Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Natalie Panek, Mission Systems Engineer & Women in STEM Advocate

27 May, 2019

Natalie Panek [Image credit: Natalia Dolan]

Natalie Panek [Image credit: Natalia Dolan]

Natalie Panek is truly an inspiration. Along with being a trailblazing space engineer, Natalie is dedicated to inspire, empower and uplift young women in science & engineering. Natalie talked to Rocket Women about growing up in an environment that cultivated possibility, the importance of mentors to break down barriers, working on a Martian rover and her new documentary ‘Space To Explore‘!

What was the path to get to where you are now in the space industry and what drives your passion for space?

My career in aerospace engineering launched from a dream to become an astronaut. I loved the idea of maybe one day travelling to space, exploring, and doing science alongside a really fantastic team. Watching a lot of science fiction –Star Trek, Star Wars, and Stargate with my mom when I was a kid – fueled this passion. I think my interest in science and engineering also sparked from a love for the outdoors.

Time outdoors fostered a curiosity and wonder for the world that has never gone away, which established a connection between science, tech, and engineering and how they can be used to positively shape the world.

I grew up in Alberta and spent a large portion of my childhood camping with my family. This time outdoors fostered a curiosity and wonder for the world that has never gone away, which established a connection between science, tech, and engineering and how they can be used to positively shape the world. And while I knew I wanted to be an astronaut, the path to becoming one was never all that clear. From some basic research, I knew that many astronauts are engineers. Despite not knowing much about engineering when I was younger, a physics teacher in high school encouraged me to pursue it.

The problem-solving aspect of engineering turned out to be a great fit and held my interest through both undergraduate and graduate studies. This path ultimately led me to the field of space robotics, in which I have been working for nearly the last decade. I actually had no experience with robotics before my job. There was a steep learning curve but with many great learning experiences from talented colleagues.

While I am not an astronaut today, I have worked on a ton of interesting projects as an aerospace engineer. The key takeaway here is that there are so many different opportunities to work in the aerospace industry that do not include becoming an astronaut (even though that would be really cool)!

Natalie Panek

Natalie Panek

Congratulations on your new documentary Space To Explore. Can you tell me more about the documentary and what inspired it?

The documentary focuses on my story and my dream of one day travelling to space. And in telling this story, a reminder that it is OK to set big goals and have big dreams, yet not achieve them. The power of those big dreams lies in everything that is learned along the way, with opportunities to create positive change.

The documentary was borne out of an interview I did for Air Canada’s En Route magazine. The producer read my interview while flying home from vacation and she found the feature really inspiring. It took a few years for all of the pieces to fit together after she initially reached out, and then the film premiered as a finalist last year in the Banff Mountain Film Festival!

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

Most of my role models growing up were fictional characters. I thought She-Ra was the coolest person ever – she was powerful and compassionate. I wanted to be just like Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1, or even versions of Luke Skywalker and Wesley Crusher. I wish I could have emailed astronauts or aerospace engineers and asked all my questions when I was younger. A few years ago, I realized I am in a great position to share my experiences. I created an online platform and spaces where young people could connect with me and ask any questions they might have about space, engineering, robotics, or anything related to Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math (STEM).

I wanted to be just like Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1, or even versions of Luke Skywalker and Wesley Crusher. I wish I could have emailed astronauts or aerospace engineers and asked all my questions when I was younger.

Natalie Panek participating in the International Space University's Space Studies Program (SSP09) course at NASA Ames Research Centre with fellow Rocket Woman Elizabeth Jens! [Photo credit: Eric Dahlstrom]

Natalie Panek participating in the International Space University’s Space Studies Program (SSP09) course at NASA Ames Research Centre with fellow featured Rocket Woman Elizabeth Jens! [Photo credit: Eric Dahlstrom]

Not knowing what to pursue in university or not having anyone to speak with can be overwhelming. Role models and mentors breaks down barriers by connecting young people with those working in STEM fields. And role models open up so many career opportunities that young people might just not be aware of.

Role models and mentors breaks down barriers by connecting young people with those working in STEM fields. And role models open up so many career opportunities that young people might just not be aware of.

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

Honestly, I am not sure that my family knew how to support my dream of becoming an astronaut or a career in engineering. It was just so far from anything they had experience with. I would tell them my goals – for example, that I was going to learn how to fly a plane, drive a solar powered car across North America, or study aerospace engineering – and they never second guessed those conversations. It was almost like not saying anything made everything – even the biggest goals – seem both normal and achievable.

I grew up in an environment that cultivated possibility. And when failures happened or obstacles arose (which they often did), my parents encouraged moving on rather than dwelling, and were always available to help figure out what comes next.

I grew up in an environment that cultivated possibility. And when failures happened or obstacles arose (which they often did), my parents encouraged moving on rather than dwelling, and were always available to help figure out what comes next. While support and encouragement come in many forms, my family gave (gives) me the space and freedom to do what I need to do. This is so subtle, but impactful.

What are your favourite things about your workday?

