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astronaut

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet The Next Generation of Rocket Women: Alyssa Carson,16, Future Astronaut

4 February, 2018
Alyssa Carson in a simulation

Alyssa Carson in a simulation with the PoSSUM Academy – the youngest person to have been accepted

Alyssa Carson is a regular teenager, except alongside impressively taking her classes at school in four languages (English, French, Spanish, Chinese), she’s training to become an astronaut and travel to Mars. Alyssa is the youngest person to graduate from the Advanced Space Academy and the first person to complete every NASA space camp in the world!

Alyssa Carson is certainly the most dedicated 16-year-old that I know of and her drive to become an astronaut has motivated me work harder! In a new series featuring the next generation of Rocket Women, Alyssa talks to Rocket Women about her drive to travel to Mars.

How were you inspired to choose a career in the space industry and what drives your passion for space?

I got inspired to become an astronaut and go to Mars while watching a cartoon television show called the Backyardigans. In this show there were friends who went on an imaginary trip to Mars. Watching this as a 3-year-old made me want to be like the characters in the show and travel to Mars. After the episode ended I asked my dad if humans had been to Mars and if it was possible to travel there.

I was then fascinated with wanting to go to space. I began reading books, watching videos, and started learning everything I could about space, rockets and Mars. I never let go of my dream of becoming an astronaut.

I was fascinated with wanting to go to space. I began reading books, watching videos, and started learning everything I could about space, rockets and Mars. I never let go of my dream of becoming an astronaut.

Your goal is to become an astronaut and be one of the first people to step foot on Mars. Can you talk about your journey to become an astronaut and how you hope to achieve this?

The journey for me to become an astronaut includes me completing the rest of high school and then going to college to get a degree in astrobiology. With that degree I could become a mission specialist and study the soil, water, and history of the planet Mars. After graduating college I will start applying to the astronaut selection program after my PhD and work in the astrobiology field as I continue to apply. Once selected I will train for the mission which is currently scheduled to happen in the 2030s.

Alyssa Carson, 16, Future Astronaut

Alyssa Carson, 16, Future Astronaut

Who have been your role models growing up? How important are role models to young girls?

One of my biggest role models growing up was astronaut Sandra Magnus. I had the chance to talk to her when I was 9 years old at a Sally Ride Day Camp. When I spoke to her she told about how she she decided to become as astronaut at the age of 9. Hearing how she decided her career at a young age and then fulfilled it by going to space several times really inspired me that you can decide what you want to do at a young age and then accomplish those goals. Role models are extremely important to girls because it gives them someone to look up to. Also it is motivation to continue searching and following dreams.

Success for me means becoming a mission specialist for the mission to Mars.

What does success mean to you?

Success for me means becoming a mission specialist for the mission to Mars. Also having the opportunity to make new discoveries by exploring a new planet. Another big success would be influencing as many kids as I can to follow their dreams and to help them as much as I can.

Alyssa Carson speaking about her drive to become an astronaut

Alyssa Carson speaking about her drive to become an astronaut

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

My family has been a huge support in my dream. Even from the first time I mentioned the idea I had a lot of support. My dad especially has helped so much and enabled me to pursue the career that I wanted. I definitely would not be at the point I am now without him.

In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up? 

It wasn’t too hard to keep myself motivated when the things that I was doing was tough. Sometimes things can be very busy and hard however the benefits that I am getting out of all these experience most definitely made up for it. I just had to remember that my goal required a lot work to get there and without it I wouldn’t be able to accomplish what I wanted.
Alyssa Carson

Alyssa Carson

Everything has been an amazing experience and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

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?

The advice that I would give my 10-year-old self would be to cherish every moment because all experiences are once in a lifetime. I don’t really think I would have done anything differently since I began working on my dream. Everything has been an amazing experience and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead.

Learn more about Alyssa Carson in this short clip produced in conjunction with National Geographic’s brilliant Mars series:

Education, Inspiration

Luciana Vega – The American Girl & NASA Doll To Inspire The Next Generation

30 December, 2017

In partnership with NASA, American Girl have created a brilliant new doll called Luciana Vega, an 11-year-old aspiring astronaut who wants to be the first person to step foot on Mars. In the accompanying book series written by Erin Teagen, Luciana is introduced as a young girl of Chilean descent, with a dream of landing on Mars, who wins a scholarship to attend Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. However as Luciana graduates from a ‘Space Camp kid to youth astronaut trainee’, she encounters a multitude of challenges that ‘test her competitive spirit and self-confidence, pushing her to find the courage to embrace the unknown with bravery, curiosity, and wonder.’

Alongside Luciana, American Girl and NASA through the Space Act Agreement have also created a spacesuit outfit based on NASA’s Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), the spacesuit used onboard the International Space Station (ISS) and previously during space shuttle missions. Luciana’s other fantastic accessories include a Maker Station, a blue Space Camp flight suit and a Mars Habitat which is ‘loaded with science and research essentials for hours of pretend play’. American Girl and NASA have also created a new American Girl World app featuring the doll and aspiring third to fifth grade astronauts can take part in ‘Blast Off to Discovery’ an educational program by NASA, Scholastic and Space Camp featuring Luciana Vega content, including ‘lesson plans, classroom activities, videos and a game’.

“It is so important to find exciting new ways to inspire our next generation of space explorers. I always want to encourage girls and boys to pursue their dreams, no matter how big, and I think it helps to show how those dreams can become reality for any kid.”

