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Meet The NASA Rocket Women That Kept The Space Station Flying During Hurricane Harvey: Part 4

21 September, 2017
Natalie Gogins working in NASA Mission Control Center at the CRONUS Console

Natalie Gogins working in NASA Mission Control Center at the CRONUS Console

In a special four-part feature Rocket Women are highlighting the untold stories of the dedicated Orbit1 team. NASA’s Orbit1 team remained in Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center to tirelessly battle Hurricane Harvey, keeping the space station flying and the astronauts safe onboard.

These amazing individuals slept in Mission Control for days through the hurricane, maintaining communication and support from the ground to the space station and it’s occupants.

The fourth and last interview in the series, features Natalie Gogins, ‘CRONUS Operator Flight Controller’ at NASA’s Mission Control.

Natalie’s role in NASA’s Mission Control Center is to monitor and configure systems to ensure the astronauts onboard the International Space Station are safe, and the space station itself. She talked to Rocket Women about the challenges that she overcame to become an engineer, her experience of being in Mission Control during Hurricane Harvey and sharing her love of space to inspire others!

What was the path to get to where you are now? How were you inspired to consider a career in the space industry? 

From an early age, I always dreamed of travelling to the stars. I wanted to explore new places and work alongside fellow adventurers from other nations to improve life on Earth. In high school, I volunteered at aviation museums and took private pilot flight lessons. While researching potential college degrees, engineering drew me in. It required using creativity and knowledge to solve problems and make the world a better place. I chose a school, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I started an Engineering Physics (which is a combination of Aeronautical Engineering and Space Physics) degree before I realized I wanted a major with more hands-on courses.

From an early age, I always dreamed of travelling to the stars. I wanted to explore new places and work alongside fellow adventurers from other nations to improve life on Earth.

I switched to Mechanical Engineering with a Robotics focus and, of course, modeled an International Space Station (ISS) robot arm for a class project. During my time at Embry-Riddle, I had internships with NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and The Boeing Company in my home state of Washington. I also got to float in a microgravity simulating plane twice!

These internships and experiences helped me gain confidence in my ability to succeed in “the real world” and allowed me to make connections for my future position. Before starting my career, however, I wanted to get a Master’s degree, so I attended Purdue University as a graduate researcher. Although my thesis work was in the field of hydraulics, I never lost my passion for space, and gladly returned to Johnson Space Center as a more experienced engineer to become a flight controller.

Natalie At U.S. Space Camp

Natalie At U.S. Space Camp

What does your average day look like in your role?

My day-to-day tasks vary as a CRONUS (Communications, RF, Onboard Network Utilization Specialist) flight controller. On average, I spend 7 days a month supporting the real-time ISS mission (known as being “on console”) in Houston’s Flight Control Room 1 (FCR-1). I monitor, maintain, and configure our systems to make sure astronauts are safe, the vehicle is healthy, and the mission is accomplished. I also get to work with people in Alabama (USA), Canada, Europe, Japan, and Russia.

I monitor, maintain, and configure our systems to make sure astronauts are safe, the vehicle [International Space Station] is healthy, and the mission is accomplished.

My group works with the computers and audio, video, telemetry, and commanding equipment. One of the best parts about being CRONUS is getting to control our external cameras to capture all kinds of exciting things such as an astronaut on EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity), hurricanes, experiments, or spacecraft.

Natalie's Fantastic College Graduation Cap

Natalie’s Fantastic College Graduation Cap

When I’m not on console, I’m back in the office. Right now I’m training to become an Instructor so I can teach CRONUS flight controllers and astronauts and run simulations. Simulations are critical for training as they give uncertified controllers the chance to practice responding to failures and dealing with problems they’ve never seen before. Things in real life never happen or fail in ways you expect, so you have to know how to think on your feet and make the best decision possible.

I’m also privileged to serve as our division’s Morale, Awards, Recognition, and Social (MARS) Team lead. This gives me specific opportunities to use my creativity and organizational skills. It can be easy to get discouraged in an environment where we always evaluate how something can be better next time, but learning and interacting as a team reminds us why we love working at NASA and why we can’t give up on being our best.

Natalie Flying in Microgravity

Natalie Flying in Microgravity

Describe your experience of being on-console during Hurricane Harvey?

I was on a 7-day overnight shift throughout Hurricane Harvey’s visit to Texas. This set of shifts is already extremely challenging, but the hurricane made it seem like an unbelievably long week. Based on the weather reports, I wanted to pack everything I might need if I was stuck at NASA for the full 7 days, just in case the roads flooded. I had a suitcase full of clothes for mission control shifts, lounging/sleeping, and even exercising. I brought lots of food and water and towels and blankets and drove to work early Friday morning.

I had a suitcase full of clothes for mission control shifts, lounging/sleeping, and even exercising.

It didn’t seem like much of a storm until Sunday night. During our normal LOS (loss of signal) with the satellites, when flight controllers get up to use the restroom and grab food, we instead went down to the first floor to check on the parking lot. That night, the water rose to 6” or about 15 cm below my car. Thankfully I had a raincoat and shorts to change in to before I ran out in the pouring rain with water above my knee. I was able to drive it up on a sidewalk and kept it there for the rest of the week.

Thankfully I had a raincoat and shorts to change in to before I ran out in the pouring rain with water above my knee. I was able to drive my car up on a sidewalk and kept it there for the rest of the week.

NASA's Mission Control During Hurricane Harvey With The Harvey Patch in Flight Control Room 1 (FCR-1)

NASA’s Mission Control During Hurricane Harvey With The Harvey Patch in Flight Control Room 1 (FCR-1)

What was the hardest part of maintaining ISS operations from MCC-H during Hurricane Harvey?

As the hours and shifts went on, there were so many friends and co-workers with stories of water creeping in to their homes and vehicles. Harvey was forecasted to keep dumping rain on us for days to come. But, we all stayed focused on our job, knowing that the people floating on the ISS were counting on us. As a CRONUS, I tracked Harvey when the ISS passed above it using the external video cameras, and it was surreal that the storm I was zooming in on was in fact, above me, attempting to destroy my home.

We all stayed focused on our job, knowing that the people floating on the ISS were counting on us. As a CRONUS, I tracked Harvey when the ISS passed above it using the external video cameras, and it was surreal that the storm I was zooming in on was in fact, above me, attempting to destroy my home.

We had cots set up in other flight control rooms and even some conference rooms. It almost felt like camping or being back in a college dorm. When the roads were drained enough later in the week, people brought us homemade bread and meals. One of my co-workers edited the Flight Operations patch in honor of our trying week. Instead of ad astra per aspera, “to the stars through difficulty”, it says ad astra per aqua or aquam, “to the stars through water”.

The hardest part of keeping ISS going was staying tough and competent during the unknown. But we made the best of it and knew the memories we’d have from this incredible, exhausting week would stay with us forever. And, when we were relaxing after shifts, it was wonderful to see all the people that donated their time and risked their lives to try and rescue others during the storm and then helped clean out flooded homes. Houston was just the place I lived, but now, it truly feels like home.

The hardest part of keeping ISS going was staying tough and competent during the unknown. But we made the best of it and knew the memories we’d have from this incredible, exhausting week would stay with us forever.

Natalie Meeting Actors from The Martian Movie at NASA Johnson Space Center

Natalie Meeting Actors from The Martian Movie at NASA Johnson Space Center

Has this experienced changed you from a professional or personal perspective?

From a personal perspective, Harvey gave me a tiny taste of what life as a first responder or as a soldier might be like (minus feeling like your own life is at risk). You’re away from family and worried about their well-being, yet the only thing you can do is focus on the task in front of you. It’s not like a movie scene with inspirational music and a montage that gets you through the difficult times in 2 min or less. Instead, you do as you were trained and focus on helping those around you.

At times I was really tempted to ask to go home and have someone take my place for the rest of the week, but then I realized it would mean someone else had to leave their family and get used to living on site.

At times I was really tempted to ask to go home and have someone take my place for the rest of the week, but then I realized it would mean someone else had to leave their family and get used to living on site. I knew my husband and third floor apartment were safe and my eye mask and earplugs were helping me get enough sleep, so I continued on.

I will forever be thankful for the sacrifice of those around the world who take care of strangers even on the darkest of days, and I hope my minor sacrifice of working all my overnight shifts so someone else didn’t have to helped in some small way. My thoughts and prayers were with those out in the storm, scared and waiting for help.

Natalie With Her Husband Loren At Their College

Natalie With Her Husband Loren At Their College

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

The most rewarding moments in my young career are the times when I overcame a challenge or when I get to share my love for space with others.

Getting an engineering degree was not easy for me; it was the first time in my life that I had to persevere over several years. School had always felt easy to me until I started college. I used to start assignments early so I had enough time to ask the professor questions, go to tutoring, or push through it myself. When I graduated from college, I saw that fighting for something brings the greatest reward. That’s part of why I chose to become a flight controller, even though I knew it would be my most difficult challenge yet.

When I graduated from college, I saw that fighting for something brings the greatest reward. That’s part of why I chose to become a flight controller, even though I knew it would be my most difficult challenge yet.

The other thing I love about my career is that I get to inspire other people. From talking to a 3rd grade class about space travel to volunteering at a career fair, I love to see the look on young faces when they find out I work at NASA. There are so many who want to know about life in space and what’s happening next. I hope that some of them get that same spark of passion for exploration that leads them to STEM fields and maybe even to space.

Natalie Talking To Elementary School Students Through Videochat

Natalie Talking To Elementary School Students Through Videochat

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be?

I’m thankful for where my path in life has taken me, but if I could give my 10-year-old self some advice, I’d say don’t take a mistake as a disaster. I used to feel like getting questions wrong on an exam or missing a shot in basketball made me a failure, but no one is perfect.

If I could give my 10-year-old self some advice, I’d say don’t take a mistake as a disaster. I used to feel like getting questions wrong on an exam or missing a shot in basketball made me a failure, but no one is perfect.

Being happy with who you are, or having the bravery to change something for the better, is what matters. It’s worth it to push yourself and fight for what you love, just know that the path toward an extraordinary life is not an easy one. You cannot recognize success without knowing failure.

Natalie’s flight control group also controls the International Space Station’s (ISS) external cameras, and recently supporting this Soyuz docking to the ISS, carrying three astronauts:

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet The NASA Rocket Women That Kept The Space Station Flying During Hurricane Harvey: Part 3

12 September, 2017
Fiona Turett working in NASA's Mission Control Center during Hurricane Harvey

Fiona Turett working in NASA’s Mission Control Center during Hurricane Harvey

Rocket Women are highlighting the untold stories of the dedicated Orbit1 team that remained in Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center to tirelessly battle Hurricane Harvey, keeping the space station flying and the astronauts onboard safe.

The third of this special 4-part series (Part 2 here) features Orbit1’s Fiona Turett, ADCO – Attitude Determination and Control Officer in NASA’s Mission Control. Her job is to manage the Motion Control Systems of the International Space Station (ISS) – ‘the systems the ISS uses to know where it is in space, what direction it’s facing, and then keeps it where we want it to be’.