I really love that I contribute to challenging engineering projects in a collaborative environment. I work with amazing teams on a daily basis to help design and build hardware that is going to explore space or go to another planet. But things do not always go according to plan when working on space projects. Every day presents something new and requires working with dynamic and creative co-workers to solve the challenges that pop up.

I really love that I contribute to challenging engineering projects in a collaborative environment. I work with amazing teams on a daily basis to help design and build hardware that is going to explore space or go to another planet.

I also really love testing and the opportunity to do hands-on work; to see our designs come to life in our clean rooms. Our engineering and robotic products need to operate in pretty extreme environments (imagine dust storms on Mars, driving through deep soil, climbing over rocks, and exposure to really cold or hot temperatures!). Designing and testing for these environments requires creativity and visualizing different ways of approaching and solving problems. It is very validating and what makes our work at MDA really exciting.

Our engineering and robotic products need to operate in pretty extreme environments (imagine dust storms on Mars, driving through deep soil, climbing over rocks, and exposure to really cold or hot temperatures!). Designing and testing for these environments requires creativity and visualizing different ways of approaching and solving problems.

Natalie Panek with Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Dr. Dave Williams [Photo Credit M. Northcott]

Natalie Panek with Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Dr. Dave Williams [Photo Credit M. Northcott]

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

I have worked on so many fascinating projects at MDA over the last decade. These projects range from studying how hazardous lunar dust affects the mechanical and electronic hardware that might be used in a lunar rover or lunar habitat, using robotic arms to repair or de-orbit broken-down satellites instead of letting them become space junk, and building robotic space tools.

I am actually working on a rover that is going to explore another planet and that is just so cool!

But the most rewarding moment of my career so far has been working on a Mars rover for the last 4.5 years. We are building the chassis and locomotion system for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2020 rover. The chassis and locomotion system (or the mobility system) is the frame of the rover: its legs, its wheels, as well as its motors and sensors. All of this hardware enables the rover to deploy once on Mars, as well as drive around and steer to get to its locations for science operations. I am actually working on a rover that is going to explore another planet and that is just so cool!

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?

Advice I would pass along is not to be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. I have been in a lot of scenarios where I was really nervous to take that first step, whether it was learning how to fly a plane or helping build a solar powered car, or even starting a job in robotics. I think this was because I did not want to be the person in the room who did not know anything.

Once you are in that room, you can help bring in more people whom look like you – others whom might also have been afraid to take that first step but would really, really be interested in science, engineering, technology, even robotics.

I was afraid that I did not have the skills to contribute. But if you can get over that initial fear and vulnerability, there is usually a great team surrounding you to help overcome those challenges and to help you build skills. And once you are in that room, you can help bring in more people whom look like you – others whom might also have been afraid to take that first step but would really, really be interested in science, engineering, technology, even robotics.

With respect to doing things differently, I do not think I would. I think about this question from time to time. For example, what if I had accepted my offer of admission to Stanford University to complete my masters in Aerospace Engineering, versus going to the University of Toronto. I think it is easy to worry about making a ‘wrong’ choice.

What really matters is whether opportunities to learn are always present and that you are surrounded by people whom lift you up. And if an opportunity or experience just does not feel right, there is no shame in making a change.

But I like the idea of having different options to consider, knowing that each option will take me down a different path, with different experiences, and meeting different people along the way. What really matters is whether opportunities to learn are always present and that you are surrounded by people whom lift you up. And if an opportunity or experience just does not feel right, there is no shame in making a change.

Partnerships, Rocket Women Reflections

Rocket Women Reflections on the 2019 Women in Space Conference

18 May, 2019

By Bethany Downer

In February 2019 Scottsdale, Arizona hosted the Women in Space 2019 Conference (WIS) as an expansion of the Women in Planetary Science and Exploration 2018 conference. Rocket Women was also a proud partner of the event. The two-day event highlighted the achievements of women and non-binary researchers, while offering an opportunity to discuss, challenge, network, and support their peers. Rocket Women discussed the impact and reflections of the event with two attendees.

Emma Louden attended the 2019 Women in Space Conference in February 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. [Emma Louden]

Emma Louden attended the 2019 Women in Space Conference in February 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
[Emma Louden]

Emma Louden is a junior at Princeton University majoring in Astrophysics and pursuing a minor in Planets and Life. She learned about WIS through the Brooke Owens Fellowship program and sought to share her research and to network with other attendees. When asked what the highlight experience of the event was for her, Emma explained the impact of meeting and hearing from other conference participants, which introduced her to a broader network of people to look up to who are “doing amazing science AND are committed to supporting women and non-binary scientists in the space industry.”

Luc Riesbeck attended the 2019 Women in Space Conference in February 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. They are pictured here with other conference attendees. [Luc Riesbeck]

Luc Riesbeck attended the 2019 Women in Space Conference in February 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. They are pictured here with other conference attendees. [Luc Riesbeck]

Luc Riesbeck is a master’s student at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and is interning with the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy in D.C during the Summer of 2019. As a non-binary person, Luc expressed that events and conferences geared towards diversity and inclusion in the industry can be “a little intimidating” due too possible misconceptions that diversity in STEM fields is “shorthand” for the inclusion of cis women, noting that cis women make up “just one part of a much larger picture of human diversity.” Fortunately, they noticed the dedication to this larger picture on the event’s website, which promoted a “holistic experience, organized by a team that respects the space industry’s potential for growth.”