A NASA advisory board, including former NASA Chief Scientist Ellen Stofan, the CEO and Executive Director of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Deborah Barnhart, Manager of Strategic Alliances at NASA Headquarters Maureen O’Brien and NASA Astronaut Megan McArthur, proudly worked with American Girl to create the authentic design and story. As Astronaut Megan McArthur mentions in a NASA post, “It is so important to find exciting new ways to inspire our next generation of space explorers. I always want to encourage girls and boys to pursue their dreams, no matter how big, and I think it helps to show how those dreams can become reality for any kid.”

Luciana Vega is certainly the doll that I wish I had when I was younger, and will be available to buy for any young budding astronauts in January 2018! If you’re an aspiring astronaut like Luciana and want to attend Space Camp, American Girl are providing 20 scholarships to Space Camp through the project!

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.

Astronauts, Inspirational women

Record-Breaking Rocket Woman NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson Returns To Earth

3 September, 2017
NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson During A Spacewalk or EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) (Source: NASA)

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson During A Spacewalk or EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity) (Source: NASA)

Rocket Woman NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson returned to Earth on Sunday 3rd September, after spending 288 days in space, or nearly 10 months – 4 months longer than most astronauts assigned to missions onboard the International Space Station. With today’s culmination of her third long-duration spaceflight, the biochemist has now spent a record breaking 665 days in space!

Peggy Whitson became the first female commander of the International Space Station (ISS) in 2008 and her cumulative time in space now makes her the most experienced NASA Astronaut ever, smashing NASA Astronaut Jeff Williams’ 534 day record and NASA Astronaut Scott Kelly’s 520 days in space. Only seven Russian men remain ahead of Peggy Whitson in the space experience stakes, with time onboard both the ISS & the Mir space station.

During her recent mission she additionally completed her 10th spacewalk, collating over 60 hours of spacewalk time, making her the third most experienced spacewalker ever (and surpassing Sunita Williams’ record as the most experienced female spacewalker). Two astronauts remain ahead of her: Russian Anatoly Solovyev and NASA’s Michael Lopez Alegria. Peggy Whitson is also the oldest woman to fly, at 57.

Peggy Whitson, her crewmate Jack Fisher along with any returning ISS science samples will travel to the European Space Agency’s European Astronaut Centre in Cologne from Kazakhstan for a stopover, before travelling directly to Houston on Sunday evening.

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson returning to Earth, after spending 288 days in space, or nearly 10 months (Source: Still image taken from NASA TV)

NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson returning to Earth, after spending 288 days in space, or nearly 10 months (Source: Still image taken from NASA TV)

Peggy and her colleagues undocked their Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft at 5:58 pm EDT & landed in Kazakhstan at 9:22 pm EDT (7:22 a.m. 3rd Sept, Kazakhstan time). Watch Peggy’s return to Earth again at NASA TV. At Rocket Women we’re excited for Peggy’s return to Earth today!

Media, Science Spotlight

Learn How To Design A Spacesuit At New Scientist Live 2017

12 August, 2017

Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit - Vinita Marwaha Madill [Image: New Scientist Live https://live.newscientist.com/talks/dressing-for-the-moon]

Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit – Vinita Marwaha Madill [Image: New Scientist Live 2017 https://live.newscientist.com/talks/dressing-for-the-moon]

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be speaking at New Scientist Live 2017 in London on Friday 29th September! During my talk ‘Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit‘ I’ll be discussing how to design a spacesuit for the Moon and the exciting projects being planned by space agencies globally to return astronauts to the Moon, including the European Space Agency (ESA). New Scientist Live is ‘the world’s most exciting festival of ideas and discovery’, and will be taking place from 28th September to 1st October 2017. The event is bringing 120+ prominent speakers including British ESA Astronaut Tim Peake, ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Author Margaret Atwood, Broadcaster & Author Chris Packham, Chef Heston Blumenthal, Scientist & Broadcaster Prof.Alice Roberts and Physicist & Author Sean Carroll to London.

Tickets are available, with a 10% discount offered to Rocket Women readers to attend this exciting event, using the code ‘SPEAKER10‘!

To book tickets for Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit and and for further information about this fantastic event visit: https://live.newscientist.com/talks/dressing-for-the-moon

Learn about New Scientist Live on Twitter @newscilive & Instagram @NewScientistOfficial. I look forward to meeting you at the event!

I'll be speaking at New Scientist Live 2017 about Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit [New Scientist]

I’ll be speaking at New Scientist Live 2017 about Dressing For The Moon: How To Design A Spacesuit [New Scientist]

Astronauts, Inspirational women

Meet A New Generation of Rocket Women: The Astronaut Class of 2017

30 July, 2017

The Next Generation Of NASA Astronauts - Class of 2017 [NASA]

The Next Generation Of NASA Astronauts – Class of 2017 [Image copyright: Robert Markowitz/NASA]

In the summer of 2017, six new women were selected through both the NASA and the Canadian Space Agency’s (CSA) Astronaut selection programmes, along with eight men. Zena Cardman, Jasmin Moghbeli, Kayla Barron, Loral O’Hara and Jessica Watkins, along side Jonny Kim, Frank Rubio, Raja Chari, Matthew Dominick, Warren Hoburg, Robb Kulin and Bob Hines, were chosen out of over 18,300 applications to become the next generation of NASA Astronauts. Canada’s two newest astronauts were announced recently to be LCol. Joshua Kutryk, an experimental test pilot and fighter pilot for the Canadian Armed Forces and Dr. Jennifer Sidey, a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Engineering at the University of Cambridge in the UK. These are names that you should remember. With space agencies aiming to send missions to the Moon and eventually Mars, these remarkable men and women could very well be one of the first humans to return to the Moon and step foot on Mars.

