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Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Kavya Manyapu, Flight Crew Operations and Test Engineer – CST-100 Starliner Spacecraft, The Boeing Company

4 November, 2019

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Kavya Manyapu working on crew (astronaut) operations [Image credit: Boeing / Kavya Manyapu]

Dr. Kavya K. Manyapu is truly a Rocket Woman. At The Boeing Company, she is focused on developing the next generation human-rated spacecraft – the CST-100 Starliner. Starliner is scheduled to launch astronauts to the International Space Station over the coming year through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. As the Starliner Spacesuit Lead, Kavya designs and tests the distinctive launch and entry spacesuits to be worn by the Starliner’s crew and trains NASA astronauts assigned to fly onboard the Starliner spacecraft, including the trailblazing Sunita Williams.

Kavya’s keen interest and passion in spacesuit design has additionally led her to develop a key technology to repel lunar dust from spacesuits – the sharp abrasive lunar dust posed a significant hindrance during the Apollo program, damaging spacesuits and creating pressure leaks. Her self-cleaning material sample prototypes are currently being tested on a platform outside the International Space Station! This technology will be crucial as we work towards achieving NASA’s Artemis missions in the 2020s to return humans to the surface of the Moon.

Kavya also teaches the next generation of spacesuit designers and engineers as Adjunct Faculty at the University of North Dakota (UND), and has recently become a Mum. She recently told her alma mater MIT that her ultimate goal is to, “design the next-generation space suit to enhance human capabilities when we go back to the moon—and possibly wear it one day on a mission.”

Rocket Women were thrilled to have the opportunity to talk to Kavya about her passion for human spaceflight and spacesuit design, what success means to her and how her family has helped to shape her career path.

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

My curiosity in space started when I was 3 years young. I was inspired by the stories my father narrated about Apollo astronauts, cosmonauts and the first Indian cosmonaut in space, while also patiently taking the time to answer every question I had about space and the cosmos. It was my parents’ encouragement to pursue something I am passionate about and to give my best to whatever path I chose that gave me the courage to step into this field. That’s where it started, as a child I was curious and wondered if there were sharks on the moon and whether I can one day explore this myself, and several years later I am living my dream today, working on one of humankind’s greatest endeavors. Working in the space industry makes me realize the immense possibilities of being a human.

It was my parents’ encouragement to pursue something I am passionate about and to give my best to whatever path I chose that gave me the courage to step into this field.

Kavya Manyapu working on the Boeing Starliner Spacesuit, to be worn by astronauts during launch and re-entry onboard the Starliner spacecraft [Image credit: Boeing Company / Kavya Manyapu]

Kavya Manyapu working on the Boeing Starliner spacesuit, to be worn by astronauts during launch, ascent and re-entry onboard the Starliner spacecraft [Image credit: Boeing Company / Kavya Manyapu]

It’s truly amazing to see your innovative spacesuit material being tested on the International Space Station! Congratulations! Could you tell us a bit more about the project and how you were inspired to develop the material?

I’ve always had a keen interest on spacesuits and a fascination for them. While I’ve been working on the next generation spacecraft at Boeing building the CST-100 Starliner spacecraft, my interest in getting an advanced degree at the University of North Dakota opened an opportunity to deep dive in the area of spacesuits for long duration missions.

During the early days of my Ph.D. research, I had an opportunity to talk to Apollo Astronaut Alan Bean. It was during the same time I was reading papers on post flight investigations of Apollo spacesuits and hardware, particularly his suit being contaminated by lunar dust and the deleterious impacts of lunar dust faced by astronauts during the Apollo missions. Inspired by the conversation with him and my personal aspiration to make a small contribution towards space exploration led to the conception of the SPIcDER (pronounced “Spider”) Technology.