The event delivered a wide variety of high quality presentations. Luc’s favourite moment from the conference was Dr. Julie Rathburn’s presentation on Loki, the most powerful volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io. They described the talk as “like watching Willy Wonka talk about the coolest candy ever made. Her energy and enthusiasm were beyond infectious; I left the talk feeling almost giddy with delight. I’ve never been more impressed with a technical presentation at a conference in my life, and I suspect I’ll probably never come across a better one”.

Her energy and enthusiasm were beyond infectious; I left the talk feeling almost giddy with delight. I’ve never been more impressed with a technical presentation at a conference in my life, and I suspect I’ll probably never come across a better one.

As the event sought to bring together individuals of various backgrounds to participate in the discussion, the event’s webpage stated “Supporting #WomenInSTEM is the prime goal” of the event. When asked how it feels to be in a room of individuals who came together to demonstrate their support for women in space, Luc expressed that it felt “spectacular” due to the wealth of perspectives from the attendees and the amount of quality ideas that emerged from the conference. “Suddenly we didn’t have to live in a bubble, hearing the same types of people that we have our whole careers—we could just choose to listen to voices we ordinarily wouldn’t.”

Suddenly we didn’t have to live in a bubble, hearing the same types of people that we have our whole careers—we could just choose to listen to voices we ordinarily wouldn’t.

Similarly, Emma expressed that when being in a room with like-minded support for #WomenInSTEM, “much of the toxic atmosphere present in male-centered academia evaporates. It is replaced by a feeling of support and belonging. There is a strong sense of community and identity that results in a level of comfort that is often lacking in other academic settings.”

When in a room with like-minded support for #WomenInSTEM, “much of the toxic atmosphere present in male-centered academia evaporates. It is replaced by a feeling of support and belonging. There is a strong sense of community and identity.”

It is clear that events like this have a meaningful impact not only on its participants, but also in the broader space industry. “Events like this signal that the future of the space industry is going to be more equitable and representative of the world because the people who attend conferences like Women in Space are working incredibly hard to make sure that reality comes into being,” shared Emma. “It shows a commitment to disrupting the status quo and moving toward a more inclusive space industry.”

Scholarships

Rocket Women Announce International Space University Scholarship

18 March, 2019

Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel will support a scholarship towards the International Space University's (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP) [Image: International Space University (ISU)]

Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel will support a scholarship towards the International Space University’s (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP) [Image: International Space University (ISU)]

Following the successful launch of Rocket Women’s new apparel collection with proceeds aiding a scholarship for women in STEM, Rocket Women are thrilled to announce that each purchase of Rocket Women apparel this year will support a scholarship for the International Space University (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP)!

Dr. Nicol Caplin wearing her Rocket Women sweater [Image: Nicol Caplin, Twitter: @DrCaplin www.twitter.com/DrCaplin]

Dr. Nicol Caplin wearing her Rocket Women sweater [Image: Nicol Caplin, Twitter: @DrCaplin www.twitter.com/DrCaplin]

Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel will support a scholarship to be provided to a woman of any nationality attending the International Space University’s Space Studies Program (SSP), through the Morla Milne Memorial Scholarship Fund, a scholarship fund to honor the memory of Morla Milne. This fund aims to support annual scholarship awards to students in the ISU Space Studies Program.

The Rocket Women apparel collection was born from a desire to make a difference. Representation matters and scholarships play a pivotal role in encouraging diverse talented individuals to pursue opportunities in STEM that may have not have had that chance otherwise. Rocket Women wants to empower women with apparel and messaging to become Rocket Women, whilst also building opportunities for future young women through proceeds supporting a scholarship for the International Space University’s life-changing programs.

Rocket Women are additionally immensely grateful to the International Space University (ISU) for offering to match the donation, underlining the continuous efforts of ISU to work towards a better gender distribution in the space sector. Rocket Women would also like to thank Märka Design for their stunning Rocket Women apparel print designs.

Rocket Women aims to inspire the next generation of young women to choose a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), especially in space and aerospace, so that we can improve the current percentage of female science and engineering talent.

Rocket Women Apparel to support an ISU scholarship can be purchased here.

Rocket Women Founder Vinita Marwaha Madill wears the 'Rocket Woman' jumper. Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel support a scholarship for a young woman to attend the International Space University (ISU).

Rocket Women Founder Vinita Marwaha Madill wears the ‘Rocket Woman’ jumper. Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel support a scholarship for a woman to attend the International Space University (ISU).