Three of the new NASA astronaut class were selected at 29 years old (Jessica Watkins, Kayla Barron and Zena Cardman), with Canadian Jenni Sidey 28 years old, making them some of the youngest astronaut candidates selected in history. If you think about it, that’s close to 10 years between completing Year 13 at secondary school or sixth form, to being selected as an astronaut!

Trailblazing Canadian astronaut candidate Jenni Sidey at #Canada150 🇨🇦 celebrations at the Canadian Embassy in the UK with The Queen. [Copyright: High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom]

Trailblazing Canadian astronaut candidate Jenni Sidey at Canada 150 celebrations at the Canadian Embassy in the UK. [Copyright: High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom]

For the majority of the candidates chosen, their selection is the culmination of a lifelong journey, as Jenni Sidey describes to the QE Prize, “I’ve always wanted to be a scientist and have always been excited by the idea of exploring the unknown. I remember when I was very young, I wanted to be an astronaut. This dream always seemed unreal until recently! In June 2016, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) announced that it was looking to recruit two new astronauts in 2017.

This exciting opportunity is pretty rare; although there have been many exceptional Canadian astronauts, including Chris Hadfield, the last recruitment campaign was in 2009. I applied in August but was hardly prepared for an experience as challenging, rewarding, and unique as the recruitment campaign. The CSA received 3772 applications and invited 100 qualified candidates for preliminary medicals. After that, the top 72 were put through intense physical, cognitive, memory, problem solving, teamwork, and survival tests. We’ve been tested on everything from our ability to fight fires and escape from helicopters underwater, to solving complex problems as teams.”

The class will begin two years of Basic Training this autumn at NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Centre in Houston, Texas, learning how to fly jets, scuba dive, speak Russian, practice space walks and about the intricacies of the International Space Station. Until their graduation and completion of Basic Training they’ll be referred to as Astronaut Candidates, individuals who have been selected by NASA and the CSA to join the astronaut corps.

The idea of being able to be a face to others who may not see people who look like them in STEM fields in general, and doing cool things like going to space. I think that’s really important for that exposure, for young girls.

The 2017 class was importantly one of the most diverse selected, with expansive backgrounds in academia, military, geology, marine biology, engineering at Space X and medicine. Representation matters as NASA Astronaut Candidate Jessica Watkins explains to Syfy, “I think the thing about diversity is that it allows for experiences that may not be exactly the same to bring different things to the table. The idea of being able to be a face to others who may not see people who look like them in STEM fields in general, and doing cool things like going to space. I think that’s really important for that exposure, for young girls. It translates as well into racial diversity, that that type of exposure at a young age and also the stores of persistence become important.”

Here are five things that we can learn from the next generation of Rocket Women as they begin their Astronaut Training.

Prioritise Your Passion & Persevere

Zena Caldman, NASA Astronaut Candidate [Image copyright: Robert Markowitz/NASA]

Zena Cardman, NASA Astronaut Candidate [Image copyright: Robert Markowitz/NASA]

Zena Cardman at 29 didn’t know if she had enough experience to be an astronaut to meet the bare minimum NASA astronaut requirements, but whilst studying for her doctorate she applied anyway and became an astronaut out of over 18,000 applications made. “I’ve got nothing to lose, This will be a really cool experience no matter what.”

As she tells Mashable, “2015 was actually when this round opened. The astronauts who were selected in 2013, I didn’t apply that round because I wasn’t yet qualified. I was barely out of college. You need a STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] degree and then at least three years of progressive experience after that, and I did not meet the bare minimum. Even this time, I thought, “Maybe I don’t technically meet the bare minimum requirement. I’m still in school. I’m still a student.” But I applied anyway, thinking, “I’ve got nothing to lose. This will be a really cool experience no matter what.” And then yeah, at every stage along the way, it’s just been, “Wow, what a cool experience, everyone has been awesome. I’ll try again next time.” And yeah, it just kept going!” 

Zena Cardman prioritised her passion and persevered.

The morning of the [astronaut] announcement, when myself and my classmates put on our blue flight suits and our families saw us for the first time, the daughter of one of my classmates said, “Mommies can be astronauts too.” I think that really said something important about making sure that kids see that there are people of different backgrounds, different ethnicities, males, females, in these fields and it’s something they can do too.

The Importance Of Role Models

NASA Astronaut Candidate Jessica Watkins [Image Copyright: NASA]

NASA Astronaut Candidate Jessica Watkins [Image Copyright: NASA]

As the first American Woman in Space, Sally Ride, said, “”You Can’t Be If You Can’t See.” Mae Jemison, the first African-American woman in space (1992), provided NASA Astronaut Candidate Jessica Watkins with exposure. She describes to The Atlantic,”Being able to see somebody who looks like you in a position or in a role that is something that you aspire to do, I think is really important.” Being that tangible role model to the next generation is something that she doesn’t take lightly, “I know is an important responsibility. I’m excited about that opportunity, to be that kind of representative, to be able to be somebody that people can look to and see doing cool things, like going to space, and hopefully they will be able to see that that’s something that they can do, too.”