Inspired by the conversation with him [Apollo Astronaut Alan Bean] and my personal aspiration to make a small contribution towards space exploration led to the conception of the SPIcDER (pronounced “Spider”) Technology. SPIcDER (Spacesuit Integrated carbon nanotube Dust Ejection/ Removal system) was developed to overcome the challenges of dust contamination of spacesuits and other hardware deployed on the lunar surface, a capability particularly required if we want to go back to the moon for long duration missions. Inspired by super hero movies (watched a lot as a kid) specifically Spiderman and Batman (hence the name SPIcDER), the research led to developing the technology that repels and removes dust from spacesuits..

SPIcDER (Spacesuit Integrated carbon nanotube Dust Ejection/ Removal system) was developed to overcome the challenges of dust contamination of spacesuits and other hardware deployed on the lunar surface, a capability particularly required if we want to go back to the moon for long duration missions. Inspired by super hero movies (watched a lot as a kid) specifically Spiderman and Batman (hence the name SPIcDER), the research led to developing the technology that repels and removes dust from spacesuits (and other flexible materials) using Carbon Nanotube fibers that are embedded into suits and energized using a cleaning signal.

SPIcDER has been successfully tested in various environments here on earth including on a fully functioning spacesuit knee-joint. Early generation prototypes of this self-cleaning material are now being exposed to the space environment on the MISSE platform on the International Space Station. I am now working on pursing opportunities for follow-on experiments on ISS to further advance this technology.

Kavya Manyapu working on the Boeing commercial crew Starliner vehicle [Credit: Kavya Manyapu / Boeing]

Kavya Manyapu working on the Boeing commercial crew Starliner vehicle [Image credit: Kavya Manyapu / Boeing Company]

Growing up, I always thought a career path would be a straight road. You work hard, get good grades, get into a good university and land your dream job. Conversely, this journey so far has been nothing but exciting with its twists and turns, ups and downs and, failures and successes.

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

Growing up, I always thought a career path would be a straight road. You work hard, get good grades, get into a good university and land your dream job. Conversely, this journey so far has been nothing but exciting with its twists and turns, ups and downs and, failures and successes. It’s been a learning expedition, giving a deeper experience of life, both inner and outer. I like it this way since I’ll have many stories to share with my kids, grandkids and the next generation!

What does success mean to you?
When I’m able to use myself to my full potential, regardless of the outcome, that’s what I call success. I don’t think I’ve reached that mark yet and still exploring this potential.

Kavya Manyapu, Starliner Spacesuit Lead, wearing the Boeing Starliner spacesuit [Image credit: Boeing/Kavya Manyapu]

Kavya Manyapu, Starliner Spacesuit Lead, wearing the Boeing Starliner spacesuit [Image credit: Boeing Company/Kavya Manyapu]

I was super thrilled and inspired when I first met my favorite astronaut Sunita Williams during my undergrad, that reinforced the notion that we can aspire and achieve to be anything we dream of! Now I get to work with her on my job!

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

Having positive role models will help us uncover our true potentials and when we see someone in a path that we aspire, it reinforces our aspiration and motivates us to strive to uncover our own talents. Role models for me started at home- my parents and grandma were my first role models. symbolizing hardwork, dedication and compassion.

With exposure to various cultures and people via workshops, extra-curricular activities and change of countries (grew up in India an moved to the US after high school), I realized that every person I met had some unique ability that has inspired me. In that sense, everyone that I came across have taught me something about personal and professional growth. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet several astronauts who have inspired me. Particularly, I was super thrilled and inspired when I first met my favorite astronaut Sunita Williams during my undergrad, that reinforced the notion that we can aspire and achieve to be anything we dream of! Now I get to work with her on my job!

My family has been the backbone of everything I am today.

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

My family has been the backbone of everything I am today. Starting with patiently feeding a 3 year old’s curiosity, to encouraging me to pursue what I am passionate about, taking a big step in leaving their home country and moving to the US so I could pursue my dream of working in the space industry, and more importantly advising me that no matter what career path I choose, I should give my 100%. In my humble opinion empowerment starts at home, and they continue to support me today in both my personal and professional paths.

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 best advice I received as a 10 year old which I continue to follow – , no matter what it is you are doing, try to do your best and give it your 100%. I’m grateful for receiving this advice (and many other) from my parents. Don’t think I would do anything differently, otherwise I may probably not be doing the things I dreamt of as a 10-year-old that I get to do today.