Rocket Women believes that role models need to be tangible and visible, and through inspirational interviews with women in STEM and advice, Rocket Women want to encourage girls to be involved in STEM and realise the impact that they can make. As Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” www.rocket-women.com

The International Space University, founded in 1987 in Massachusetts, US and now headquartered in Strasbourg, France, is the world’s premier international space education institution. It is supported by major space agencies and aerospace organizations from around the world. The graduate level programs offered by ISU are dedicated to promoting international, interdisciplinary and intercultural cooperation in space activities. ISU offers the Master of Science in Space Studies program at its Central Campus in Strasbourg. Since the summer of 1988, ISU also conducts the highly acclaimed two-month Space Studies Program at different host institutions in locations spanning the globe and Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program. ISU programs are delivered by over 100 ISU faculty members in concert with invited industry and agency experts from institutions around the world. Since its founding, 30 years ago, more than 4600 students from over 100 countries graduated from ISU. www.isunet.edu

Inspirational women, Media, Partnerships

Rocket Women Celebrates International Women’s Day with Empowering Women with Tech

17 March, 2019

Speakers at the Empowering Women With Tech International Women's Day 2019 event . Pictured (L-R): Eve Roodhouse (Chief Officer Economic Development, Leeds City Council), Niamh McKenna (Managing Director Accenture Health UK), Natasha Sayce-Zelem (Founder, Empowering Women with Tech), Ana Jakimovska (Director of Product Management, The Guardian), Vinita Marwaha Madill (Founder, Rocket Women), Councillor Rebecca Charlwood (Leeds City Council) [David Lindsay/Empowering Women with Tech]

Speakers at the Empowering Women With Tech International Women’s Day 2019 event . Pictured (L-R): Eve Roodhouse (Chief Officer Economic Development, Leeds City Council), Niamh McKenna (Managing Director Accenture Health UK), Natasha Sayce-Zelem (Founder, Empowering Women with Tech), Ana Jakimovska (Director of Product Management, The Guardian), Vinita Marwaha Madill (Founder, Rocket Women), Councillor Rebecca Charlwood (Leeds City Council) [David Lindsay/Empowering Women with Tech]

Rocket Women were honoured to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 with Empowering Women With Tech. Rocket Women Founder Vinita Marwaha Madill participated in a series of Fireside Chats with truly inspirational women in tech, including Ana Jakimovska (The Guardian’s Director of Product Management), Niamh McKenna (Managing Director, Accenture Health UK), Milena Nikolic (Director of Software Engineering, Google), Eve Roodhouse (Chief Officer Economic Development, Leeds City Council) & Councillor Rebecca Charlwood (Leeds City Council). The event was organised by the amazing Natasha Sayce-Zelem, Head of Technology for Digital Service at Sky and founder of Empowering Women with Tech and took place in the Howard Assembly Room of the Opera North Grand Theatre in Leeds, UK with an audience of around 300.

Rocket Women Founder Vinita Marwaha Madill on-stage talking with Natasha Sayce-Zelem, Founder of Empowering Women with Tech, on International Women's Day [David Lindsay/Empowering Women with Tech]

Rocket Women Founder Vinita Marwaha Madill on-stage talking with Natasha Sayce-Zelem, Founder of Empowering Women with Tech, on International Women’s Day [David Lindsay/Empowering Women with Tech]

Highlights of the Empowering Women with Tech International Women’s Day evening included The Guardian News and Media’s Director of Product, Ana Jakimovska discussing the dangers that journalism is facing at the moment and the focus of her career, “My career has been mission-driven to make a difference. I realised the impact of the output of organisations including BBC & Channel 4.” Accenture Health UK’s Managing Director Niamh McKenna emphasised the importance of saying yes to opportunities and then figuring out how to do them later. Vinita Marwaha Madill, representing Rocket Women, talked about how to empower young women to choose a career in STEM and the importance of allies believing in your abilities and supporting your goals.

Thank you to Empowering Women with Tech for inviting Rocket Women to celebrate International Women’s Day in the UK alongside some trailblazing role models!


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Thank you to @bbcradioleeds & @bbcyorkshire for having @guardian’s Ana Jakimovska (Director of Product) & myself in the studio live on the drivetime show discussing #EmpowerWithTech, #InternationalWomensDay & our advice for young #WomenInSTEM! 💪🏼 “Always believe in yourself and it’s really important to surround yourself with allies that believe in you & your goals also.” 👩🏽‍🚀 @rocketwomen Dress: Rocket Science dress by @svahausa! #Gifted (I really love it – great cut & style & it has pockets!) 🚀 #STEM #RocketWomen #Explore #SciComm #Inspo #instagood #photooftheday #instago #picoftheday #BBCTravel #ootd #Exploration #Goals #aimhigh #IWD2019 #InternationalWomensDay2019 #discoverunder10k #iamanengineer #ironringgirls #Space #Astronaut #Radio #Media #Blogger #WomenInSTEM #NatGeo #womeninscience

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Astronauts, Inspirational women

NASA Astronauts To Conduct Historic First All-Female Spacewalk

14 March, 2019

L - NASA Astronaut Anne McClain with her son posing for her official NASA EVA portrait  R - NASA Astronaut Christina Koch during EVA/Spacewalk training at NASA [NASA]

L – NASA Astronaut Anne McClain with her son posing for her official NASA EVA portrait [NASA]
R – NASA Astronaut Christina Koch during EVA/Spacewalk training at NASA [NASA]

NASA Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch are scheduled to make history, conducting the first all-female spacewalk (or EVA – Extravehicular Activity) on 29th March 2019, during Women’s History Month. Almost 35 years after Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the 1st woman to walk in space on 25th July 1984.