On completing her basic training, Jessica Watkins will become the sixth African-American female NASA astronaut. Of these, only three women have flown to space, with the fourth astronaut Jeanette Epps, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Technical Intelligence Officer launching to the International Space Station in May 2018!

Major Jasmin Moghbeli. NASA Astronaut Candidate [Photo Copyright: NASA]

Major Jasmin Moghbeli. NASA Astronaut Candidate [Photo Copyright: NASA]

NASA Astronaut Candidate Major Jasmin Moghbeli has tested H-1 helicopters, accumulating more than 1,600 hours of total flight time, and has taken part in 150 combat missions!

Talking to CNN‘s Christiane Amanpour, “[My background] was never specifically thought about as some sort of barrier or an obstacle in my way, but now on this side of things I can recognise how important it is to get out and make sure the next generations sees myself and my colleagues of all different backgrounds, all different experiences, so we don’t potentially lose a future brilliant mind because they assumed that only boys do this job, or only people of this ethnicity do this job, so I think now on this end I sense the importance of that…I think it’s very important for people to see.

You know, the morning of the announcement, when myself and my classmates put on our blue flight suits and our families saw us for the first time, the daughter of one of my classmates said, “Mommies can be astronauts too.” I think that really said something important about making sure that kids see that there are people of different backgrounds, different ethnicities, males, females, in these fields and it’s something they can do too.”

Maj. Jasmin Moghbeli dressed up as Valentina Tereshkova for a 6th grade project at Lenox Elementary School, in December 1994. Courtesy photo.

NASA Astronaut Candidate Major Jasmin Moghbeli dressed up as Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, for a 6th grade project at Lenox Elementary School, in December 1994. Courtesy photo [Jasmin Moghbeli]

Pursue Something You Love

NASA Astronaut Candidate Zena Caldman believes that to be an astronaut or work in the space industry you have to study something that you love and are passion about. Telling The Verge, “You have to enjoy what you study and the work that you’re doing. Pay attention to what your passion is for.” To be an astronaut you have to firstly complete a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, biology, physics or mathematics. “That’s a really good concrete way to get started for anyone who wants to be an astronaut. But my main advice is just pursue something that you love. Because if you wake up curious and excited every morning, you’re going to be really happy no matter what the end result is, whatever career you wind up in. Just pursue whatever interests you. You know, I sit here in this blue flight suit, and I have to say it’s possible. So you just have to go for it.”

My main advice is just pursue something that you love. Because if you wake up curious and excited every morning, you’re going to be really happy no matter what the end result is, whatever career you wind up in. Just pursue whatever interests you. You know, I sit here in this blue flight suit, and I have to say it’s possible. So you just have to go for it.

Find A Mentor

Sometimes you need somebody who you trust and sees your potential, telling you to just apply for that opportunity. You need somebody to push you past that self-critical stage and to say, “Yes, you’re ready.”

That idea of persistence, having a mentor who can continue to push you and encourage you in a STEM field is really helpful.

NASA Astronaut Candidate Jessica Watkins believes that finding a mentor is essential. As she tells Syfy, “I would say get a mentor, ideally a female mentor, although male mentors are great as well. That is something that has really pushed me to this point in my life. I’ve been really grateful and lucky to have the mentorship support that I’ve received from a lot of my teachers and professors and supervisors. That’s been something that’s really important for me, and I think help with that idea of persistence, having a mentor who can continue to push you and encourage you in a STEM field is really helpful.”

Maintaining Resilience When Challenged

Jenni Sidey among the top 17 candidates of the 2017 astronaut recruitment campaign are announced during a press conference in Toronto, Ontario. [Image Credit: Canadian Space Agency]

Jenni Sidey among the top 17 candidates of the 2017 astronaut recruitment campaign , announced during a press conference in Toronto, Ontario. [Image Credit: Canadian Space Agency]

Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Candidate Jenni Sidey discussed the hardest challenges she faced during the astronaut selection process during a recent Reddit AMA, “It was probably a combination of tests, actually. The [Canadian] Space Agency was looking at how we would act when things got (really) tough. A lot of resilience [is] required to solve a puzzle underwater for the fifth time when you’re sleep deprived after a day of sprints and sandbag carries.”

The next generation of Rocket Women are set to fly Space X and Boeing‘s commercial vehicles to the International Space Station (ISS) and even explore the Moon and Mars in the coming years. In the words of NASA Astronaut Candiate Major Jasmin Moghbeli, “Right now, we’re talking about going further in the solar system as we’ve ever gone before and to me, at the end of the day, the Earth is just a tiny planet, and it’s necessary for our survival to go somewhere further. This won’t last forever, and so in any way I can contribute to that, whether it’s to go to the Moon, Mars or somewhere else, I’m eager and excited to do so and it would be an honour for me.”

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Ariel Waldman, Founder, SpaceHack.org & Author

17 June, 2017

Ariel Waldman in California at the space-communicating Stanford Dish [Photo copyright: Helena Price]

Ariel Waldman in California at the space-communicating Stanford Dish [Photo copyright: Helena Price]

With a background in design, working at NASA set Ariel Waldman on a mission to empower others to contribute to space exploration. Ariel founded Spacehack.org, a directory of ways for anyone to participate in space exploration and is the “global instigator” of Science Hack Day, an event that brings people together to prototype with science in 24 hours. Recently, Ariel authored the fantastic book “What’s It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who’ve Been There” and is the co-author of a congressionally-requested National Academy of Sciences report on the future of human spaceflight. Ariel describes her journey in the space industry to Rocket Women.

