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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.

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!

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Celebrating International Women’s Day 2018 – Meet A Rocket Woman: Kristen Facciol, Robotics Flight Controller, Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

8 March, 2018
Kristen Facciol, Robotics Flight Controller, Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

Kristen Facciol, Robotics Flight Controller, Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

Happy International Women’s Day 2018! On International Women’s Day, Rocket Women are celebrating the achievements of trailblazing women in space!

This week we’re featuring Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Robotics Flight Controller Kristen Facciol! Growing up in Canada, Kristen was inspired by the achievements of Canadian astronauts Roberta Bondar and Julie Payette and always hoped that she could be involved with Canada’s contributions to space exploration one day.

Kristen tells Rocket Women about her path to work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, astronaut training and why she believes it’s important that we show the next generation that it’s possible to be successful in non-traditional careers.


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

My journey began when I was about 10 years old and was able to attend Space Camp in Montreal, Canada. I learned about the Canadarm, the Space Shuttle program, and the Hubble Space Telescope, and immediately became intrigued. Space exploration was a passion that fuelled my interest in science and math.

When it came time to select a university, the University of Toronto stood out because of the affiliated Aerospace Institute (UTIAS), and the ability to major in Aerospace Engineering through the Engineering Science program. It was during university that I realized my interest in robotics.

The opportunity of a lifetime came up when I joined the Mission Control Group. I am now living in Houston, Texas and training as a Robotics Flight Controller at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Following graduation, I started with MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) as part of a team designing robotic systems for on-orbit satellites servicing. Upon completion of this project, I moved to Montreal to work as an embedded contractor at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) as both an Analyst and an Engineering Support Lead for robotics operations on the International Space Station (ISS). During this time, I also certified as an instructor, training astronauts and flight controllers on the Mobile Servicing System, which includes Canadarm2 (the large robotic arm on the ISS), Dextre (a robot performing maintenance work and repairs), and the Mobile Base (which allows translation along the ISS).

At the end of 2016, I joined the CSA as a Payloads Engineer, working on some of the human research projects conducted on the ISS. Soon after, the opportunity of a lifetime came up when I joined the Mission Control Group. I am now living in Houston, Texas and training as a Robotics Flight Controller at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.

Describe a typical day at work for you.

A typical day at work can really vary, which is one of the many reasons why I love my job!

When we are planning for robotic operations, we need to go through the Mission Design process. We look at requirements or objectives that need to be satisfied during an operation, and take into consideration the complexity of the ISS operational schedule. Using a simulator, we then develop the procedures and other associated products that allow us to control the robotic systems on the ISS from the ground.

The days that I get to train astronauts and flight controllers, are some of my favourite days!

There are also days that I sit on console, either training during real-time operations or learning as part of simulations. Sitting on console involves monitoring our systems and the timeline, as well as the status of all the other systems that comprise the ISS, to ensure the objectives of the operation are met.

Then there are the days that I get to train astronauts and flight controllers, which are some of my favourite days! It is an opportunity to ensure that I am constantly learning and understanding how our systems work, as well as pass on this knowledge to future operators of Canadarm2, Dextre, or the Mobile Base.

Kristen in NASA's ISS Mission Control Center

Kristen in NASA’s ISS Mission Control Center

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

Growing up, my role models were anyone that took the time and effort to teach me, or anyone I felt I could learn from. This included my parents, my coaches for various sports, my teachers, and my colleagues. I never shied away from an opportunity to learn and improve, and always had a desire to be better at whatever it was that had my attention at the time.

I always admired the achievements of Roberta Bondar and Julie Payette. I hoped that I could one day be involved with Canada’s contributions to space exploration.

I never shied away from an opportunity to learn and improve, and always had a desire to be better at whatever it was that had my attention at the time.

I think it is exceptionally important for young girls to have role models. One thing that has always stood out to me is the way females are portrayed in the media, and the stereotypes that continue to exist today from previous generations. We need to show the next generation that: it is possible to be successful in non-traditional careers; it is possible to have a career as well as a family; and it is possible to be driven and successful without that having a negative connotation.

We need to show the next generation that: it is possible to be successful in non-traditional careers; it is possible to have a career as well as a family; and it is possible to be driven and successful without that having a negative connotation.