Fiona and her colleagues slept in the former NASA Space Shuttle mission control room for days through the hurricane, supporting communication from the ground to the space station and it’s occupants, keeping them safe.

What was the path to get to where you are now? How were you inspired to consider a career in the space industry?

Both my parents were math professors, and so I grew up with a love for math and for learning in general. We had a small telescope and a few books about stars, but I didn’t know more about stars than the average little kid growing up. The first time I remember specifically being interested in space was in 7th grade. We had to do a project about a topic of our choosing in one of my classes, and I chose the solar system. I found the whole thing fascinating, and ended up going way above the requirements because I was just enjoying it so much – I wrote a short report on each planet and the Sun, and made clay models of each planet to place in a hallway at school to show relative distances and sizes. At that time, I would have said I wanted to be an astrophysicist, though I don’t know I really knew what that means.

My best friend and I spent our spring break at Space Academy in Huntsville, AL. As part of this, we participated in simulated missions. I was an astronaut in one of them, but the one I loved the most was when I was the Flight Director in Mission Control.

The next year, my best friend and I spent our spring break at Space Academy in Huntsville, AL. As part of this, we participated in simulated missions. I was an astronaut in one of them, but the one I loved the most was when I was the Flight Director in Mission Control. As a freshman in high school, I had the chance to join a high school robotics team. We participated both in FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) and in a local competition where I lived in Michigan called OCCRA (Oakland County Competitive Robotics Association). OCCRA also had a girls-only tournament as one of its competitions, and that was an amazing opportunity to get to be involved in all parts of designing, building, and controlling this approximately 70kg robot playing a strategy game.

I was hooked. I continued to be very involved in robotics throughout my high school career. This convinced me that I wanted to do engineering, not science, but I did still want to connect it back to space. My senior year, I heard about an internship program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD called NASA Robotics Academy. I worked with a team of other interns on improving a therapy robot designed to work with kids with autism at a small company with connections to NASA.

NASA's Hurricane Harvey Operations Team Mission Patch - designed by Fiona

NASA’s Hurricane Harvey Operations Team Mission Patch – designed by Fiona Turett

I then started working on my degree in mechanical engineering with a minor in aerospace at Washington University in St. Louis. There, I had the amazing opportunity to participate in a nanosatellite project through the Air Force, as well as to fly two experiments on NASA’s Weightless Wonder (also known as the Vomit Comet) airplane. It was an amazing few years of school, with NASA internships each summer. I graduated in 2009 and was offered a job in the Safety and Mission Assurance area of JSC, working with space shuttle propulsion. Two years later, when the shuttle program ended, I was lucky enough to take a year off of work and volunteer in Nicaragua to fulfill some other passions of mine. I came back from there in 2012, and have been working in my current group in MCC ever since!

One thing I love about my job is that there isn’t a typical day! I work with the Motion Control Systems of the International Space Station – the systems the ISS uses to know where it is in space.

What does your average day look like in your role?

One thing I love about my job is that there isn’t a typical day!  I work with the Motion Control Systems of the International Space Station – the systems the ISS uses to know where it is in space, what direction it’s facing, and then keeps it where we want it to be. Some days (or nights!) I may be working on console in MCC at the ADCO – Attitude Determination and Control Officer – console, other days I may be teaching astronauts or people who are in training to be flight controllers, and other days I might be running a simulator on the ground. It’s very dynamic. One of my favorite tasks is mentoring our new employees as they work towards their first ADCO certification. Being successful in this role requires both a lot of technical knowledge and a lot of soft skills like teamwork and communication. I love the challenge of helping each individual trainee to achieve their potential, and the joy of celebrating with them when they do.

I actually wasn’t scheduled to be on console for Hurricane Harvey. I was planning for a quiet, wet weekend stuck at my house.

The WFCR (Training Mission Control Room) - now the Flight Control Team's Sleeping quarters

The WFCR (Training Mission Control Room) – now the Flight Control Team’s Sleeping quarters

Describe your experience of being on-console during Hurricane Harvey?

I actually wasn’t scheduled to be on console for Hurricane Harvey. I was planning for a quiet, wet weekend stuck at my house. However, the person scheduled to work Orbit 1 (the night shift) lives about 30 minutes away. He was super proactive and tried to come in over 2 hours before his shift, but the roads were already flooded where he was. I live just a few minutes from NASA, and got a call from my manager at about 9:15pm on Saturday night asking if I could cover the shifts. I had already thrown some clothes in a bag just in case, so I added some food, grabbed my pillow and suitcase, and rushed over to work. The shift didn’t start until 11:30pm, but I could tell the weather was just about to get bad. I am so thankful my coworker was so proactive and tried to come in so early, because I was able to safely get in before the weather got too bad.

With that being the worst night of the storm, no one in Houston slept. Adrenaline definitely kept me awake as we saw more and more reports of flooding around us.

That first night, I was worried about how awake I’d be since I hadn’t been able to sleep shift to prepare for nights. However, with that being the worst night of the storm, no one in Houston slept. Adrenaline definitely kept me awake as we saw more and more reports of flooding around us. FCR-1 (the flight control room we fly ISS from) is in the middle of a big building, and it was a bit surreal because we couldn’t even hear the storm – I never saw it with my own eyes.

That shift, the hardest part was not being too distracted by the surrounding events and being able to focus on ISS operations.

That shift, the hardest part was not being too distracted by the surrounding events and being able to focus on ISS operations. After that, I set up a cot in the front of the WFCR (where we flew Shuttle from – now we use it for training) and tried to sleep. That’s basically how the 4 days went – work the shift, try to get as much rest as possible, and try to check on friends and family without losing focus on work. I was lucky to have two other people from my discipline also in the building, so we were able to trade off either at normal shift handover times or whenever needed to make sure folks were as rested as possible.

That’s basically how the 4 days went – work the shift, try to get as much rest as possible, and try to check on friends and family without losing focus on work.

The whole experience was a bit surreal. But, as I told my mom on the phone one day during it, I was probably in the safest place I could possibly be, and I was dry. I tell people who try to thank me for what I did that the people who they should thank are the first responders and folks who were out rescuing people. They put their life on the line. I simply did my job in order to make sure ISS was safe, and allow the rest of Houston to focus on the hard work.

Cards with well-wishes from a 4th grade class in Naperville, IL to the Mission Control Team and Astronauts

Cards with well-wishes from a 4th grade class in Naperville, IL to the Mission Control Team and Astronauts

What was the hardest part of maintaining ISS operations from MCC-H during Hurricane Harvey? 

The hardest part for me was definitely maintaining focus. It’s very important to be focused on the task at hand when on console, because we have to be ready to react in an instant if there is a malfunction in order to keep the crew and vehicle safe. Usually, it’s not hard for me to be focused on console, but it was really hard during Harvey. I constantly had other worries – wondering what the latest alert on my phone would say, wondering the status of my house, wondering if all my friends were safe and dry. It was hard to put that all aside. I was able to do it while on console because that’s my job, but I will say that I didn’t sleep well during the days because my mind was just racing and I kept wanting to check in on people. My roommate did an amazing job keeping me updated on the status of the house and checking for any issues, which was a huge relief. It would have been much more stressful if she hadn’t been home and able to give me updates.

Has this experienced changed you from a professional or personal perspective?

Probably both. One thing I have always loved about my job is the shared mission and the teamwork, as well as the high standards each person is held to. This experience just made me appreciate that even more. We have a document called the Foundations of Flight Control, which is the basis for how a flight control must act – tough, competent, responsible, etc. I saw my colleagues demonstrate every single one of those virtues during Harvey. Nobody complained, nobody shirked their responsibility. It was an amazing display of teamwork, and just strengthened my admiration for the whole MCC team and my gratitude for having the opportunity to do this job.

Personally, the experience of being at MCC just helped me realize how important each small piece of the puzzle is. In the grand scheme of Houston and what Harvey did, the work I did was miniscule, but it was important and my duty was to do it. I appreciate the importance of doing the task assigned to me well even if it feels insignificant even more than I did before. I also had a really cool experience corresponding with a 4th grade class in Naperville, IL during my time in MCC.

A friend of mine who also works at NASA was visiting her fiancé, and his sister teaches this class. When they were talking about the storm at school, she told her students that people were staying in Mission Control around the clock to keep ISS safe during the storm. The kids wanted to make some cards, which my friend sent to me. I was able to forward them to everyone else staying in MCC as well as the astronauts on ISS, and I think the well-wishes brightened all of our days. I wrote a letter back to them the next day to thank them. I hope that we were able to inspire some of the students, and I am constantly grateful to be in a position to interact with kids and help them dream big.

Messages of good luck from a 4th grade class in Naperville, IL to NASA's Mission Control Team in Houston and Astronauts on-board the ISS

Messages of good luck from a 4th grade class in Naperville, IL to NASA’s Mission Control Team in Houston and Astronauts on-board the ISS

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

This is a hard question because I seriously love my job and find a lot of it rewarding. One of the most rewarding, though, was changing the way we did Soyuz undockings in order to be more efficient with propellant usage, and then seeing that be executed successfully and bring astronauts home safely. It’s cool to see the little marks we can leave on the space program, and I hope I’ve been able to make the ISS a little better in the past five years. Of course, working Soyuz undocking and landing shifts is very rewarding because they end with three people safely back on planet Earth.

Working Soyuz undocking and landing shifts is very rewarding because they end with three people safely back on planet Earth.

The former NASA Space Shuttle Flight Control Room where the Mission Control Team slept in cots, to keep the International Space Station flying during Hurricane Harvey

The former NASA Space Shuttle Flight Control Room where the Mission Control Team slept in cots, to keep the International Space Station flying during Hurricane Harvey

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be?

Oh gosh – I think 10 year old me probably could have used a lot of advice! :) If I had to pick one piece, I’d say don’t lose sight of the people involved in whatever you do. I have found that every rewarding part of my career has involved other people either working with me on a team, working on something to help other people, or helping other people in their own career or life. I love engineering and I’ve always been super curious about the world around me, but keeping the focus on the people is what makes it rewarding and makes you easier to work with and more likely to network with the right people.

I designed a patch (the motto, “to the stars through water” is courtesy of our Flight Director Anthony Vareha) for our Hurricane Harvey Ops Team. NASA’s big into mission patches, and this experience sure felt like a mission. I couldn’t have asked for better teammates for our mission this past week.

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet The NASA Rocket Women That Kept The Space Station Flying During Hurricane Harvey: Part 2

8 September, 2017

Jessica Tramaglini on-console in NASA's Mission Control Center [Copyright: NASA, Photographer: Bill Stafford]

Jessica Tramaglini on-console in NASA’s Mission Control Center [Copyright: NASA, Photographer: Bill Stafford]

In a special four-part feature, Rocket Women are highlighting the untold stories of the dedicated Orbit1 team that remained in Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center to tirelessly battle Hurricane Harvey, keeping the space station flying and the astronauts onboard safe.

These resilient individuals slept in Mission Control for days through the hurricane, maintaining communication and support from the ground to the space station and it’s occupants.