RW: Tell me about your journey to the space industry and to where you are today? 
AW: My journey has been an unexpected one. I don’t have any childhood stories of wanting to be an astronaut or a scientist. I don’t blame that on my schooling (I was an A student who always found math to be a breeze while my schoolmates struggled), I just personally wasn’t very interested. As a young teenager I found myself entranced by art and design and pure creation. I suppose I actually found it to be more challenging.

My art classes were certainly more intimidating to me than any math class I ever attended. So, I went to art school and got my degree in graphic design. I had a job I loved that I can only describe as being like what I imagine it’s like to work at Pixar. But I hit a glass ceiling and ultimately left, not knowing exactly what I was going to do next. In the spirit of continuing to want to be around creators, I moved from Kansas to San Francisco to be alongside the freshly reemerging tech scene.

A few months later I was at home watching a documentary on the Discovery Channel called When We Left Earth. It was about NASA during the early days, when they were trying to figure out how to send humans into space. The documentary interviewed a number of the guys who worked in mission control in the 1960s. They spoke of how when they joined NASA that they didn’t know anything about rocketry or spacecrafts or orbits! They had to figure this stuff out as they went along. That sparked something in me. The idea that you could work at NASA without knowing anything about rocket science.

I said to myself that I knew nothing about space exploration but I’d love to work at NASA. I then told this to a friend who had just met someone who worked at NASA at a conference and he agreed to give me their email address. So, I sent this person at NASA that I had never met an email about how I was a fan of NASA and offered myself as a volunteer if they ever needed someone like me. It was a piece of fan-mail that I didn’t expect would get a response.

Serendipitously, the day I emailed the person at NASA was the day they had just created a job description that they sent back to me. They specifically wanted to hire someone who had no experience with NASA who could help bridge the gap between communities inside and outside of NASA to collaborate. They also wanted someone with design and agency experience who knew how to effectively communicate/translate concepts between different communities, as well as someone who was connected to the tech startup scene. I applied and ended up getting the job! It’s fair to say I was over the moon.

Getting a job at NASA awoke something powerful within me. Over time it made me realize what unique contributions I could make to furthering space exploration.

Never had I expected that someone like me could work at NASA. Even though I hadn’t considered myself a space geek, if at any point in time someone had asked if I, as is, would like to work at NASA, I would’ve said hell yes. And I think most other people would, too.

Getting a job at NASA awoke something powerful within me. Over time it made me realize what unique contributions I could make to furthering space exploration. My lifelong mission now is to give others this same empowering experience and realization – that they, too, as they exist right now can actively contribute to space exploration, and often in clever new ways. That’s what spurred me to create Spacehack.org, a directory of ways for anyone to participate in space exploration, and later to be the “global instigator” of Science Hack Day, an event that brings all different types of people together to see what they can prototype with science in 24 consecutive hours. My projects are all about infusing more serendipity and ingenuity into science through what I call “massively multiplayer science”.

My lifelong mission now is to give others this same empowering experience and realization – that they, too, as they exist right now can actively contribute to space exploration, and often in clever new ways.

Since my unexpected beginnings, I’ve had the honor of serving on the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Human Spaceflight, which reported on how to build a sustainable human spaceflight program out to the 2050’s. I currently sit on the external council for NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC), a NASA program that nurtures radical, science-fiction-inspired ideas that could transform future space missions. I’ve had fun appearances on Syfy and the Science Channel. Last year I published my first book. I’m independent, so I also continue to do consulting work and create fun side projects like Spaceprob.es and my YouTube channel.

I wanted the book to be fun through sharing many of the awkward and amusing stories astronauts might only tell you over a beer.

RW: Congratulations on your new book, ‘What’s It Like in Space?’. How were you inspired to write the book?
AW: Thank you! It was so much fun to make. Throughout my time on the NRC Human Spaceflight Committee, I got to meet a number of astronauts who had so many great and hilarious stories to tell in their downtime. I’d often retell their stories at parties and I eventually decided that it’d be great to collect them all in a book as bite-sized vignettes about what it is like to be in space. I wanted the book to be fun through sharing many of the awkward and amusing stories astronauts might only tell you over a beer.

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

AW: I’d be hard-pressed to say I’ve had any expectations since beginning a career in space exploration!

Landing humans on the surface of Mars is something I see people consistently underestimate just how challenging it is. It will require international collaboration on an unprecedented level.

Author and Science Communicator Ariel Waldman  [Photo copyright: Helena Price]

Author and Science Communicator Ariel Waldman [Photo copyright: Helena Price]

RW: In your opinion, what are the main challenges that human spaceflight faces in the near future?

AW: There are a number of challenges in the near future for human spaceflight that are both intimidating and exciting. Landing humans on the surface of Mars is something I see people consistently underestimate just how challenging it is. It will require international collaboration on an unprecedented level. It’ll also cost hundreds of billions of dollars over decades, which requires strong political will.