The news was broken by the awesome Rocket Woman Canadian Space Agency Flight Controller Kristen Facciol, who will be supporting the spacewalk from the ground on the ROBO console in NASA’s Mission Control. (Read Rocket Women’s interview with the inspirational Kristen Facciol here!)

Rocket Women shared Kristen Facciol’s news through Twitter a few days ago. Kristen broke the news saying: “I just found out that I’ll be on console providing support for the FIRST ALL FEMALE SPACEWALK with @AstroAnnimal and @Astro_Christina and I can not contain my excitement!!!! #WomenInSTEM #WomenInEngineering #WomenInSpace.”

The title of the most experienced female spacewalker (and the third most experienced spacewalker ever) is held by NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson. Peggy’s astounding 665 days in space (cumulative) also makes her the most experienced NASA Astronaut ever! Peggy Whitson made history in 2008 as she took over command of the International Space Station (ISS), becoming its first female commander.

A spokesperson from NASA confirmed that the 29th March spacewalk will be supported in NASA’s Mission Control by lead Flight Director Mary Lawrence, and lead EVA (spacewalk) flight controller Jackie Kagey. The recent 2018 NASA flight director class chosen was 50% female, as was the 2013 NASA Astronaut class that both Anne McClain and Christina Koch were selected in, the highest female ratio chosen.

The most recent 2017 NASA astronaut selection brought the percentage of female NASA astronauts in the NASA Astronaut Corps to just over 30%, this thirty years after Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Here’s to hoping that all-female spacewalks will become commonplace in the future!

Education, Partnerships

Rocket Women Announces Partnership With Women In Space 2019

5 February, 2019

Women In Space Conference 2019 [Women In Space Conference 2019/ Tanya Harrison]

Women In Space Conference 2019 [Women In Space Conference 2019 / Tanya Harrison]

Rocket Women are excited to announce our partnership with Women In Space Conference 2019!

Women In Space 2019 will be an amazing event for ‘scientists and engineers to showcase their work in the field of space and planetary science’. The conference aims to highlight ‘the achievements of women and non-binary researchers, while offering an opportunity to discuss, challenge, network, and support their peers’ – supporting and celebrating #WomenInSTEM!

The conference will take place from 7-8th February 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona (USA) and welcomes ‘geologists, geophysicists, engineers, geographers, astrobiologists, chemists, physicists, astronomers, social scientists, and any other people of all genders working or researching in a related field’ to attend! The conference also features a brilliant ‘Girls In Space!‘ event aimed towards the ages of 12-18, where students can learn about ‘space-related science and engineering activities, careers, and will have the chance to meet women working on NASA missions to seek out potential mentors’. Look out for some Rocket Women goodies and apparel at the event!

Excellent speakers range from experts on planetary science to astrophysics, space medicine, science communication and supporting education in STEM, to satellite constellations. Rocket Women is proud to be a partner of Women In Space 2019 and register here to attend!

Media

Rocket Women Featured By She The People

3 February, 2019
Rocket Women Featured In She The People TV

Rocket Women Featured In She The People TV

Rocket Women are honoured to be featured by She The People.TV! She The People.TV are India’s first women’s channel inspired by real stories and aim to change the discourse for women.

There has always been a dearth of women in the field of science despite their phenomenal talent. Vinita Marwaha Madill, an advocate for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), aims to not only work towards broadening this “acceptance”, but also to encourage young girls to realise their true passion and build on it.

Having grown up in the United Kingdom, the Indian-origin woman is currently based at the European Space Agency (ESA) where she is working on future human spaceflight projects as a Space Operations Engineer. Vinita has also been involved in spacesuit design for ESA. Alongside holding several designations, Vinita, who is in her early-30s, has also started a platform, Rocket Women, to inspire women around the world and provide advice on working in the space and technology industries.

Read the full interview here at She The People.TV or the highlights below:

How did the idea of Rocket Women apparel line come up?

I noticed that over the years, the number of women that progressed with me to ultimately choose a career in engineering decreased, something which is called the ‘leaky pipeline’ syndrome. Only 15 per cent of UK engineering graduates are female, with the number of women ultimately choosing engineering decreasing further. In India, India Institutes of Technology (IITs) are reserving 14 per cent of the seats for women, aiming to encourage more women to apply in future.

Encouraging more girls to pursue engineering will help to fill this gap, ensuring that they make up 50 per cent of engineering talent and that we’re not missing out on the talent available. The Rocket Women apparel collection was born from a desire to make a difference.

Proceeds from Rocket Women clothing will support a scholarship for young women who choose to study engineering and science. Representation matters and scholarships play a pivotal role in encouraging diverse talented individuals to pursue opportunities in STEM that may have not have had that chance otherwise.

Without the fortuity of scholarships myself, I would have never had been able to complete my studies internationally and to reach my goals in the space industry. With Rocket Women, we want to empower women with our apparel and messaging to become Rocket Women, whilst also building opportunities for future young women through proceeds supporting a scholarship

How will Rocket Women inspire young girls and women to understand their passion and pursue it?