The second interview in this series features Jessica Tramaglini. Jessica’s role is to manage the International Space Station’s Power and External Thermal Control or ‘SPARTAN’ in NASA’s Mission Control Center.

What was the path to get to where you are now? How were you inspired to consider a career in the space industry?

We have such a diverse group of people who work in Mission Control in Houston who come from a variety of backgrounds. I personally attended college to study aerospace engineering, receiving a B.S. in Aerospace Engineering from Penn State University and then started working here. I grew up inspired by space, and knew I wanted to work in Mission Control after attending Space Camp at 12 years-old.

I grew up inspired by space, and knew I wanted to work in Mission Control after attending Space Camp at 12 years-old.

What does your average day look like in your role?

One of the best parts about my role is that there is really no ‘average’ day. Each day brings new and exciting challenges, such as training new flight controllers, working with other groups to update procedures and flight rules, and of course, working console.

Our goal on-console [in Mission Control] was just to keep the crew safe and the vehicle [International Space Station] working

Jessica Tramaglini on-console in Mission control supporting Expedition 45, during prelaunch and launch of Expedition 45/Visiting Crew (Cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, European Space Agency Astronaut Andreas Mogensen & Cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov) launching on Soyuz TMA-18M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan  [Copyright: NASA, Photographer: James Blair]

Jessica Tramaglini on-console in Mission control supporting
Expedition 45, during prelaunch and launch of Expedition 45/Visiting Crew (Cosmonaut Sergey Volkov, European Space Agency Astronaut Andreas Mogensen & Cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov) launching on Soyuz TMA-18M from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
[Copyright: NASA, Photographer: James Blair]

Describe your experience of being on-console during Hurricane Harvey?

Our goal on console was just to keep the crew safe and the vehicle working, minimizing any complicated tasks that could be postponed. The amount of support we received from each other and from people outside checking in on us was amazing.

What was the hardest part of maintaining ISS operations from Mission Control in Houston during Hurricane Harvey?

Especially working the overnight shift where I had to try to sleep during the day, staying in touch with family to let them know I was safe, and keeping in touch with friends who were experiencing flooding was difficult. Once you sat down to console for your shift, you had to block all of that out and focus on the job.

Has this experienced changed you from a professional or personal perspective?

This experience has just reinforced what a special group of people I have the honor of working with. They are incredibly supportive, organized, and everyone steps up to help when they are able.

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

I really can’t pick one single moment, but watching flight controllers you have trained succeed, and working console for Soyuz undockings are extremely rewarding opportunities that I’ve been fortunate enough to experience.

If you want something, set your mind to it, and go for it.

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be?

If you want something, set your mind to it, and go for it. Goals can’t be achieved without taking a risk. You may stumble along the way, but learn from your experiences and keep your eye on the prize.

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet The Rocket Women In Mission Control That Kept The Space Station Flying During Hurricane Harvey

3 September, 2017

The Orbit1 Flight Control Team: Dorothy Ruiz, Natalie Gogins, Fiona Turett, Jessica Tramaglini [Source: Twitter https://twitter.com/DorothyRuiz/status/903259274004099072]

The Orbit1 Flight Control Team: Dorothy Ruiz, Natalie Gogins, Fiona Turett, Jessica Tramaglini [Source: Twitter https://twitter.com/DorothyRuiz/status/903259274004099072]

As the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey unfolded in Houston, a dedicated team in Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center battled the storm to tirelessly ensure that International Space Station operations continued and that the astronauts onboard the space station remained safe. These amazing individuals showed resilience by literally sleeping in Mission Control for days throughout the storm, ensuring that communications from the ground to the space station remained online. The Orbit1 team (one team of three) pictured consisted of Dorothy Ruiz, Natalie Gogins, Fiona Turett, Jessica Tramaglini and Flight Director Anthony Vareha.

Rocket Women was fortunate to talk to these amazing individuals about the challenges they faced to keep Mission Control online. The first interview in a series featuring the resilient Orbit1 team highlights Dorothy Ruiz, Ground Control, whose cruicial role it is to keep Mission Control connected to the International Space Station through satellite communications. Dorothy’s story is particularly inspiring. She chased her dream to work in space, coming from a family of migrant workers, overcoming obstacles that took her from a small town in the desert to Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center.

What was the path to get to where you are now? How were you inspired to consider a career in the space industry? 

I grew up with my Grandparents in central Mexico in a small town of Matehuala, located in the desert of state of San Luis Potosí.  At that time, the town had about 140,000 habitants. Almost every night, I would admire the stars in the sky from the roof of my Grandparent’s house.  We were a family of migrant workers, so we would travel to the U.S. every summer to work on the fields of North America.

Every night, I would admire the stars in the sky from the roof of my Grandparent’s house.  We were a family of migrant workers, so we would travel to the U.S. every summer to work on the fields of North America.

One day, someone came to speak to us about space at the school for kids of migrant workers, and even though I didn’t understand much of what was going on due to the language barrier, I did get to see some space objects. Even though this was a limited exposure to what NASA was all about, I became more curious and intrigued about space.

Working in the fields, there was not much hope for ever launching a career in space, or any career at all.  My Grandma only went to 3rd grade, and Grandpa was only able to finish elementary school.

Working in the fields, there was not much hope for ever launching a career in space, or any career at all.  My Grandma only went to 3rd grade, and Grandpa was only able to finish elementary school. So the outlook for me as far as reaching a higher education, was not that great. However, there was an event that changed my destiny in 1986: the Space Shuttle Challenger accident. I was standing in front of the TV watching the replayed images of the failed ascent and the explosion.  I had many questions in my mind, such as how does the space shuttle work, how does it take men to space, why did it explode?

Back in my hometown, I didn’t have many answers to my questions from the people who surrounded me; this became a personal quest to search for these answers. I was determined to one day, pursue a career in space exploration.  My interest in math and science deepened in school. I finished 9th grade in Mexico, and moved to Houston.  I started at McArthur High School, and graduated from Humble High School with honors. I was offered scholarships at the University of Oklahoma and started pursuing a degree in Aerospace Engineering, however, the school of Aerospace Engineering was canceled due to lack of interest and funding (there were only 20 men enrolled, and only 1 girl, me).

I landed my first job at NASA as an Astronaut Instructor for the Guidance Control and Propulsion Systems of the Space Shuttle. As I certified in my first lesson as an Instructor, I realized, I had already found the answers to all the questions I had as a little girl.  It was the closing chapter of a journey of curiosity and exploration.

We were given the choice to merge into Mechanical Engineering, or transfer to another school.  I transferred to Texas A&M University, and graduated with the class of 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Engineering. During my college years, I was an intern with the NASA Langley Aerospace Scholars, and then I started a co-op rotation with United Space Alliance at Johnson Space Center.  The funny thing is, I landed my first job at NASA JSC as an Astronaut Instructor for the Guidance Control and Propulsion Systems of the Space Shuttle.  I am not sure if it was coincidence, but as I certified in my first lesson as an Instructor, I realized, I had already found the answers to all the questions I had as a little girl.  It was the closing chapter of a journey of curiosity and exploration.

We keep the ground connected to the International Space Station via satellite communications.

Dorothy Ruiz in Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center during Hurricane Harvey. (Copyright: Dorothy Ruiz. Source: https://twitter.com/DorothyRuiz/status/903259274004099072)

Dorothy Ruiz in Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center during Hurricane Harvey. [Copyright: Dorothy Ruiz. Source: https://twitter.com/DorothyRuiz/status/903259274004099072]

What does your average day look like in your role?

I am currently Ground Control, better known as Houston GC. We are the house keepers of the Mission Control Center (MCC), and we monitor the integrity of the signal communications processed between MCC Houston to White Sands, and to the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS). Big picture, we keep the ground connected to the International Space Station via satellite communications.  We usually support console operations one week and one weekend per month, including shifts requiring extra support, such as space vehicle docking/undocking, space vehicle launches, and step-ups (we disconnect the ground from the International Space Station (ISS) for software upgrades).

Other routine tasks include: processing and routing all video and audio coming from the ISS, privatizing video and audio crew conferences, routing ISS telemetry to the rest of the flight controllers, routing data to our international partners, and supporting simulations. The rest of the time is spent in the office, working on projects, although to be honest, this is quite a luxury, GCs are hardly in the office, since we are so busy all the time.

Only essential personnel and Flight Controllers were riding out the storm in MCC supporting space operations, and most of us were camping out due to the heavy rains and the flooding. I decided to camp out since Sunday morning to start to sleep shift, so I brought pillows, covers, toiletries, extra clothes, and extra food.

Describe your experience of being on-console during Hurricane Harvey? 

I started to support Orbit1 console operations in Mission Control during Hurricane Harvey on Sunday night of August 27th. Only essential personnel and Flight Controllers were riding out the storm in MCC supporting space operations, and most of us were camping out due to the heavy rains and the flooding. I decided to camp out since Sunday morning to start to sleep shift, so I brought pillows, covers, toiletries, extra clothes, and extra food.

Prior to the hurricane, we were given access to the crew sleeping quarters in case we needed to sleep there, however, hardly anyone went there due to the heavy rain on JSC campus (the crew sleeping quarters are not nearby MCC). Instead, cots were placed all over MCC: Simulator rooms, other MCC control centers such as the Blue FCR and the White FCR, and ground control support areas for maintenance personnel and other controllers who support Houston GC.

I live close by, but it wasn’t safe to drive back home. I can say it was not the most comfortable thing to sleep in the cots, however, I was grateful to have a place to stay while others were not so fortunate.

Mine was in a GC backroom, where we schedule the satellite time in support of ISS operations, so I decided to make it my sleeping quarters for privacy. I live close by, but it wasn’t safe to drive back home. I can say it was not the most comfortable thing to sleep in the cots, however, I was grateful to have a place to stay while others were not so fortunate. I did get to go home once it stopped raining to freshen up, but I heard other Flight Controllers were using the showers in a building next to MCC. Some of my colleagues who support Ground operations didn’t get to go home at all because they live across town; it was too unsafe to navigate through flooded roads.

Other Flight Controllers were not relieved, because the Flight Controllers coming to support the shift, got stuck on the roads or their houses got flooded. So, you can imagine how tired everyone was.

Other Flight Controllers were not relieved, because the Flight Controllers coming to support the shift, got stuck on the roads or their houses got flooded. So, you can imagine how tired everyone was. Also, some etiquette rules were lifted for frozen foods in the refrigerators– all the frozen food there was fair game if someone didn’t have any food to eat. Is that considered looting? Ha, ha. Luckily, we had potable water all the time, backup electricity, internet, and the most important thing:  coffee!!!

During my down time, while I was not supporting console operations, I would check on my family by phone to make sure they were okay, provide statuses to friends and family members who were worried, catch up on work, do walkthroughs of MCC [Mission Control Center], check on our support personnel and, of course, watch the news over the internet.

It was hard to see how people were flooding out there, the rescue efforts, the stories; it was quite an emotional time to be there and not be able to go out to help others; there was this feeling of impotence.  However, we had a mission of our own to accomplish, and a darn big one: to keep MCC safe, and to keep supporting human spaceflight.