Much of the technology needed to land humans on Mars, while it’s foreseeable, doesn’t even exist yet. It’s estimated that NASA’s budget needs to be increased to be 2-5% above inflation for several years in order to reasonably land humans on Mars. With NASA’s current trajectory of flat budgets, it will be unable to conduct any human space exploration programs beyond cislunar space. Landing humans on Mars, no matter who does it (and the most likely scenario is that it’ll be an international collaboration of countries and companies working together), requires a number of facets across politics, money and technology to work in harmony at the same time.

Because landing humans on Mars is so difficult, it will require a large portion of humanity to contribute to it in order to make it happen. If we do land humans on Mars in our lifetime, it will only be because people around the world worked together.

It is far from guaranteed to happen in your lifetime. While one could look pessimistically at this monumental challenge of getting all of these factors to come together at the same time, I think there is something to genuinely be excited about. Because landing humans on Mars is so difficult, it will require a large portion of humanity to contribute to it in order to make it happen. If we do land humans on Mars in our lifetime, it will only be because people around the world worked together. In this way, compared to the Moon landing, a Mars landing will an achievement owned by humanity more so than any one nation or organization.

Women across the board in both commercial industry and government continue to face work environments that retaliate against them when they report harassment. Women continue to be discriminated against more across a myriad of ways as they move up in the workforce.

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

AW: I have personally been extremely disappointed with much of the commercial space industry which actually has worse racial and gender diversity percentages than NASA does, and I don’t see much signaling to say that will change anytime soon. It’s sad that the commercial sector is doing worse given that NASA can not as easily recruit or refresh their workforce as commercial companies can. Women across the board in both commercial industry and government continue to face work environments that retaliate against them when they report harassment.

I certainly will keep fighting to make space exploration more accessible and inclusive from any corner I can get a toe-hold in, and speak up about the injustices and disappointments I see. I do hope it gets better.

Women continue to be discriminated against more across a myriad of ways as they move up in the workforce. Unfortunately, it often doesn’t get better and many times it gets worse. You’re often gaslighted every step of the way by colleagues and made to feel isolated in these situations. The only solace I find is that I continue to meet and hear about more women who have been through these situations and that helps verify that you’re not alone, that what you experience is extremely common, and there is a network of people you can confide in.

I certainly will keep fighting to make space exploration more accessible and inclusive from any corner I can get a toe-hold in, and speak up about the injustices and disappointments I see. I do hope it gets better, I’m just skeptical that disruptive change will come from the inside.

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

AW: It’s okay to be interested in a lot of different things that have nothing to do with each other. It’s also okay to be obsessive about one thing. Focus is not a virtue, it’s just an option.

Education, Inspirational women

Inspired by Space: Engaging Girls in STEM

19 May, 2017

Engaging Girls In STEM [Copyright: Curved House Kids]

Engaging Girls In STEM [Copyright: Curved House Kids]

A fantastic new guide, launched by Curved House Kids, details how and why we should be lifting our girls up and encouraging them to further their STEM education. The Inspired By Space: Engaging Girls In STEM guide (pdf) features brilliant activities created by combining the classroom experience of teacher Claire Loizos with Curved House Kids materials and learning methods. The guide was released this week to mark the 26th anniversary of Dr.Helen Sharman’s mission launch, the first British astronaut!

Curved House Kids and author Lucy Hawking worked with
 European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake and the UK Space Agency to create the Principia Space Diary, marking the launch of Tim Peake’s Principia mission in 2015. The programme simplified the complex subject of space for a primary-aged audience using a series of activities that followed the story of Tim’s mission. In its first year, the Space Diary reached over 60,000 students and 38,500 printed books were distributed to schools for free!

Women In STEM Statistics [Copyright: Curved House Kids]

Women In STEM Statistics [Copyright: Curved House Kids]

As we’ve discussed at Rocket Women previously, the project highlights that the UK has a STEM skills crisis across all sectors, with an estimated shortage of 69,000 recruits a year. At the same time, only 7% of women are choosing STEM careers.

The Space Diary aims to reverse this trend through helping primary-aged girls to see themselves in STEM careers, whether as an astronaut, scientist, mathematician or coder. Publisher Kristen Harrison stresses that this guide is ‘not just for girls’ and promotes the use of these ideas with all students. ‘True equality is not just about giving girls opportunities. It’s about developing empathy in all students to ensure we are all open to female voices and appreciate the benefits of diversity.’

The guide emphasises open tasks that require children to “learn on their feet”, with activities ranging from researching women in STEM and introducing positive female role models to writing a diary entry from the perspective of an astronaut and building a model of their own Soyuz capsule. They aim to encourage independence whilst enabling girls to be creative and crucially ‘allowing them to see themselves as scientists.’

Women In Science

Women In Science [Copyright: Curved House Kids]

I’m excited to be featured in the guide alongside Dr.Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut! Twenty-six years ago, astronaut Dr.Helen Sharman beat 13,000 applicants to become the first British astronaut and the first woman to visit the Mir space station! Her mission was and is a remarkable moment for the UK and for women in STEM, along with a timely reminder of the need to encourage girls into STEM careers.

Personally, Dr.Helen Sharman was hugely influential in inspiring me to consider a career in the space. At the age of six, I remember learning that Helen Sharman was the first British astronaut & had travelled to space a mere two years before. That moment changed my life. To now be featured alongside her & such inspirational women is an amazing honour! 

Two and a half decades on from her flight, achievements like Dr. Helen Sharman’s are unfortunately still all too rare. This fantastic guide aims to change this and encourage the next generation to pursue a fulfilling career in STEM.