My passion, and the goal of my website Rocket Women is to inspire girls globally to consider a career in STEM. Outside of my career path in space, I realised there was something more. With Rocket Women, we’re focusing on outreach and I’ve been lucky to be involved in projects, including a campaign and round table with Instagram and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, highlighting the importance of education.

During my career, I’ve met some amazing people — especially other positive female role models. I think you need those role models out there, tangible and visible, to be able to inspire the next generation of young girls to become astronauts, or be whatever they want to be. As Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” It’s one of my favourite quotes and is absolutely true.

I started Rocket Women to give these women a voice and a platform to spread their advice. I’m interviewing women around the world in STEM, particularly in space, and posting the interviews on Rocket Women, along with advice to encourage girls to be involved in STEM.

By featuring stories of women in STEM, we want Rocket-Women.com to give young women and girls the realisation that they can be astronauts or whatever they want to be. Our aim is to empower young women to choose a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) and achieve their dreams, so that we can improve the current percentage of female engineering talent.

We’re driven at Rocket Women by this powerful thought – Imagine what the world would look like if it reached 100% of its technological potential?

Read the full She The People.TV article here!

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet The Next Generation Of Rocket Women: Taylor Richardson, 15, Future Astronaut

13 January, 2019
Taylor Richardson

Taylor Richardson

Taylor Richardson is on a mission to become an astronaut. Along her journey she has impressively raised almost $20,000 to send girls to see the movie Hidden Figures, encouraging them to join STEM, and has recently raised over $110,000 to send girls to see the movie A Wrinkle In Time! Her notable support for the campaign is inspired by the fact that, “It’s a fantasy film that is not about some white boys fighting evil, but about a black girl overcoming it.” In the second installment of a new series featuring the next generation of Rocket Women, Taylor talks to Rocket Women about her focus to become an astronaut, her amazing advocacy campaigns and the importance of seeing role models that reflect you.

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

Reading Dr. Mae Jemison’s book, “Find Where The Wind Goes”, had a big impact on me. And once I attended space camp in Huntsville, Alabama, it was solidified that I was going to be an astronaut and go to Mars one day!

My passion is fueled by space – the final frontier. When I was younger one of my favorite things to do at night was lie out in the yard and look up at the stars. It was beautiful, mysterious and exciting to wonder what is up there and how I can get up there. There is a whole universe out there for me to explore and I can’t wait to be able to do so.

Reading Dr. Mae Jemison’s book, “Find Where The Wind Goes”, had a big impact on me. And once I attended space camp in Huntsville, Alabama, it was solidified that I was going to be an astronaut and go to Mars one day!

Can you talk about your goal to become an astronaut and your journey to achieve this?

Once my curiosity was sparked it was all about research. After attending space camp I visited various space centers and had the opportunity to meet with a number astronauts and ask them about their journey. Now it is all about doing well in high school so that I get into a great college. That’s my focus right now.

Congratulations on your Hidden Figures campaign and for raising over $25,000 to send 1,000 students to see the film A Wrinkle in Time!

A new GoFundMe campaign aims to highlight a exciting documentary titled ‘Astronaut Starbright’ about your dedicated work to champion STEM and pursuit to become an astronaut! How did these campaigns come about and why is your work so important?

After I received a community service award from the Governor of Florida I got invited to a private screening of Hidden Figures at The White House with First Lady Michelle Obama and the film’s creators. The film inspired me to create a fundraising campaign so some local youth in Jacksonville could see the film. That’s how it all started.

The work is important because there is a lack of highly visible representations of women in STEM positions, and even less for black women in STEM careers. I know that lots of girl like math and science but they turn to other things when they never hear about women in STEM or even have women as math and science teachers. We just want to be represented, and we still are not there yet. I think more encouragement and inclusion is needed.

There is a lack of highly visible representations of women in STEM positions, and even less for black women in STEM careers. I know that lots of girl like math and science but they turn to other things when they never hear about women in STEM or even have women as math and science teachers. We just want to be represented, and we still are not there yet.

 

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

I have many role models. Some older, some younger than me. My biggest two roles are Dr. Mae Jemison and my local mentor Mr. Darnell Smith. I call him Uncle D now. I’ve known him since I was nine and he’s been right by my side through this journey called life with me. Guiding me with support and advice that ensures I do things right. And even when I mess up he’s there to support. I think one of his most endearing qualities is his genuineness.

He touches everyone in a way where you can immediately connect with him. He’s patient and supports me in everything that I do. He teaches no judgment, only lessons learned! And when I do fail or make a mistake he makes me feel better by telling me his stories of failure and achievements throughout life. He always tells me to continue my faith in God, be kind to my mom, serve and help others and to be my best self. I hope that I’m making him proud. He’s definitely impacted my life by how I’ve watched him live his. With the kindness, faith and service.