It was hard to see how people were flooding out there, the rescue efforts, the stories; it was quite an emotional time to be there and not be able to go out to help others; there was this feeling of impotence.  However, we had a mission of our own to accomplish, and a darn big one: to keep MCC safe, and to keep supporting human spaceflight. On the bright side of things, there was time for bonding between all of us, some stories to share, and an opportunity to know people through their personal stories. We also witnessed the generosity from others, who cooked meals in their houses, and brought the food to MCC so we could eat home-made meals and fruit. We saw messages of encouragement from Astronaut Peggy Whitson, and from kids in Chicago who sent us drawings thanking us for the time and sacrifice riding out the storm at MCC.

Dorothy Ruiz in her sleeping quarters during Hurricane Harvey, a Ground Control backroom, where satellite time is scheduled in support of ISS operations. [Copyright: Dorothy Ruiz. Source: https://twitter.com/DorothyRuiz/status/903259274004099072]

Dorothy Ruiz in her sleeping quarters during Hurricane Harvey, a Ground Control backroom, where satellite time is scheduled in support of ISS operations. [Copyright: Dorothy Ruiz. Source: https://twitter.com/DorothyRuiz/status/903259274004099072]

Did you volunteer to be on-console for the weekend or were contingency plans in place?

It just happened it was the week of the month for me to support graveyard shifts in MCC.  Oh lucky me!

The crew [onboard the ISS] was updated on a regular basis.  However, I don’t think they realized the Flight Control Team was riding out the storm –not until they somehow found out we were sleeping in cots.  That’s when we got a message from Peggy [NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson].  Certainly, the message was encouraging to read.

What was the hardest part of maintaining ISS operations from MCC-H during Hurricane Harvey? Were the onboard crew given regular updates as to the situation in Houston?

The crew was updated on a regular basis. However, I don’t think they realized the Flight Control Team was riding out the storm –not until they somehow found out we were sleeping in cots. That’s when we got a message from Peggy. Certainly, the message was encouraging to read. As Houston-GC, the hardest part about this was making sure the MCC building was in good conditions. At some point, we had to keep track of all the leaks going on in MCC. This was a concern, because some of the leaks could affect our equipment processing the signal coming into MCC, or going out to the ISS for that matter.

We lost some power in MCC at some point, so the hallways were dark. We also had to improvise and plan-ahead in preparation for the Soyuz undocking, since we lost some of our video routing capabilities due to flooding in the building that processes video.

We had to make a list, and revise the list every few hours to provide update to Flight and the whole team.  We lost some power in MCC at some point, so the hallways were dark. We also had to improvise and plan-ahead in preparation for the Soyuz undocking, since we lost some of our video routing capabilities due to flooding in the building that processes video.

I must say, I feel proud of the Ground Control Team, such as the Network Communications Officer, the Communications Technicians, the Support Center, the Security Officer, the Johnson TV crew, and the maintenance personnel who were making round checks all over the building, vacuuming out water, reporting to us on the status of the building, and sleeping between breaks; these are the folk who didn’t get to go home.

I never heard them complain about anything, they were just proudly doing their jobs with much dedication despite the circumstances and despite being away from their loved ones. They are the real heroes of this story.

I never heard them complain about anything, they were just proudly doing their jobs with much dedication despite the circumstances and despite being away from their loved ones. They are the real heroes of this story. The maintenance personnel were making sure the MCC building was safe so we could do our jobs, along with the security guards at the JSC campus, and others who stayed to protect other facilities. These guys are the epitome of what ground control operations is all about: dedication and toughness, especially in tough times.

These guys are the epitome of what ground control operations is all about: dedication and toughness, especially in tough times.

Dorothy Ruiz's sleeping quarters at Mission Control during Hurricane Harvey, a Ground Control backroom where satellite time is usually scheduled [Copyright: Dorothy Ruiz. Source: https://twitter.com/DorothyRuiz/status/903259274004099072]

Dorothy Ruiz’s sleeping quarters at Mission Control during Hurricane Harvey, a Ground Control backroom where satellite time is usually scheduled [Copyright: Dorothy Ruiz. Source: https://twitter.com/DorothyRuiz/status/903259274004099072]

Did the MCC-H [Mission Control Center Houston] team consider to activate the Backup Advisory Team (BAT) [a way to remotely connect to Mission Control] or transfer operations to Hunstville [where the Backup Control Centre is based] during this period? 

It was considered at some point, but it was a difficult decision to make due to the uncertainty of the path of the hurricane.  In retrospect, no one could foresee the great impact of the hurricane in Houston, especially with the flooding. This has been a one in a lifetime event. However, part of the Backup Control Center (BCC) was activated due to damage to the building that processes the ISS video coming to MCC.  We configured some of our equipment in MCC so the video could be archived in Huntsville.

We are not just the House Keepers of MCC, but also a life boat.

Has this experienced changed you from a professional or personal perspective?

This experience has changed me in both ways. I appreciate even more the job we do as Ground Controllers, now I can really say, we are not just the House Keepers of MCC, but also a life boat. Those who underestimate the contributions of ground control operations as a team to manned space flight and space exploration should seek a different perspective, and take a closer look at what we do to keep MCC safe and operational so everyone can do their job.  We not only keep the ground connected to the ISS, we also keep it floating.

I would never imagine one day, I would be here sleeping in cots, making sure MCC is safe and Mission Operations are safe, to keep human spaceflight going.  This for sure will be a story to tell my grandkids one day, what a story.

Personally, I appreciate getting to know other colleagues while sharing the stories of strength and struggle during such turbulent days. I would never imagine one day, I would be here sleeping in cots, making sure MCC is safe and Mission Operations are safe, to keep human spaceflight going.  This for sure will be a story to tell my grandkids one day, what a story.

It is my personal quest to inspire those who like me, had life struggles growing up, and could never imagine becoming an Engineer or working at such a great place like NASA. However, with this recent experience, it is my hope, we inspire others with our work ethic:  Dedication, Toughness and Competence.  That’s what we embody, that’s who we are.

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

The most rewarding thing in my career has been to inspire others with all the work we do at NASA, and it is my personal quest to inspire those who like me, had life struggles growing up, and could never imagine becoming an Engineer or working at such a great place like NASA. However, with this recent experience, it is my hope, we inspire others with our work ethic:  Dedication, Toughness and Competence.  That’s what we embody, that’s who we are.

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Elizabeth Jens, Propulsion Engineer, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

29 August, 2017
Rocket Woman Elizabeth Jens

Rocket Woman Elizabeth Jens

From stepping out of her coastal home in Australia, without a national space agency or obvious space centre to contact, Elizabeth Jens forged her own path to reach her goal of working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. She talks to Rocket Women about how she was inspired to begin her journey to NASA and the challenges she overcame along the way.

What was the path to get to where you are now? How were you inspired to consider a career in the space industry?

The path to where I am now was a little circuitous. If you had asked me where I wanted to work as a child I would have told you NASA, and by the time I was an undergraduate I would have told you the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). So, the twists and turns that I had to take were not for lack of a vision, but more from lack of a clear path to get there.

This lack of a clear path meant that after completing two undergraduate degrees I spent some time travelling, some time working full time in my local sushi shop, some time working as a management consultant, and some time attending the summer space studies program of the International Space University before eventually commencing my graduate studies at Stanford University as a Fulbright Scholar and a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar.

During graduate school, I was initially disheartened by the difficulty applying for any USA space-related job as a foreign national. On a whim, and knowing that foreigners were unlikely to be allowed to apply, I attended a recruiting event for JPL. It was that event that allowed me to secure an internship at JPL in the same group with whom I currently work.

The path to where I am now was a little circuitous. If you had asked me where I wanted to work as a child I would have told you NASA, and by the time I was an undergraduate I would have told you the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). So, the twists and turns that I had to take were not for lack of a vision, but more from lack of a clear path to get there.

What does your average day look like in your role?
My days are actually pretty varied. At work, I share my time between working on a subsystem for the next Mars rover and developing a small propulsion system to enable stand-alone interplanetary SmallSat missions. For the rover, I work with a broad range of people, a lot of my time goes into system engineering and communicating between various teams.

I share my time between working on a subsystem for the next Mars rover and developing a small propulsion system to enable stand-alone interplanetary SmallSat missions.

I’m also responsible for understanding and modelling the physics of my subsystem so I spend some time coding as well as some time with hardware running tests. My work on the SmallSat propulsion system is with a much smaller team. Together we work on designing the rocket (both at a high level conceptually and then all the way through to detailed design), running tests where we hot-fire the rocket to understand how it performs, analyzing test data, modelling the performance under various operating conditions, and integrating our results into high-level trades for various potential missions.

On any given day I might be sitting at a computer with a screen full of code and surrounded by text books, working to assemble hardware, talking to vendors about flight components, in a series of meetings with teams working on the rover, or running rocket hot-fires.

Thus, on any given day I might be sitting at a computer with a screen full of code and surrounded by text books, working to assemble hardware, talking to vendors about flight components, in a series of meetings with teams working on the rover, or running rocket hot-fires.

Who were your role models when you were growing up? How important are role models to young women?
I think role models are hugely important to everyone, regardless of age or gender. I was lucky enough to have great parents and siblings as role models, and then as I got older to have great teachers, coaches, and professors.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career so far?
The most rewarding moment was when I received my PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University. The process to be admitted to the PhD at Stanford involved some grueling qualifying exams so making it through them, and then going on to achieve my research goals was extremely rewarding.

What I find helps me when I’m really stressed is carving out time on the weekend to get away on some adventure by the coast or in mountains.

When you’re having a stressful and bad day, what helps you get through it?
A good latte… Actually, what I find helps me when I’m really stressed is carving out time on the weekend to get away on some adventure by the coast or in mountains. I am into whitewater kayaking and I love the fact that when you are in the middle of a rapid you have to be completely focused on the moment, there is no time to think about whatever else might be going on. I find that really beneficial when I’m stressed as a day on the river is a day completely disconnected from my worries; I always return to the city feeling refreshed.

Rocket Woman Elizabeth Jens

Rocket Woman Elizabeth Jens

What else did you want to be when you were growing up?
An astronaut. I was pretty set on wanting to go to space from a young age.

I found it really challenging trying to navigate a path to the space industry from my coastal hometown in Australia. There was no clear path to a career in the space industry back then, as Australia had no space agency or obvious center to contact.

Were there any obstacles on your path to working in the space industry?
Absolutely, I found it really challenging trying to navigate a path to the space industry from my coastal hometown in Australia. There was no clear path to a career in the space industry back then, as Australia had no space agency or obvious center to contact.

It was particularly difficult as I did not have dual-citizenship so moving to another country to work in the space industry was not an easy option. In the end, it worked out for me largely because of sheer determination mixed with a good dose of luck and a lot of support from colleagues. The challenge is that the technology used for space exploration can also be applied to the military, so it is very difficult to work in the field as a foreigner.

