in our field is a big challenge. I will do my best.”
4. The NASA New Horizons Mission Team
The flight team that allowed the world to see Pluto up-close for the first time comprised of 25% women, making it the NASA mission with highest number of women staffers, including many scientists and engineers
On July 14 2015 at 7:49 am EDT we saw Pluto, a dwarf planet, up-close for the first time. Behind this historic achievement however is a team of brilliant, hard-working women in charge of the $700 million piano-sized NASA New Horizons spacecraft. New Horizon’s historic moment took travelling through the Solar System for over 9 years, before allowing the world to learn about this icy dwarf planet during it’s 30,800 miles per hour (49,600 kilometers per hour) flyby.
The story that most people have not heard of though is of the mission team, with the flight team comprised by 25% women, potentially making it the NASA mission with highest number of women staffers, including many scientists and engineers. These women have dedicated their careers and years of their lives to this mission, to gain unique data from the seven instruments aboard New Horizons and gain an unprecedented insight into Pluto and it’s largest moon, Charon, in particular, found to have a landscape covered with mountains, canyons and landslides.
5. Alice Bowman
Alice Bowman, New Horizons Mission Operations Manager (MOM) made history as the first female Mission Operations Manager (MOM)Relatedly, Alice Bowman, New Horizons Mission Operations Manager (MOM) and group supervisor of the Space Department’s Space Mission Operations Group, made history as the first female Mission Operations Manager (MOM) at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). The novel scientific discoveries gained by the instruments aboard NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft were only made possible with the dedication of the women behind the mission.
As a child I was an avid reader and read every space book I could get my hands on. At the age of 6, I remember reading that Helen Sharman was the UK’s first astronaut and had travelled to space a mere 2 years before, in 1991. That moment changed my life. Rather than astronauts being primarily American NASA Shuttle crew that I saw on TV, or hearing stories of the Moon landing 20 years ago from adults around me, suddenly in the image in front of me was a woman in her 20s with short brown hair. A British woman with the Union Jack patch clearly visible on her left arm of her Sokol spacesuit. I had heard of Michael Foale, born in the UK becoming a US citizen to meet NASA Astronaut qualifications, but never of a British astronaut. I didn’t know it was possible. But in that moment looking at the image of Helen Sharman in her Sokol spacesuit, I realised that that woman could be me. Being a girl born at the end of the 80s in the UK I realised right then that maybe, just maybe, I could be an astronaut too. That changed something inside me. Here was a woman in front of me born in Sheffield, who had studied chemistry, replied to a radio advert calling for UK astronauts, beat 13,000 applicants and had recently gone to space.
Even at the age of 6, I didn’t understand why nobody around me was talking about her mission. She had launched only a couple of years ago when I was 3 but I had never heard about it at school or on TV. I didn’t understand why this woman wasn’t treated like a star and talked about everywhere, possibly naively. I managed to find every scrap of information I could find about her. In an age before the internet I went to library after library (shuttled by my parents), reading about her story in small paragraphs as part of a larger book on space. What she was to me, even though I didn’t know it yet, was a role model. She had showed me that my dreams were possible. Even when I had wonderful supportive parents and teachers encouraging my interests, space went from an interest over the next few years to a career. Knowing that there had been a British astronaut, female at that, helped me push through any negativity around my chosen career path when I was younger. Even if the career councillor at school wanted me to become a dentist, I knew that I wanted to be an astronaut, or at least work in human spaceflight. And eventually I did, even working with the next British ESA astronaut Tim Peake at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany along with supporting astronauts on the ISS. But I wouldn’t have had that impetus and drive if I hadn’t known that someone had come before me. There had been a female British astronaut and maybe there could be again. Here was a British woman involved in human spaceflight and that had flown to space. It was possible.
The importance of role models at a young age is immeasurable. Which is why I’m so excited for Tim Peake’s flight and the fact that Helen Sharman is finally being talked about 24 years on from her mission. The outreach for Tim’s Principia mission by the UK Space Agency has been amazing and has the highest budget of any ESA astronaut mission. Tim and his Principia mission will hopefully go on to inspire the next generation to reach for the stars and follow their dreams in space, knowing that it is indeed possible.
Today the first British European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Tim Peake launched to the ISS with London’s Science Museum hosting 2000 jubilant children following his every move. Simply fantastic. In less than 5 years the UK has gone from not contributing to Human Spaceflight through ESA, to having a high profile British astronaut launch to the ISS supported by a sustainable National Space Strategy, a first for the UK. That’s something to be proud about. Tim’s carrying a whole nation’s dreams with him but most importantly inspiring thousands of children to consider a career in space and follow in his footsteps. I wonder how many children watched the launch today and decided that they wanted to be the next Tim Peake?