What can I say about Dr. Mae Jemison, first African American female to go to space. She’s my shero! Seeing her makes me feel like I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it. Having someone like Dr. Jemison. who looks like me. makes me feel good about myself. She’s not just an African American role model, she’s a role model for all people and girls like me who want to live their dreams of becoming astronauts. Which is why it’s so important for girls to have role models they can look up to and role models that are reflections of them.

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

My mom probably help most shape my interest in STEM by ensuring I had equal opportunity to resources like books, STEM camps and clubs. Being a good support system for me as well has help me stay encouraged focus and determined to achieve my dream.

Taylor Richardson

Taylor Richardson

What does the world need more and less of?

With everything going on in the world it could definitely use more love and less hate. I hope people will to be more accepting and inclusive to make the world a better place. To raise their voices up and act big in a positive way.

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?

Own your power, be the one who stands out in the crowd, who speaks up, and is either the voice they need to hear, or a voice for others. Seek out mentors, coaches, and investors because camps are not cheap. Don’t be discouraged and fight for your dream because we need you!

I hope that kids will see me and know that with hard work, faith, and determination they can reach their goals, STEM or not. It would be nice to have more people, more organizations, more companies be intentional and ensure people of all backgrounds are represented at not just the STEM table but all tables.

Media, Scholarships, Shop

Rocket Women Launches Apparel To Support Scholarship

8 December, 2018

For post Rocket women final apparel print smaller 181202-21 jpg

We’re thrilled to announce that Rocket Women have launched a line of apparel designs (for babies, kids and adults) featuring our brand new logo by the amazing Marka Design! Part of the proceeds from the apparel will go towards a scholarship for young women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). Our t-shirts, sweatshirts, stickers, tote bags and more make fantastic holiday gifts, whilst helping to support the next generation.

If you love these designs as much as we do, you can purchase them at Red Bubble here.

[Update: We’re thrilled to announce that proceeds from Rocket Women apparel will support a scholarship to be provided to a woman of any nationality attending the International Space University‘s Space Studies Program (SSP)!)

Here are some of our designs!

Rocket Woman Hoodie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Woman Hoodie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Women Patch Sweatshirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Women Patch Sweatshirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Children's T-Shirt - Pink [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Children’s T-Shirt – Pink [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Onesie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Onesie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Women T-shirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Women T-shirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Kids T-Shirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Bethany Downer, Scientist-Astronaut Candidate, Project POSSUM

30 September, 2018
Bethany Downer

Bethany Downer

At 24-years-old, Bethany Downer is on the road to achieving her dreams in space. She has recently become the first scientist-astronaut candidate from Newfoundland, Canada through Project POSSUM, with upcoming training including high-G aerobatic flight training, similar to the forces astronauts experience during rocket liftoff and re-entry to Earth, and was invited to lunch with her excellency Julie Payette, the former Canadian astronaut and current Governor General of Canada.

Bethany talked to Rocket Women about pursuing her passion and the one piece of advice she would give her 10-year-old self.

Congratulations on becoming the first scientist-astronaut candidate from Newfoundland under Project POSSUM! Your mission has been to inspire everyone from all walks of life to become engaged with space. Can you talk about your journey to become an astronaut and how you hope to achieve your goals?

My first step was to develop as much knowledge as I could. I’ve always loved school and learning, so this task was embraced with enthusiasm. I achieved my BSc in Geography to learn as much about the Earth’s systems as possible, followed my a masters in Space Studies from the International Space University in France. From here, I found my niche and area of skill/interest in communications.

My passion is for communicating the technology and science of the space industry to the general public and to alter the perception of “rocket science” being beyond general comprehension. I genuinely enjoy taking something like a new finding in astrophysics or the development of a new rocket engine concept, and bringing its language and content to a simpler and more accessible level.

I genuinely enjoy taking something like a new finding in astrophysics or the development of a new rocket engine concept, and bringing its language and content to a simpler and more accessible level.

In this domain, I’ve worked for various agencies and organizations. These include the European Space Agency (ECSAT), Design&Data, Leiden University Observatory, SES Networks and the Space Generation Advisory Council. I’ve also developed my own website that actively communicates the science and technology of the industry, called Reaching Space Science. I’m also in the process of publishing a book.

When applying for PoSSUM, I emphasized that this was my skill and passion – communicating research and technology – and as this program focuses on important climate change research in the upper levels of the atmosphere, I could be of benefit in terms of disseminating this important work to broader audiences. I am very excited and honoured to take part in this program that will be preparing me for conducting research in the next generation of suborbital commercial vehicles.

Designed and instructed by former NASA astronaut instructors and PoSSUM team scientists, just some of the training that the program includes is high-G aerobatic flight training (to experience higher gravitational forces like those experienced during rocket liftoff and re-entry to Earth), crew resource management training, spacesuit training, high-altitude training, biometric analysis, and camera operations.

Bethany Downer carrying out space outreach

Bethany Downer carrying out space outreach

My interest in space has always been inherent, I did not have a lightbulb moment that made me realize that this is what I want to do – I’ve simply always loved it. I’ve had helpful advice along the way (such as support from Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield) that also encouraged me to develop myself beyond the space realm. For example, in 2014 I founded a federally-incorporated non-profit organization that operated across Canada to encourage sustainable practices by bringing unwanted shoes to those in need.