What are your favourite things about being a Propulsion Engineer?
I love the variability in my job. I like the fact that I continue to learn, have challenging problems, and believe in the projects that I am working on. I am passionate about space exploration and I love contributing to that effort.

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be?
Don’t let the set-backs worry you, it will all work out.

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Sarah Cruddas, Space Journalist, Broadcaster & Author

20 August, 2017
Sarah Cruddas with SpaceShipOne, the spaceplane that won the Ansari X Prize

Sarah Cruddas with SpaceShipOne, the spaceplane that won the Ansari X Prize

Sarah Cruddas has been passionate about space since she was young. With a background in astrophysics and experience as a Weather Presenter and Science Correspondent for the BBC, Sarah now aims to communicate her advocacy for space to the public. Sarah is the face of space on British TV, featured on channels including Sky News, ITV, Channel 4 and the BBC, along with National Geographic and the Discovery Channel in the US. Sarah is also an author and recently published her first children’s book ‘Find Out! Solar System’ [Solar System (DKfindout!)], with her second book, ‘Did You Know? Space: Amazing Answers to More than 200 Awesome Questions!‘ to be released next month! She talks to Rocket Women about her journey in the space industry and how she was inspired to communicate the importance of space exploration.

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

I cannot remember a time when space was not my passion. From looking up at the Moon as a child, to learning about the Apollo missions, watching shuttle launches and gazing at the stars. For me I cannot understand how you cannot be interested in space. My degree is in astrophysics, but I decided I wanted to tell stories about space as that’s where my skills lie.

I worked as a Journalist, Weather Presenter and later Science Correspondent for the BBC, before venturing back to space in my current role. The official title of what I do now, is Space Journalist, Broadcaster and Author. This means I wear many hats, writing about space, working on screen on various TV channels talking about space and also travelling the globe giving talks about why space exploration matters.

Sarah Cruddas with her second book, 'Did you know? Space!'

Sarah Cruddas with her second book, ‘Did you know? Space!’

Congratulations on the publication of your children’s book ‘Find Out! Solar System’ [Solar System (DKfindout!)] and the upcoming second book Did You Know? Space: Amazing Answers to More than 200 Awesome Questions! How were you inspired to write the books?

I have always wanted to write books about space, but about a years ago Dorling Kindersley approached me to write a kids book. That book did really well and featured the likes of Alan Stern, the man behind the New Horizons mission to Pluto and Piers Sellers – if you haven’t heard of him, look him up and be inspired! I was then asked to write a second book, which is released in September 2017 and now I have a lovely agent and am working on some very exciting book projects, which I can’t talk about just yet.

But the goal is to inspire people about space and why it all really matters.

We have to remember that to date fewer than 600 people have been to space. 600 on a planet of 7 billion.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges that human spaceflight faces in the near future?
Great question. There are many challenges. Not least of which, what will happen next after the ISS.

We have to remember that to date fewer than 600 people have been to space. 600 on a planet of 7 billion. One of the biggest challenges is cost. It is still hugely expensive to travel into space. That makes space less accessible. We are seeing private companies such as Blue Origin and SpaceX work to develop rocket reusability. This will help to reduce the cost of going to space.

But money isn’t the only issue. There is the impact on physical and mental health for astronauts, as we look towards missions to Mars we need to know more about how the body can survive in zero gravity for a long amount of time. As well as the impact psychologically of being in confinement on a long duration mission. There are also issues such as food and water, even clothing for longer duration space missions. However, there are a lot of smart people working the problem. Just because it seems impossible now, doesn’t mean it will always be that way.

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

I had so many role models when I was growing up. I was a child in the 1990s, but I read so much about Apollo, that I was completely inspired by the astronauts. Gus Grissom and Pete Conrad were always my favorites. They might not have been as well known, but both played a huge part in getting America to the Moon. Also female astronauts such as Judith Resnik and Rhea Seddon were a huge inspiration to me. I think role models are important for anyone growing up. They inspire you to strive to be the best you can be.

Sarah Cruddas, Space Broadcaster & Author

Sarah Cruddas, Space Broadcaster & Author

I left a steady job at the BBC to follow my dreams for space. I think taking risk is a good thing and you never know what is going to happen on the way. I have worked with astronauts and billionaires and have met some of the most powerful people in the world.

What else did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be an astronaut. I still do. I was convinced I would be on the first crewed mission to Mars, but I think the timing is wrong with that one. One thing for sure it that I don’t think you should ever count yourself out – I learned that from working with Gene Cernan, the last person to walk on the Moon, so who knows what the future holds!

I like to follow Jeff Bezos’ moto of ‘regret minimization’ when thinking about my next step. But don’t get me wrong it’s hard to forge your own path and go against the norm, but that’s also the excitement!

What are your favourite things about your job?

That it has enabled me to take risks in my life. I left a steady job at the BBC to follow my dreams for space. I think taking risk is a good thing and you never know what is going to happen on the way. I have worked with astronauts and billionaires and have met some of the most powerful people in the world. I have also been to the Congo, North Korea and Tibet (to name but a few) and have seen the diversity and often unfair balance on our own planet.

I like to follow Jeff Bezos’ moto of ‘regret minimization’ when thinking about my next step. But don’t get me wrong it’s hard to forge your own path and go against the norm, but that’s also the excitement!

How do you think the space industry has changed for women over the years? Has it become more inclusive?

I think the Space Industry is making some hugely positive strides. Of course there is still more to be done, but it is getting there.

Of course I have things I wish I had done differently, I have highs and lows just like the next person. But my number one piece of advice would be not to worry. I am a terrible worrier. Yet things always seem to work out, even when you don’t think they will. Something will just come along and surprise you.

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?

That’s an interesting question. Of course I have things I wish I had done differently, I have highs and lows just like the next person. But my number one piece of advice would be not to worry. I am a terrible worrier. Yet things always seem to work out, even when you don’t think they will. Something will just come along and surprise you. That is the beauty of life!

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet The Rocket Women That Brought The International Space Station to Google Street View

7 August, 2017

The experience of floating through the International Space Station is no longer solely the privilege of astronauts. Now you can experience it too. Thanks to an ingenious and hardworking team of Rocket Women from ThinkSpace Consulting, along with Google, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), the International Space Station is now available to explore on Google Street View. Working with astronauts, the entire interior of the International Space Station was photographed and mapped, even bringing the stunning vistas from the Cupola module to your screen. The project impressively took four months to complete from start to finish. Comparatively, experiments that astronauts conduct onboard on the ISS have been planned for at least two years.

The stunning views from the International Space Station's Cupola module [Still taken from Google StreetView]

The stunning views from the International Space Station’s Cupola module [Still from Google StreetView]

Rocket Women Marla Smithwick, Operations Engineer, and Ann Kapusta, Co-Founders at ThinkSpace Consulting, worked with NASA, Google, CASIS and the European Space Agency to develop a plan for astronauts to map the International Space Station, solely using equipment already onboard the station.

Marla Smithwick, Operations Engineer & Co-Founder, ThinkSpace Consulting

Marla Smithwick, Operations Engineer & Co-Founder, ThinkSpace Consulting [Still taken from Behind the Scenes: Mapping the International Space Station with Google Street View https://youtu.be/IBTP62jd4DA]

The team only had two days to work in NASA’s International Space Station (ISS) scale mock up facilities at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to develop a mapping strategy, with their biggest challenge being camera stabilization in the microgravity environment onboard the ISS, in addition to the fact that the astronaut would be floating whilst operating the equipment.

Alice Liu - Google Street View [Still from Behind the Scenes: Mapping the International Space Station with Google Street View  https://youtu.be/IBTP62jd4DA]

Alice Liu – Google Street View Program Manager [Still taken from Behind the Scenes: Mapping the International Space Station with Google Street View https://youtu.be/IBTP62jd4DA]

Deanna Yick. Google Street View Program Manager [Still from Behind the Scenes: Mapping the International Space Station with Google Street View https://youtu.be/IBTP62jd4DA]

Deanna Yick. Google Street View Program Manager [Still taken from Behind the Scenes: Mapping the International Space Station with Google Street View https://youtu.be/IBTP62jd4DA]

The Google and ThinkSpace Consulting team eventually decided to use bungee cords to stabilize the camera with images taken by the astronaut rotating around the bungee cords, to prevent parallax. Parallax as, Deanna Yick from Google explains is, “When images are taken from a slightly different angle and are stitched together, with a seam visible where it shouldn’t.”

The Google Street View and ThinkSpace Consulting team discussing their mapping method with NASA Astronaut Kjell Lindgren

The Google Street View and ThinkSpace Consulting team discussing their mapping method with NASA Astronaut Kjell Lindgren [Still taken from Behind the Scenes: Mapping the International Space Station with Google Street View https://youtu.be/IBTP62jd4DA]

When you look down at the Earth you realize that it’s one big spaceship and if we don’t look after that spaceship, it won’t look after us. – NASA Astronaut Kjell Lindgren

The impressive project gives you a sense of the science and engineering it took to build the International Space Station’ with a volume of 5-bedroom house, or two 747s, and keep it running. As NASA Astronaut Kjell Lindgren describes in this video, the project also ‘gives you an idea of what is possible if countries come together to build a peaceful project on this scale and gives people an idea of the modules in the ISS, including the toilets.’ Based at NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center, the team scheduled a test, with ISS crewmember ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet taking photographs onboard the ISS.

Marla Smithwick on console communicating with ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet onboard the International Space Station

Marla Smithwick on-console communicating with ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet onboard the International Space Station [Still taken from Behind the Scenes: Mapping the International Space Station with Google Street View https://youtu.be/IBTP62jd4DA]

It’s a fantastic opportunity for everyone to fly with the astronauts.

ThinkSpace Consulting Operations Engineer and Co-Founder Marla Smithwick, supported the activity ‘on-console’ by communicating with ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet onboard the ISS. Astronauts subsequently took images of all of the ISS modules, creating a comprehensive interior tour. As Marla describes, bungees and kapton tape were used to mark the middle of the ISS module and as a reference point to rotate the camera around. The original activity with Thomas Pesquet took the astronaut two and a half hours to take pictures of the space station. Astronauts are trained extensively in photography prior to their mission, and worked with the team to quickly overcome any problems in real time. The Google Street View ISS collection gives viewers a sense of what it’s like to live and work onboard the ISS, in addition to digitising the station for history. As mentioned by the Google Street View team, it’s a ‘fantastic opportunity for everyone to fly with the astronauts.’

ThinkSpace Consulting Co-Founders Marla Smithwick & Ann Kapusta talked to Rocket Women about the project and their role in its success!

How were you inspired to consider a career in the space industry?

Marla: I’m sure that most people will tell you that when they were a kid they thought space was cool, and I think I did too. But I wasn’t a big space geek and it was too out of reach for me to consider a career in it.  Then when I was in Grade 7 I was selected to do some sort of space camp, where we spent a few days at the University of Saskatchewan learning about space, designing our own space station, and at the end we met Astronaut Marc Garneau.  I realize that’s dating me a bit – but it was a big deal to twelve-year old me.  Then in 2006 I met a Colonel who worked at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) when I was doing a tour with the Canadian Navy.  I realized that I wanted to work at the CSA more than any other job I could think of, so I immediately began hassling him for a job. About 6 months later he finally relented and arranged an interview. They offered to do it over the phone but I asked if it was okay if I made the six-hour drive to do it in person.  I remember when I was walking up to the CSA for the interview I thought, “Well, even if I don’t get this job at least I got to go into the Canadian Space Agency on business once in my life”.