Astronauts, Inspirational women, News

NASA Astronauts Complete Historic First All-Woman Spacewalk

21 October, 2019

NASA Astronauts Christina Koch (EV1 - red stripe) and Jessica Meir carrying out the first all-woman spacewalk on Friday 18th October, 2019 and making history [image: NASA TV screenshot]

NASA Astronauts Christina Koch (EV1 – red stripe) and Jessica Meir carrying out the first all-woman spacewalk on Friday 18th October, 2019 and making history [image: NASA TV screenshot]

Soviet Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to carry out a spacewalk on 25th July 1984, almost 35 years ago. Of the more than 500 people who have been to space, around 10% have been female, and until this week spacewalk teams have either been all-male or male-female, with 15 women having ever carried out a spacewalk or EVA (Extravehicular Activity). [For comparison, there have been 213 male spacewalkers)

Rescheduling Spacewalks

However, on Friday 18th October 2019 history was made as NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch ventured outside of the Quest airlock on the International Space Station and carried out the first all-woman spacewalk, a feat long-overdue. The spacewalking Rocket Women were originally scheduled to carry out a spacewalk on 21st October, however due to the failure of a power controller called a battery charge discharge unit (BCDU) after 19 years of operation onboard the station, their spacewalk was rescheduled to an earlier date and replanned. The BCDU ‘regulates the charge to batteries that collect and distribute power to the station’. Originally this spacewalk was planned to have had the crew install new lithium-ion batteries on the space station, to replace the older nickel-hydrogen batteries, however this task was postponed.

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir [L] and Christina Koch [R] on 15th October 2019 preparing for their joint spacewalk,  holding the Pistol Grip Tools that they will use to exchange a

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir [L] and Christina Koch [R] on 15th October 2019 preparing for their joint spacewalk, holding the Pistol Grip Tools that they will use to exchange a failed power controller that collects and regulates power to the International Space Station

During an interview on NASA TV about their upcoming joint spacewalk, NASA Astronaut Christina Koch said, “I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing, and that in the past women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role, and that, in turn, can lead to an increased chance of success. There are [also] a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them, and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell.”

There are [also] a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them, and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell.

Friday’s 7 hour 17 minute spacewalk was deemed a success with the battery charge-discharge unit fully powered up and running well.

NASA Astronaut Selection Progress

Both Christina and Jessica were selected in NASA’s 2013 Astronaut Class (nicknamed Eight Balls), the first class to have a 50% gender split, the highest female ratio selected, bringing the percentage of female NASA astronauts in the NASA Astronaut Corps to around 30%. This thirty years after Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. NASA and the global space industry are really looking forward, which is fantastic. The recent 2017 astronaut class has five girls out of a total of twelve astronauts, with two astronauts selected at twenty-nine years old.

Presidential Call

President Trump called the pair during the momentous spacewalk and initially mischaracterized their accomplishment, through announcing that,”This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station.” The spacewalk was in fact the first to be conducted by two women, with women having taken part in 42 spacewalks previously with all male-female teams.

NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir responded (whilst outside the International Space Station, in orbit around the Earth travelling at 17,500 mph),

“We don’t want to take too much credit, because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time that there have been two women outside at the same time.

And it’s really interesting for us. We’ve talked a lot about it up here. You know, for us, this is really just us doing our job. It’s something we’ve been training for, for six years, and preparing for….And…we were the crew that was tasked with this assignment.

At the same time, we recognize that it is a historic achievement, and we do, of course, want to give credit to all of those that came before us. There has been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers, and astronauts, and we have followed in their footsteps to get us where we are today.

We hope that we can provide an inspiration to everybody….that has a dream and has a big dream and that is willing to work hard to make that dream come true — something that all of us that have made our way up here have done all throughout our lives. And I can tell you, the hard work certainly did pay off.”