Learn more about the Space Diary here: http://principiaspacediary.org/

The Space Diary by Curved House Kids and the UK Space Agency is now a ready-made programme that schools can use to deliver the science curriculum with secondary links to literacy, maths and numeracy, design and technology, geography, PE and more. To date, over 90,000 students have registered in schools and home education settings across the UK!

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Sravanthi Sinha, Intern, NASA Frontier Development Lab

15 May, 2017

Sravanthi Sinha [Holberton School]

Sravanthi Sinha [Holberton School]

In her own words, Sravanthi Sinha has only ever been limited by her imagination. Sravanthi’s inspirational journey began in India before moving to the USA. After attending Holberton School, an alternative to college training software engineers, she was accepted in an internship at the NASA Frontier Development Lab. The NASA lab is aimed at developing new approaches to the asteroid threat by combining the expertise of NASA, academia, and the private research community with the powerful techniques of machine learning. Rocket Women had the chance to ask Sravanthi about her aspirations in space and her experience at NASA.

RW: Can you tell me about when your interest in space grew?

SS: It all started when NASA announced that Pluto will no longer be considered as a planet. I was baffled with the news and I started reading about the research. One article lead to an another and I was very intrigued with the technologies which are being used to make such observations. That fascination led me to a dream visualizing myself working in the field of space and technology in future. I was in primary school then.

Astronaut Kalpana Chawla is one of my role models and I always look up to her for her determination, hard work, and courage.

RW: How important are role models to young girls? Do you think more needs to be done to allow the younger generation to interact with women working in STEM?

SS: Role Models are super important in one’s life. They become a great example of making things or achieving honours of what one dreams of. I believe in the quote “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” One can gain paramount amounts of inspiration and motivation from their role models. Their experiences guide us in making correct decisions at every point of our lives. While I was in India, I never really had an opportunity to directly interact with women working in STEM. There were various science and technological conferences held in the country but I was never in a position to afford to attend one of those, where the well achieved scholarly women working in STEM speak and impart their knowledge and experiences.  Fortunately, the books and internet became my source of knowledge. I still remember the news of Kalpana Chawla’s tragic demise in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster during the re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. Probably, that was the moment when I learned about Indian women working at NASA. Kalpana Chawla is one of my role models and I always look up to her for her determination, hard work, and courage.

We are only limited by our own imagination.

We are only limited by our own imagination. Providing the younger generation with an opportunity to interact with women working in the STEM, would certainly increase their knowledge and awareness. Furthermore, it will instigate their interests in pursuing a career in STEM. I look forward to the promising future where the younger generation is driven by science and technology and disregard any biases. #MoreWomenInSTEM

RW: What did your internship at NASA entail and what did you do specifically?

SS: The NASA Frontier Development Lab is aimed at developing new approaches to the asteroid threat by combining the expertise of NASA, academia, and the private research community with the powerful techniques of machine learning. I was selected as a Data Scientist to work on one of three projects titled “Finding Meteorites in the Field with an Autonomous Drone”. The objective of the project was to develop a small UAV (such as a commercially available quadcopter) equipped with cameras and onboard processors that can identify potential meteorite targets in the search areas calculated from triangulated meteor observations.

In terms of machine learning the problem was that of object detection, to identify interesting object(s) in an image. To date, state of the art object detection algorithms are based on deep learning architectures, specifically convolution based networks. Convolutional models need to be trained before they can be used to identify or classify objects in images. Typically, these networks require tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of images to train an accurate model. Unfortunately in our case, this database of useful images did not exist. In an attempt to avoid weeks of data collection and curation we decided to investigate approaches that do not require training such as traditional Computer Vision Techniques – Anomaly Detection and Hand Crafted Feature Detection. I worked on the Hand Crafted Feature Detection approach.

After striving to develop a model that could detect meteorites without having to be trained, we eventually conceded that we would not be able to build a generalised model using the traditional machine learning and computer vision approaches. We determined to proceed with Deep Learning which needed collection of data and GPU power. I was involved with data collection and augmenting the dataset by photoshopping images of meteorite on different terrains. I was accountable to administer the Nvidia Jetson TX1 which was used for the on board processing. While we were still training the model on the dataset, I came up with an idea of having a web app as an User Interface for this project The ADELIE Meteorite Hunter web application was built to carry on the off-board processing of the images collected in the field. It serves the purpose of analysing the images collected from drone and archiving the meteorite images which could become a potential data-set for future learning.

RW: What steps did you take that landed you such a prestigious internship?

SS: My first acquaintance with NASA was during my primary schooling when NASA announced that the Pluto would no longer be called a planet. I learned that it was the ultimate place where an intense research in space is carried out. Since then I have always dreamed and desired to work at NASA. I would totally credit Holberton School for allowing me to live my dream of working at NASA/SETI. When I joined the school, I had no idea what was in store for me, I did expect to become a Full stack developer and realise my dreams in Silicon Valley, but I wasn’t sure that it could happen in just 7 months of joining it. The school has got tremendous support from the mentors. I got the serendipitous opportunity to interact directly with two of Holberton’s great mentors, Gregory Renard and Louis Monier (Founder of Alta Vista).