Ann Kapusta, ThinkSpace Consulting Co-Founder, at NASA Johnson Space Center's Mission Control

Ann Kapusta, ThinkSpace Consulting Co-Founder, at NASA Johnson Space Center’s Apollo-era Mission Control

What sparked the idea to bring the International Space Station To Google Street View?

Marla: To be honest I don’t know! It was a great idea but it wasn’t mine. We were brought into the project by Google after they had tried to get it done and hadn’t gotten traction on their own. It was quite lucky for us and because we know the industry and what the issues were with their original proposal we were able to get it approved by CASIS with some fun add-ons like flight patches and crew member interviews.

Ann: The idea actually stemmed back in early 2015 from a good friend and old colleague of mine, Emma Lehman, who was working at Google and had met Alice Liu, the ISS Google Street View Program Manager. Emma, being a space fanatic like myself, got to talking with Alice about how amazing it would be to experience the ISS in full 360-degree panorama and get a feeling of floating through our incredible orbiting laboratory.  Emma, knowing that Marla and I had just started ThinkSpace and knew we had the ability to make this pipe dream a reality, introduced Google Street View Special Collects to ThinkSpace and the rest is history.

There were two major challenges with this project that were incredibly intertwined – the project timeline and the international negotiations. Google had a strict timeline and after all proper contracts were in place, the timeline shrunk to a mere 4-months from project kick-off to full collection of all images on-board the ISS.

What were the biggest challenges during the project?

Marla: The timeline was very challenging, we were trying to meet a product launch date that was less than a year away.  Most payloads take a minimum of two years of preparation time.

AnnThere were two major challenges with this project that were incredibly intertwined – the project timeline and the international negotiations. Google had a strict timeline and after all proper contracts were in place, the timeline shrunk to a mere 4-months from project kick-off to full collection of all images on-board the ISS. In this 4-month timeframe, ThinkSpace needed to act quickly to develop requirements, build crew procedures, gain permissions to hardware on-board, dry-run the procedures at Johnson Space Center ISS mock-up facility, specify crew time for project completion, obtain approval for flight products, among other logistics.

One of the key other logistics that ThinkSpace needed to coordinate and could make or break the success of the ISS Street View project, was to gain permission to image non-NASA built modules of the ISS.  The ISS is made up of 16 modules built by a group of International partners and commercial companies including NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, ESA, and Bigelow Airspace. In the end, we not only gained permission and enthusiastic collaboration from all International Partners to image the full ISS, but we also received permissions from private companies SpaceX and Orbital to image visiting vehicles and get an incredible comprehensive survey of life on the ISS. This was a huge challenge and a personal success for me in the project that we have a full and complete tour of the ISS for everyone to see.

ThinkSpace Consulting Operations Engineer & Co-Founder Marla Smithwick communicating wtih ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet onboard the ISS

ThinkSpace Consulting Operations Engineer & Co-Founder Marla Smithwick communicating wtih ESA Astronaut Thomas Pesquet onboard the ISS [Still taken from Behind the Scenes: Mapping the International Space Station with Google Street View https://youtu.be/IBTP62jd4DA]

How did the four-month timeline that you mentioned in the behind-the-scenes video come about?

Marla: We received approval from CASIS to do the project in October or November, and did the dry-run at JSC [NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston] in January and the on-orbit operations in February.  Once we were approved we were off and running.

I have always had a courageous mind and sought opportunities to challenge myself and continue to learn, which ultimately has lead me in a chaotically consistent career journey. Consistency in that I have maintained focus on my passion for space, exploration, and innovation. Chaotic in the twists and turns I’ve taken while following my passion and desire to keep learning and pushing myself throughout my career.

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

Ann: I have always had a courageous mind and sought opportunities to challenge myself and continue to learn, which ultimately has lead me in a chaotically consistent career journey. Consistency in that I have maintained focus on my passion for space, exploration, and innovation. Chaotic in the twists and turns I’ve taken while following my passion and desire to keep learning and pushing myself throughout my career.

I started out a scientist, earning my degree in astrophysics. I studied cataclysmic binary variable stars at Kitt Peak Observatory and sought patterns in Ionspheric disturbances at the Haystack Observatory. The science was exciting but I always wanted to know the hows behind the data – so I transitioned to aerospace engineering. A pretty uncharacteristic move for a scientist. Utilizing my dual degree – I spent time in satellite data analysis, instrument calibration design and testing, and operations. Until I decided to take another courageous leap from satellites to a different world in space – human spaceflight. And even weirder, into designing and running a biological experiment in space – with no formal background in biology. And if that wasn’t enough organized chaos for my whole career, I recently took the most courageous leap of all and left Silicon Valley and aerospace to lead the R&D team at a digital innovation company, Vectorform, in Detroit. All while co-founding and running a space consulting company, ThinkSpace, in order to maintain a constant connection to my consistent lifelong passion of astronomy and space.

How did your family help to shape your career path in STEM?

Ann: My family has always been and continues to be a huge contributing factor in my career and lifelong interest in the STEM fields. My family not only exposed me to the wonders of science and engineering from an early age, but also gave me constant and unfailing encouragement to always follow my passion no matter what. I grew up in a family of engineers and machinists in the Western Pennsylvania rust belt, and was the second of two daughters. From as far back as I can remember, my parents and grandparents taught my sister and I how things worked and to always ask questions when we didn’t understand. They were tinkerers, so we became tinkerers. They were critical thinkers, so we became critical thinkers and problem solvers. They taught us to wonder when things didn’t make sense and to think beyond when things did.

My father taught me to program CAD models for lathes and mills in the early 90’s. I played with LEGO, Barbie, and all of the original NES Mario Brothers games. There was never a thing I “shouldn’t” be doing or “should” be doing when it came to learning, all that mattered is that I was exploring and asking questions. When I look back now, I think the main thing that my family did to help me find my career was provide me constant encouragement of personal exploration to find my passion and never discouragement of any path. It allowed me to find and follow my true passion.

The ISS Google Street View Mission Patch [ThinkSpace/Google]

The ISS Google Street View Mission Patch [ThinkSpace/Google]

What else did you want to be when you were growing up?

Ann: Throughout my life I’ve wanted to be a lot of different things – from marine biologist to concert pianist to architect. I was always passionate about learning new things and each new thing opened up a new career opportunity. However, the more I journeyed through life, the more I looked to the stars and the more they inspired me. The ability to be part of a field so vast and so unknown, fuels my desire to always push what’s possible and to never stop learning throughout my life. Once I realized that the boundlessness of space mimicked my requirements for personal fulfillment, I knew astronomy was where I wanted to take my career.

What are you favourite things about your job?

Ann: My favorite thing about this career path and my job is the constant opportunity to learn and create something new.  I have the ability to be innovative and solve problems in unique and new ways, and I have access to some incredibly smart people to inspire me, teach, and collaborate with.  It is something that is so critically important to me – to do something I am passionate about, continue to learn, have the opportunity to be creative and innovative, and to make a difference.  And I get to do all of those things in my job and I couldn’t be happier with my career choices.

Name the biggest overall lesson you’ve learned in running a business?

Marla: There are so many lessons. The biggest for me is appreciating the different mindset you have to be in when all of the responsibility is on you, and the amount you make is dependent on your ability to get business, negotiate and be efficient. And that percentage companies charge called “overhead” is totally legit.

I took a very meandering path to where I am but if I’m being honest with myself, the failures were just as important in contributing to the direction as the successes.

Is there a follow-up Google Street View project planned as the ISS expands or to incorporate commercial crew vehicles?

Marla: This time around we got the BEAM [Bigelow Expandable Activity Module], the SpaceX Dragon and the Cygnus vehicles so the cooperation from the commercial companies was fantastic. Once commercial crew vehicles are flying that would be a great follow-on project!  We are discussing some other projects, some on the ISS and some not, but nothing is on paper as of yet.

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be?

Marla: That’s tough because usually advice comes from things you feel like you could’ve done better. I took a very meandering path to where I am but if I’m being honest with myself, the failures were just as important in contributing to the direction as the successes.  So maybe that’s the advice – don’t beat yourself up too badly for the failures, just try to learn from them and keep moving.  Oh and I would like to tell my past self that at the end of my final exam in senior year of high school I really need to pick up my feet so I don’t trip and fall on my face in front of the whole class.  That would’ve been nice to avoid.

Ann: Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even when they may seem dumb. Don’t be afraid to change your mind or your career or your path when you aren’t happy or fulfilled. Don’t be afraid to say “no” when something doesn’t feel right and don’t be afraid to stand up and say “yes” when you feel it. Don’t be afraid to stand alone (even though I know from experience that is incredibly scary). Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and what you believe in. Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be afraid to do something different.  And don’t be afraid to be an inspiration to others.

This isn’t just advice that I would give to my 10-year-old self, but advice that I give to myself every day. In the career I chose and the path I am on, some days are still tough and some days are scary, but that comes with the territory of challenging yourself to so something new and incredible every single day.

Take a tour of the International Space Station on Google Street View and learn more about the project here.

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Tanya Harrison, Director of Research, New Space Initiative, Arizona State University

23 July, 2017
Tanya Harrison Operating Mars Rovers

Tanya Harrison Operating A Martian Rover

From operating NASA’s rovers on Mars, to leading commercial New Space initiatives and even discussing Martian weather on The Weather Channel, Tanya Harrison’s stellar career has been inspirational. She told Rocket Women what inspires her to push further each day.

RW: What was the path to get to where you are now? How were you inspired to consider a career in the space industry?

I’ve been interested in space since I was five years old, after seeing the film “Big Bird in Japan”. In the film, Big Bird meets Haguya-hime, a princess from the Moon in Japanese folklore. After seeing that I went outside nearly every night to stare at the stars and the Moon. Star Trek was also a *big* influence as I got slightly older. But the focus on Mars specifically started with the Pathfinder mission in 1997. NASA released an animated GIF of the little Sojourner rover driving off the Pathfinder lander onto the surface of Mars. The thought that we were driving a rover around remotely on another planet absolutely fascinated me.

NASA released an animated GIF of the little Sojourner rover driving off the Pathfinder lander onto the surface of Mars. The thought that we were driving a rover around remotely on another planet absolutely fascinated me.

A couple of years later, NASA announced a program called the Mars Millennium Project. The goal of the project was for student teams to design a colony on Mars in the year 2030. Being an introvert (at the time), I undertook the project alone. Through it I ended up connecting with my local chapter of The Mars Society in Seattle. The folks there were really enthusiastic in helping to nurture my interest in Mars, connecting me with local aerospace companies for job shadowing opportunities and getting me on panels at science fiction conventions in the area.