Through the education of sustainable consumerism, the program redistributed over 18,000 shoes to more than fifteen countries worldwide and retained over 14,000lbs of waste from Canadian landfills. I brought talks and lectures to more than 5,000 youth of Newfoundland and I truly feel this experienced developed necessary skills that I still rely on today, such as public speaking, media relations, leadership and networking.

In 2014 I founded a federally-incorporated non-profit organization that operated across Canada to encourage sustainable practices by bringing unwanted shoes to those in need. Through the education of sustainable consumerism, the program redistributed over 18,000 shoes to more than fifteen countries worldwide and retained over 14,000lbs of waste from Canadian landfills.

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

Growing up, without realizing it, my role models were always women. This included my mom and grandmothers, but also in school when assigned hero or role model essays, I always selected distinguished women. In particular, I grew very familiar with (and always looked up to) the careers of Sally Ride (the first American woman in space), Roberta Bondar (Canada’s first female astronaut and the first neurologist in space), and Julie Payette (former Canadian astronaut and current Governor General of Canada). In fact, just last week I was invited to have lunch with her excellency, so this was a very meaningful and memorable discussion.

Role models are of integral value to young women. I’m confident that having a visible example of a profession or career that a young person wants to achieve can be highly motivating and validating for them. Since I began my work in the space industry and my recent training with PoSSUM, I’ve very much made it my personal goal to make space careers more accessible to those from my home province of Newfoundland, particularly to young girls.

When I was young, I often dismissed my dream of working in space because I did not have a nearby or accessible example of someone who was actively working in the space field and doing the type of work I was interested in. I’ve been scheduling dozens of school and scout/guide group visits to help make my involvement in space as accessible as possible to those from home so that they don’t have to dismiss their career ambitions, whether they are pertaining to space or not.

I’m also actively looking at ways to bring more space-related courses at the university level to my hometown as well. There’s a lot of work to do, but I hope to use this new (and unexpected!) public platform to make meaningful and lasting change.

I’ve been scheduling dozens of school and scout/guide group visits to help make my involvement in space as accessible as possible to those from home so that they don’t have to dismiss their career ambitions

Bethany Downer at European Space Agency's (ESA) ESTEC, The Netherlands

Bethany Downer at European Space Agency (ESA)’s ESTEC, The Netherlands

What does success mean to you?

To me, success means that you’ve found a way to do something for a living that makes you feel fulfilled and happy. I think its also important to establish yourself in a career in which you are learning everyday to not only better yourself, but to expand upon you knowledge and experiences. This success is best celebrated and cherished when you have the right group of encouraging friends and family.

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

I am genuinely inspired by the success and achievements of women that have spearheaded important developments in the space industry. I am confident that the matter of inclusion is significantly improving. By highlighting and sharing stories of what women around the world are doing in space, in various different fields, there is a communal sense of encouragement in that we all wish to support and motivate one another. I think with time, we have grown to accept and integrate the invaluable knowledge and experience women have to offer the space industry.

I am confident that the matter of inclusion is significantly improving. By highlighting and sharing stories of what women around the world are doing in space, in various different fields, there is a communal sense of encouragement in that we all wish to support and motivate one another.

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

Growing up in Newfoundland, Canada I was not exposed (or perhaps naive) to the realities of sexism that exist, not only in the space sector but in general. This was something that surprised me, but the initial discouragement was quickly flipped when I spoke with and was exposed to the vast work and accomplishments being undertaken by the countless women worldwide who are conducting inspiring work in various disciplines within the space sector. I’ve also been surprised to learn just how small the space sector truly is – the networks and connections made are all related and it is always exciting to catch up with new and old faces.

I’ve also been surprised to learn just how small the space sector truly is – the networks and connections made are all related and it is always exciting to catch up with new and old faces.

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

Aside from my family being extremely supportive and my parents coming from an engineering and science backgrounds themselves, while in grade school I participated in several engineering and science camps. I was actively exposed to many STEM areas that helped me decipher what my specific interests were. I am forever grateful for the support that my family gave me since I discovered my love for space, as they always encouraged my academic and professional pursuits, wherever and whatever they were.

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?

I don’t regret anything that’s gotten me to where I am now. I’ve learned to embrace failures and setbacks (from lost awards or scholarships, failed relationships, academic or job rejections – anything). All of these gave me opportunity to grow, and instead lead me to alternative opportunities that put me on the path to where I am now. I consider where I am now a blessing and exciting, so I can’t regret whatever got me here.

To my 10-year old self, I would stress that there is no wasted knowledge or experience. Take the most of every opportunity and of everyone you meet. I would reassure myself that although things will be hard, things will work out and that there is reward to hard work.

Bethany is currently raising funds for her POSSUM programme and travel to Florida, in order to allow her to carry out the POSSUM astronaut training. Any leftover donations will be put towards the development of an education program and talk tour across Newfoundland, Canada and other space outreach activities for the province. Any and all donations are sincerely appreciated by Bethany. Check out her GoFundMe page here!