Spacesuit Sizing

Friday’s spacewalk was the 221st spacewalk in support of the space station’s assembly and maintenance. The first all-female spacewalk was originally meant to occur in March 2019, however due to the unavailability of a prepared and configured Medium Hard Upper Torso (HUT) size of the spacesuit it was postponed. NASA Astronaut Anne McClain, scheduled to take part in this 29th March 2019 spacewalk, found that a Medium Hard Upper Torso of the spacesuit would fit her better after her initial prior spacewalk in a Large size. Astronauts often train in a multitude of sizes and their sizing and preference may change on-orbit as their bodies adapt to a microgravity environment – including spinal elongation and fluid shifts.

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch (right) prepare to leave the Quest airlock of the International Space Station and begin the historic first-ever all-female spacewalk. [NASA]

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch (right) prepare to leave the Quest airlock of the International Space Station and begin the historic first-ever all-female spacewalk. [NASA]

For the prior 29th March 2019 spacewalk, two spacesuits respectively with a Medium and Large sized Hard Upper Torso were prepared as initially expected. Due to the length of extra time required to prepare and configure an additional spacesuit with a Medium torso for the shortly upcoming spacewalk, an alternative crewmember (Nick Hague) took part in the March spacewalk instead of Anne McClain to protect the safety of the crew and the timing of the mission, a decision recommended by Anne McClain herself.

Artemis – The First Woman On The Moon

History-making NASA Astronaut Christina Koch is set to remain in space for an extended duration mission of 11 months (328 days) to provide researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman to prepare for human missions to the Moon and Mars. Her mission is set to break the record for the longest single spaceflight for a woman, currently held by NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson who completed a 289 day mission in 2017.

On 8th October, NASA released their new spacesuit designs for future Artemis exploration missions to the Moon, and eventually to Mars, aiming to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024. During a press conference prior to the historic all-woman spacewalk, NASA Adminstrator Jim Bridenstine mentioned the Artemis mission and stated, “We want, of course, to have space available to everybody, and we need to continually demonstrate that space is available to everybody…Of course, another reason this is significant is we are preparing right now to send the next man and the first woman to the moon, so this is all emblematic of that,” he said.

Kristine Davis,  Spacesuit Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wears a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU). The suit will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Kristine Davis, Spacesuit Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wears a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU). The suit will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The new Exploration EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) spacesuits designed for lunar exploration incorporate inclusive sizing with the ability to accommodate anybody from the “first percentile female to the 99th percentile male” according to NASA Spacesuit Designer Amy Ross.

Astronaut Ground Support

The first all-woman spacewalk was also supported by a team of Rocket Women on the ground (around half of the Mission Control Center personnel according to Twitter’s @jennyonconsole)  including Astronaut Stephanie Wilson, who worked as the Capsule Communicator or CAPCOM during the spacewalk and communicated with the crew from NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston. Stephanie was selected as a NASA Astronaut in 1996 and previously flew on three shuttle missions (STS-121 in 2006, STS‑120 in 2007 and STS-131 in 2010). She was the second African American woman to go into space after Mae Jemison.  

At the end of the historic first all-woman spacewalk, NASA Astronaut and International Space University graduate Jessica Meir announced, “Today was especially an honor as we also recognize that this is a milestone. It symbolizes exploration by all that dare to dream and work hard to achieve that dream. Not only that, it’s a tribute to those that paved the way for us to be where we are.” [Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel support a scholarship for women to attend the International Space University!]

This month’s spacewalk provided a vision of a future in which an all-woman spacewalk is no longer remarkable, but hopefully common place as the number of women in the astronaut corps globally increases and humanity ventures onwards to explore the Moon and Mars.

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 [Watch here] 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.

Watch the inspirational short film ‘Space To Explore’ featuring Rocket Women Natalie Panek and Beth Jens (Propulsion Engineer) here:

SPACE TO EXPLORE – Award Winning Short Film from Katherine DuBois on Vimeo.

The big dream of Mars.

Subtitles in English, Español, 中文, हिन्दी भाषा, русский язык, اللغة العربية

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.”

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!

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.

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.