They ended up paying for me to attend the 3rd International Mars Society Conference in Toronto to present my Mars Millennium Project work. Even though I was super shy and read most of my speech off a piece of notebook paper with hand-drawn transparencies as my slides (this was sort of before the era of PowerPoint), that experience really solidified to me that this was what I wanted to do as a career.

In college, I started out as a dual astronomy and physics major because I thought, “Planets are in space, so I should be an astronomer!” It wasn’t until near the end of my junior year that I learned I should’ve actually gone into geology if I wanted to study Mars.

In college, I started out as a dual astronomy and physics major because I thought, “Planets are in space, so I should be an astronomer!” It wasn’t until near the end of my junior year that I learned I should’ve actually gone into geology if I wanted to study Mars. However, I didn’t want to switch majors so far along in my program, so instead I ended up shifting to geology for my masters and Ph.D.

Tanya Harrison

Tanya Harrison

RW: What does your average day look like in your role?

My time is split between doing research on martian surface geology, participating in planning and operations for the Opportunity and Mars 2020 rovers, and working as Director of Research for Arizona State University’s (ASU) Space Technology and Science (“NewSpace”) Initiative.

My role for ASU NewSpace involves meeting with representatives from commercial space companies (companies like Blue Origin, Planet, Bigelow Aerospace, etc.), often at conferences. Our goal is to create academic-commercial partnerships to work together on space-related projects for NASA, the DoD, Department of Energy, you name it. So, I essentially play matchmaker between professors on campus and commercial companies where I see good fits, and pass along information on funding opportunities as I come across them. I also write proposals for my own research in this vein.

I spend a lot of my day “driving” around the planet in the Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing (JMARS) software package. This is freely available software developed at ASU that lets you browse images from pretty much every body in the Solar System for which we have data!

For Mars research, I spend a lot of my day “driving” around the planet in the Java Mission-planning and Analysis for Remote Sensing (JMARS) software package. This is freely available software developed at ASU that lets you browse images from pretty much every body in the Solar System for which we have data! My area of expertise is geomorphology—a fancy term for looking at the shapes of features to determine how they formed.

When it comes to Mars rover operations, I spend time on telecons at least a couple of days per week. Once a week, there is a roundup of Opportunity’s latest results and our plans for the near future. There’s also a weekly meeting right now for the Mars 2020 rover as we try to develop our operational plans and determine where we want to land. There are currently 4 candidate landing sites, which we’re working to narrow down over the next year-ish to our final site of choice.

As a child and young adult, my biggest role model was Stephen Hawking. After a few years of slowly losing some of my ability to walk from crippling pain and joint stiffness, I was diagnosed with a rare degenerative autoimmune disorder called Ankylosing Spondylitis.

RW: Who were your role models when you were growing up? How important are role models to young women?

As a child and young adult, my biggest role model was Stephen Hawking. After a few years of slowly losing some of my ability to walk from crippling pain and joint stiffness, I was diagnosed with a rare degenerative autoimmune disorder called Ankylosing Spondylitis. I spent a lot of time in junior high through my undergrad in and out of wheelchairs or using other assistive devices, and spent a lot of time in hospitals and doctors’ offices. Whenever I would get really down on myself about being able to follow my science dreams, I would think about Stephen Hawking and told myself that if he could be such a high profile scientist with such a debilitating illness, I could definitely keep pushing along.

Donna Shirley was also a big role model once my interests focused specifically on Mars. She led the Mars Pathfinder mission at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and for a time was the manager of NASA’s entire Mars Exploration Program. I read her book Managing Martians as a teenager and dreamt of following in her footsteps.

Tanya Harrison

Tanya Harrison

RW: When you’re having a stressful and bad day, what helps you get through it?

Sometimes you just need to disconnect and decompress. I’ll shut off my phone, grab a book, and just read for awhile. If I’m at work, I might leave my office and take a walk outside. On the way out of my building, I pass a life-sized model of the Curiosity rover, our Mars mission operations centre, and a huge projection globe where you can bring up any planet. Those things help remind me of why I do what I do for my career.

I finally got to target my first images of Mars for real. When those first images came back, there was this rush of emotion—the feeling that all of my hard work to get to that point had paid off, and I was living my dream of directly working on a NASA mission to Mars!

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

I think from an emotional standpoint, it was when I was working on the targeting team for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Context Camera (CTX). After many weeks of training, I finally got to target my first images of Mars for real. When those first images came back, there was this rush of emotion—the feeling that all of my hard work to get to that point had paid off, and I was living my dream of directly working on a NASA mission to Mars!

RW: What else did you want to be when you were growing up?

There weren’t too many deviations from wanting to work in a space-related field. In grade school I was really into marine biology and wanted to study whales. In my undergrad for a very short time, I left my physics major and switched to Digital Media Production because I wanted to work on Pixar-like films. I quickly missed science though and switched back to a physics major after one quarter of media classes. I’ve kept up with an artistic vein though and have a photography business aside from my science work, which is a good creative outlet.

In my first job in the field after getting my masters degree, I experienced pretty bad harassment to the point that it nearly drove me out of the field entirely. I was so demoralized by the time I was able to tell myself that being treated like that wasn’t worth getting to work on a Mars mission, I literally applied for a job at Starbucks just to get out.

RW: Were there any obstacles on your path to working in the space industry?

In my first job in the field after getting my masters degree, I experienced pretty bad harassment to the point that it nearly drove me out of the field entirely. I was so demoralized by the time I was able to tell myself that being treated like that wasn’t worth getting to work on a Mars mission, I literally applied for a job at Starbucks just to get out. But then I decided to go back to school to get a Ph.D. in order to advance my career on the research side, which ended up being a very good decision.

RW: What are your favourite things about your job?

On the Mars side of things, I love being able to just explore the planet and not know what discoveries I might come across on any given day. The chance to see something that potentially no human being has ever seen before is pretty amazing.

On the commercial “NewSpace” side, I enjoy getting the opportunity to interact with so many different companies and hear what they’re working on. Some of them have really lofty long-term goals so it’s interesting to see how they want to get there.

RW: If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be?

It would be to study geology more than astronomy if you want to be a planetary scientist. :)

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)

9 July, 2017
Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty speaking on-stage

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty speaking on-stage at the University of Waterloo, Canada

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty’s career has spanned continents. Beginning in Nigeria with a space law background, her high achieving career trajectory has included a PhD in Space Law at McGill University to presently researching the link between space and climate change in her current role as a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Canada! Timiebi was also recently awarded the IAF Young Space Leaders award in 2017. She talks to Rocket Women about her achievements, space law, how her family shaped her career and the one piece of advice she’d give her 10-year-old self.

RW: Congratulations on your IAF Young Space Leaders 2017 award! How were you inspired to consider a career in the space industry & law?

Thank you. I know that there are literally millions of people who do amazing and necessary things everyday and don’t get the opportunity to showcase their passion and talent. I am very grateful that my work has been recognized by the International Astronautic Federation.

Not only did I not imagine having a career in the space industry, I didn’t imagine that I would have had such a wide array of experiences in the industry. I have worked as a consultant for Euroconsult, a boutique consulting company in Montreal, Canada that serves the space sector, I have worked at the Nigerian Space Agency in Legal Affairs and International Cooperation, I was executive director of the World Space Week Association coordinating the global response to a UN declaration that World Space Week should be celebrated from October 4-10 each year.

I can’t tell you how many times I hear “space law is a real thing? Tell me about it!” By sharing my story with others, people share their stories with me, so I’ve met a lot of people I ordinarily wouldn’t have met through being in the space industry.

I have been a researcher in space issues doing a PhD in Space Law at McGill University and researching the link between space and climate change in my current role as a post-doctoral fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. I’ve also had the opportunity to support space initiatives such as the New York Centre for Space Entrepreneurship and act as Associate Chair for the space policy, law and economics department of the International Space University (ISU) Space Studies Program.

What I love best about this career choice is interacting with smart people who do things that I can’t, like build rockets and satellites and the inspirational and wow factor of space. I get to have really cool conversations with people because space is such a great conversation starter. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “space law is a real thing? Tell me about it!” By sharing my story with others, people share their stories with me, so I’ve met a lot of people I ordinarily wouldn’t have met through being in the space industry.

RW: Did you need any specific education or training in order to qualify for your current role?

I currently work for a think tank that makes a difference in today’s world by bringing clarity and innovative thinking to global policy making, focusing on governance of the global economy, global security and politics, and international law. The required attributes for my job are reading and writing skills, creativity to come up with new ideas, public speaking as there are lot of presentations and relationship building and networking to share ideas and to influence.

While I worked as a consultant during my PhD studies, doing a PhD was a good way to develop all these skills. One of the best things that I did was to write regular opeds for a newspaper on space issues as they affect Africa and this was really useful for my current job because I had to learn how to communicate clearly to a general audience, in an actionable/call to action manner, which is different from academia. For my role as associate chair at ISU [International Space University], a PhD is not required, rather creativity, teaching and mentoring and organizational skills, but it demonstrates an interest and commitment to the area which gives a bit more credibility with the students.

Having started my career in Nigeria and with a space law background, people are often surprised that I have been able to have all these exciting international experiences! I think most people think that because space law is such a niche area, that it would be hard to find work.

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty

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

Having started my career in Nigeria and with a space law background, people are often surprised that I have been able to have all these exciting international experiences! I think most people think that because space law is such a niche area, that it would be hard to find work. However, I think that most people have to be creative about what they do when they take the path I’ve taken. There are not many jobs with the tag  “space law” in the description and nationality can be an issue with finding work.

My ability to connect with people is what has set me apart, not necessarily knowledge of law or technical skills. I’m ultimately a communicator and my passion for space policy is my story.

I was born in the UK so it is easier for me to get over the nationality issue but I have found that my ability to connect with people is what has set me apart, not necessarily knowledge of law or technical skills. I’m ultimately a communicator and my passion for space policy is my story. Working on my post-doctoral fellowship in international environmental law with a focus on climate change has taught me how to better communicate to non-space people, which I think is very important. Sometimes space people are so used to talking to themselves that they are not persuasive and can seem out of touch when they speak to non-experts, many of whom are key decision makers and influencers.

Sometimes space people are so used to talking to themselves that they are not persuasive and can seem out of touch when they speak to non-experts, many of whom are key decision makers and influencers.

 RW: What does an average day in your job look like?

There’s quite a bit of travel involved in my work but core to my everyday are the following 6 steps. Read a lot, think a lot, write a lot, find someone to share my idea with and see what they think, Incorporate their feedback. Repeat. In my work there is not really someone on top of you, so you have to be a self-starter, and keep yourself on track. It is really great to have the freedom that I have. I also have to look for opportunities to present my work, and stakeholders that would be interested in it.

If I take my experience, my Dad was a fantastic role model but I was always thinking he was on my case and pressuring me, like many immigrant parents. Now I see all that he tried to do for me and exposed me to and how he has tried to live his life as an example.