As an initial step of my experimentation in deep learning, I employed a neural style algorithm to make an image of me as it would look if Vincent van Gogh painted it. When I heard about NASA FDL program from one of the founder of the school Julien Barbier, I was awestruck and determined to get this. The application needed a personal statement, team and collaboration work and a concept note to be submitted. For the concept note, I had to choose from one of the 3 challenges/projects provided and make a brief statement of my solution to it. Louis Monier played a key role in guiding me throughout the completion of the concept note. While I wanted to explore the techniques in Deep Learning he even offered me to use his GPU machine remotely. I was quite sure, that I would get it.

Sravanthi Sinha [Holberton School]

Sravanthi Sinha [Holberton School]

RW: How invaluable was this internship and what was your favorite aspect?

SS: Being on an NASA internship and working at SETI gave a plenty of opportunities to meet extraordinary people such as Ed Lu (former NASA astronaut) who founded B612 Foundation, Steve Juvertson (invested in SpaceX, Tesla, D-Wave, Skype, Box and a number “New Space” leaders – including Planet Labs). Getting a special talk from Apollo 9 astronaut Rusty Schweickart and watching the movie Contact with astronomer Jill Tarter (on which the lead character is based!) and the former director of the Center for SETI Research.

Working with Peter Jenniskens (mentor) and my teammates Christopher Watkins from Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation(CSIRO), Amar Shah from Cambridge University, Robert Citron from University of California, Berkeley on a project solving the problems in Planetary Defense. And of course living at NASA Ames Research Center, where 2 years back I just had the opportunity to visit on its 75th Anniversary.

RW: What did you take away from your internship?

SS: The internship gave me real-time exposure to the space industry. I felt the absolute need for more software “techies” to get involved with the space industry to bring in the latest technologies and leverage the NASA expertise and contribute to the space exploration.

Desire combined with effort pays off. Raise your hand when opportunities arise and make it known you are interested.

RW: Following this internship, what are your goals for the future and how has the internship helped you to achieve these goals?

SS: I desire to experience the universe of Star Wars and Star Trek. I believe that the “force is with me” in contributing to the AI research and hope that AI would reach the capability to turn my belief into reality.

During my internship I did have a great chance to work and learn from the machine learning and planetary science expertise. The project in which I was involved during my internship is still in progress and once I am back in the US from India I would like to continue my work on it and find a meteorite. And I would like to continue my journey in exploring the Artificial Intelligence and build real-time applications too.

RW: Do you have any advice for others who may want to follow in your footsteps?

SS: I would like to mention the words from A.P.J Abdul Kalam (Missile Man of India) “It’s a crime to dream small”. If one doesn’t dream about it, they never can make it. Desire combined with effort pays off. Raise your hand when opportunities arise and make it known you are interested.

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

SS: Oh wow!! A great and probably important piece of advice to myself would be: To never stop questioning and to keep looking up.

Astronauts, Inspirational women

Helen Sharman On Being The First British Astronaut

22 April, 2016

Britain's First Astronaut -Helen Sharman Landing After Her 8-Day Mission [Copyright: Alamy / The Guardian]

Britain’s First Astronaut -Helen Sharman Landing After Her 8-Day Mission [Copyright: Alamy / The Guardian]

Almost 25 years ago, Dr.Helen Sharman became the first British person in space. At the age of 6, I remember learning that Helen Sharman was the UK’s first astronaut and had travelled to space a mere 2 years before. That moment changed my life and inspired me to consider a career in space.

Helen’s story began as she replied to a November 1989 Project Juno radio advertisement calling for astronauts, “Astronaut wanted, no experience necessary,” and worked hard to be selected from more than 13,000 applicants. After undergoing 18 months of strenuous training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre at Star City, Russia she launched into space on 18th May 1991. After her privately funded 8-day mission as a research cosmonaut, Helen Sharman became an overnight sensation in the UK. She spent the 1990s telling the world of her mission and spreading her inspirational story. But as suddenly as she had appeared, she disappeared.

A new interview with Helen Sharman by The Guardian helps to shed light as to why she led such an intensely private life. After shunning the limelight for over 15 years, Helen’s story has been brought back to the public’s imagination through Tim Peake’s mission, the first British European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut.

She spent the 1990s telling the world of her mission and spreading her inspirational story. But as suddenly as she had appeared, she disappeared.

As her interview with The Guardian states, “I wanted my privacy back. I’m a scientist, but I found myself in interviews being asked where I bought my clothes. Irrelevant. And I always felt I had to be photo-ready. Fame was the downside of space.”

When British Major Tim Peake was assigned a flight to the International Space Station, she found the UK Space Agency apparently ‘writing her out of history’. In statements, Major Tim Peake was reported as the UK’s first official astronaut. Helen says, “I asked them: ‘What happened to me?” She questioned what ‘official’ even meant, reminding them that her mission was ‘part of the Soviet Union space programme’. “The British government didn’t fund it but it was still official.”

Discussing what she enjoyed most about her mission, “It wasn’t so much going to space as the training that appealed. Living in Russia, learning the language, doing advanced mechanics. It was a way out [of] the rat race.”

As the first British astronaut in 1991, Helen Sharman inspired a generation in the UK to look to the stars and follow their dreams, similarly to the hopeful impact of Tim Peake’s mission a quarter of a decade later. On being selected, she shrugs, “I can only surmise why me.” “I was physically fit, good in a team and not too excitable, which was important. You can’t have people losing it in space. I think it was just my normality.”

Read Helen Sharman’s feature with The Guardian here.