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

Role models are so important however, it takes a special child to realize the exposure they have and make use of role models that out there. If I take my experience, my Dad was a fantastic role model but I was always thinking he was on my case and pressuring me, like many immigrant parents. Now I see all that he tried to do for me and exposed me to and how he has tried to live his life as an example. One of the defining people he put in front of me was a math tutor when I was 14. Before I met this math tutor my grades were poor. Not because of lack of intelligence but simply lack of effort.

In a few short months, with this math tutor my grades went from C’s to A’s. I attribute this to one single factor. The math tutor built my self-confidence and made me feel like I was important and worth investing in. He taught me so much that went beyond math and spilled in to all my other subjects and my sense of self-worth. I’ll never forget during one of our tea breaks, I was slurping my tea, and he said to me “Timi why are you slurping your tea? Don’t you know you are too special and important not to have good manners?” That may seem like a trivial example, from a retired very British man, but I always left my math session feeling slightly better and more refined in some way.

For me, I’ve always been inspired by what I do, and it just so happens to pay the bills. I have been able to get recognition for the things I do and inspire a few people along the way.

So many young girls grow up like I did feeling like they are not important or will not make a difference in life, even when they are as lucky as I was to have supportive parents. How then is it for children who do not have a stable home life, nor have someone fighting for them or have examples of people who are successful. By successful I don’t just mean material wealth as a measure of success but knowing how to define success holistically. For me, I’ve always been inspired by what I do, and it just so happens to pay the bills. I have been able to get recognition for the things I do and inspire a few people along the way. I’ve received 4 awards in the past 2 years after overcoming tragedy and know my purpose. I have married my best friend someone who is my number one cheerleader. These things make me feel successful.

I come from a family of achievers. The Aganaba clan are doing interesting things so I don’t have to look far beyond my immediate and extended family to get inspired. I lived with my cousin Tukeni Obasi for a year and she opened my eyes to what hard work looked like.

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty with her husband Jean-Moise Jeanty

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty with her husband Jean-Moise Jeanty

RW: How did your family help to shape your career path?

I come from a family of achievers. The Aganaba clan are doing interesting things so I don’t have to look far beyond my immediate and extended family to get inspired. I lived with my cousin Tukeni Obasi for a year and she opened my eyes to what hard work looked like. My dad, Dr Tari Aganaba has always encouraged me that the world is my oyster even though there have been set backs along the way.

When I doubt myself, he [my husband] is always there to remind me that he is my number one cheerleader. At the dinner table, he asks me questions like, “What will you win a Nobel peace prize for?”

Now I attribute my success to my husband Jean-Moise Jeanty. When I doubt myself, he is always there to remind me that he is my number one cheerleader. At the dinner table, he asks me questions like, “What will you win a Nobel peace prize for?” He keeps me on track with my walk with God and on my personal goals.  It doesn’t sound politically correct to say this but I think that the narrative that young women hear that they don’t need a man is unhelpful. While you should not be defined by your relationship status and should not feel any less of a person because you have not found the right person or are not looking, finding my partner has brought joy and wholeness to my life and being a loyal, humble and supportive wife is something that I continuously strive to achieve. Thank you baby for being you!

RW: What else did you want to be when you were growing up?

I always wanted to be lawyer because I hated the idea of people being mistreated and felt called to speak for those who could not speak for themselves.  Unfortunately, my law undergrad experience did not live up to the legal drama TV shows, nor did working in a law firm. I am thankful I found space law because the international aspects of it, as well as diplomacy which sparked my new-found passion in law. However, I’m now more drawn to public policy because law is simply one tool in the tool box to meet specific objectives that impact society.

I graduated from primary school at 10 and was about to start secondary school. I was young and had no idea of my value. I had no idea that I could be someone of influence, or someone that could inspire others. I would tell myself that I am important and that I can do anything that I put my heart to.

RW: If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be?

I graduated from primary school at 10 and was about to start secondary school. I was young and had no idea of my value. I had no idea that I could be someone of influence, or someone that could inspire others, or someone that could find purpose through taking a road less travelled. I would tell myself that I am important and that I can do anything that I put my heart to. I would tell myself that I have the voice that can speak for the voiceless and that if I stay grounded, God will perform amazing things through me.

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Susan Buckle, Astronaut Flight Education Programme Manager, UK Space Agency

2 July, 2017
Susan Buckle taking part in a ZeroG flight!

Susan Buckle taking part in a Zero G flight!

Encouraged by her parents, Susan Buckle worked to gain her Pilot’s licence before she even held a driving licence! With a background in psychology Susan went on to train astronauts at the European Space Agency’s European Astronaut Centre in Germany, before transitioning to the UK Space Agency to work on British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s Principia mission [Tim Peake is the first British ESA Astronaut!].

Susan talks to Rocket Women about her unconventional journey to the space industry, the importance of teaching astronauts ‘soft’ skills and her mission to inspire the next generation through the UK Space Agency‘s education programme.

On her path to the UK Space Agency:

I guess I had an unconventional path into the Space industry. I got a degree in Experimental Psychology, then spent nearly 5 years teaching Psychology earning my PGCE (teaching qualification) on-the-job. Because I already had a Private Pilot’s Licence, I decided to combine my passions for psychology and flying, and find a Masters degree which combined the two. So I went to Cranfield University to study an MSc in Human Factors and Safety Assessment in Aeronautics.

I saw the job for the European Space Agency (ESA) to be a Facilitator in Human Factors, teaching the Astronauts, Flight Control Team and Instructors in ‘Human Behaviour and Performance’. These are the non-technical or ‘soft’ skills.

Whilst I was studying at Cranfield I saw the job for the European Space Agency (ESA) to be a Facilitator in Human Factors, teaching the Astronauts, Flight Control Team and Instructors in ‘Human Behaviour and Performance’. These are the non-technical or ‘soft’ skills required to carry out their technical roles effectively, such as good communication, teamwork, situational awareness and briefing and debriefing skills.

I spent nearly 5 incredible years at ESA, before moving back to the UK to work with the UK Space Agency on British ESA astronaut Tim Peake’s Principia mission. Now, I manage the education programme surrounding Tim’s mission, co-ordinating with our education partners who are delivering some amazing projects, all to increase children’s excitement in space and encourage uptake of STEM subjects.

I definitely needed qualifications in Psychology to have got the job at ESA. I think the fact that I also had my Pilot’s Licence meant I could understand the technical side of things more easily.

Susan Buckle with British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake at the BBC

Susan Buckle with British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake at the BBC

On the education needed for her current role:

I definitely needed qualifications in Psychology to have got the job at ESA. I think the fact that I also had my Pilot’s Licence meant I could understand the technical side of things more easily. I had already shown I could apply Psychology / Human Factors to the context of aviation, so the switch to a space was not so difficult to make.

I had expected that a degree in aerospace, engineering or physics would be a necessity for the job, but they had employed me due to my Psychology credentials and teaching experience.

However, I made sure to research and participate in as much technical training as I could whilst I was at ESA to increase my understanding of human spaceflight. Whilst at the European Astronaut Centre, I was fortunate to have training on Columbus, the payloads, and the Robotic Arm.

Although I had always been interested in space as a child. I didn’t realise there was a need for someone with my [psychology] background in such a technical industry.

On unexpectedly entering the space industry:

I would say the very fact I’m working in the Space industry is the most unexpected aspect! When I was studying at Cranfield, I thought I’d end up working in the aviation industry, for an airline company doing safety and human factors. I hadn’t considered working in the space industry until I saw the job advert for ESA, although I had always been interested in space as a child. I didn’t realise there was a need for someone with my [psychology] background in such a technical industry.

Susan Buckle with British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake taking part in a parabolic flight campaign for his pre-mission training

Susan Buckle with British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake taking part in a parabolic flight campaign for his pre-mission training

On what she loves about her job:

The variety and range of opportunities. I have done some incredible things and met some amazing people. I am always learning new things and challenging and pushing myself. Sometimes this can be pretty daunting but it’s certainly never boring.

Whilst at ESA, I was lucky enough to participate in a parabolic flight campaign for Astronaut Tim Peake’s pre-mission training. It was one of the scariest things I’ve done as I had heard nightmare stories of the ‘vomit comet’ but it turned out to be a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience. There is nothing quite like it!

One of my first tasks was dropping off a Sokol spacesuit to the BBC Broadcasting House (and having a quick tour!) before Tim was being interviewed on The One Show.

I arrived at the UK Space Agency a few months before Tim’s was due launch to the International Space Station. It was full on from the start. One of my first tasks was dropping off a Sokol spacesuit to the BBC Broadcasting House (and having a quick tour!) before Tim was being interviewed on The One Show. Other highlights include: watching Tim’s launch along with thousands of excited school children in the UK; co-ordinating the amateur radio calls to Tim whilst he was on the ISS; and being invited to Tim’s welcome home reception at Number 10.

[My Dad] never for a second believed that me being female meant I couldn’t do anything a son could, so I guess in this way he was an extremely important role model for me as a young girl.

On the impact of her family:

I’m not sure I really had a ‘role model’ as such growing up. What I did have though was an extremely supportive and encouraging family. My mum always challenged me to try my best. My dad introduced me to flying and drove me to all my flying lessons, as I got my Pilot’s Licence before I got my Driving Licence!  He explained the mechanics of a combustion engine and the physics of flight. He always insisted (and still does!) that my sisters and I work things out ourselves and not take things at face value.

I think it’s critical that not only women encourage other women and young girls to achieve and enter what could be perceived as a male-dominated industry, but that men do the same for youngsters with no discrimination.

This made me curious and made me question everything. Since I’m one of three sisters, people used to joke that I was the son he never had. But he never for a second believed that me being female meant I couldn’t do anything a son could, so I guess in this way he was an extremely important role model for me as a young girl. I think it’s critical that not only women encourage other women and young girls to achieve and enter what could be perceived as a male-dominated industry, but that men do the same for youngsters with no discrimination.

Susan Buckle with women working at the European Astronaut Centre, including ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, at Samantha's post-mission return party!

Susan Buckle with women working at the European Astronaut Centre, including ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, at Samantha’s post-mission return party

On how the space industry has changed for women over the years:

I have always been incredibly lucky to have worked for two space agencies, both of which has an equal balance of males and females at work. The European Astronaut Centre was pretty much 50/50 men and women – this included Astronaut Instructors, Medical staff, the Flight Control team and support staff. Although I did hear a story from a colleague at ESA from when she started as an Engineer 25 years ago and was constantly mistaken for the secretary(!), things have definitely moved on from then.

I think that as long as you demonstrate you are a capable, credible figure in the workplace, there’s a place for you in the Space Industry.

At the UK Space Agency, I see the same gender balance. Some meetings I attend with companies in the space industry, there does seem to be a predominantly male presence, but I personally have never experienced any discrimination. I know a lot of these companies are actively trying to encourage women to join, and are always disappointed by the lack of female applicants to vacancies.  Maybe its more a case of women excluded themselves by not applying! I think that as long as you demonstrate you are a capable, credible figure in the workplace, there’s a place for you in the Space Industry.

On the best piece of advice she’s been given:

Question everything.