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

There have been technical achievements that were quite exceptional, but there are also the “softer” moments that have made an impact as well.

Two of the technical achievements that stand out were the first time an astronaut I had trained was on-board the ISS and the first time a procedure I had written was executed on-orbit. It was so surreal to watch live video from the ISS of something that I had worked on from the ground. It is still difficult for me to truly express the way each of these moments felt.

 It was so surreal to watch live video from the ISS of something that I had worked on from the ground. It is still difficult for me to truly express the way each of these moments felt.

I have also received some incredibly heartwarming messages from people that I have interacted with as a mentor. To know that I have somehow influenced the career path of another person is something I am so grateful to have experienced, and there really is nothing quite like it.

What would you recommend to someone looking at a career in space robotics to focus on?

To develop a foundation for a career in space robotics (or robotics in general), it is important to focus on more than just the technical courses and training that are required. You also need to keep apprised of what is happening in your field of interest. There are advancements every day – not just in space, but also in how what we have learned in space is utilized here on Earth. Knowing where we have come from and the direction we are moving in will help you to strategically position yourself to be a part of the way forward.

Knowing where we have come from and the direction we are moving in will help you to strategically position yourself to be a part of the way forward.

For any career consideration, it is also important to keep in mind that a technical career is more than just the technical elements. Working in space robotics, as part of an interdisciplinary team, has really emphasized the importance of being able to work with others and to understand how your systems interact. You need to be able to communicate the state of your system and to adapt to changes in the surrounding environment. It also often involves working under pressure.

Kristen Facciol simulating Canadarm operations on-ground

Kristen Facciol simulating Canadarm operations on-ground

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

Looking back to when I first started, I thought that I would stay in Toronto and be a career “lifer”. I really admired my colleagues that had established a reputation for themselves to be a go-to person and become indispensable to a certain extent. I thought that was what I wanted. I took somewhat of a leap of faith when I moved to Montreal.

If it had not been for that move, some of the most important events in my life would have never occurred. My life has been ever changed because I took that leap.

Being given an opportunity to work at the CSA was a daunting decision at first, but it was definitely a clear one. This was the Canadian Space Agency that I would be working at! If it had not been for that move, some of the most important events in my life would have never occurred. My life has been ever changed because I took that leap.

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?

My 10-year-old self already exhibited many of the qualities that I think are important contributors to where I have reached at this point in my life. She approached everyone in the same way, whether stranger or friend, superior or equal. She was a team player but a definite leader. And she always strived to be the best.

She also had her moments of self-doubt, and I would want to tell her to never doubt herself, her achievements, or the decisions she made. I would tell her that she was going to end up somewhere she never even dreamed was possible. I would probably also mention that being a nerd would become the new cool, but I doubt she would have believed me.

I would want to tell [my 10-year-old self] to never doubt herself, her achievements, or the decisions she made. I would tell her that she was going to end up somewhere she never even dreamed was possible. I would probably also mention that being a nerd would become the new cool, but I doubt she would have believed me.

If I went back and made any decision differently, then I don’t know that I would have ended up where I am now, which I am very proud of. I really wouldn’t want anything to be any different. So looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty with her husband Jean-Moise Jeanty

Timiebi Aganaba-Jeanty with her husband Jean-Moise Jeanty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scholarships, STEM Programmes

Opportunities For Canadian STEM Students To Attend European Space Agency (ESA) Conferences

7 January, 2017

If you’re a Canadian student studying science or engineering and would like to attend a European Space Agency (ESA) hosted conference in Canada, then apply now for this incredible opportunity.

Attending conferences is a great way to for students to ‘forge valuable ties with professionals and other students from all over the world who share their interests. Students will have a chance to talk to professionals, learn from their expertise and be exposed to the latest science discoveries from those missions’. Students will also be ‘full participants in the conferences, lending the workshops and plenary sessions a new energy and outlook that are greatly appreciated.’

Successful applicants will get the chance to attend The Fourth Swarm Science Meeting & Geodetic Missions Workshop, in March 2017, hosted by the European Space Agency (ESA) in Banff, Alberta and The North American Cryosat Science Meeting, in March 2017, also hosted by ESA in Banff, Alberta.

The deadline for applications is 27th January, 2017. Good luck! Click here for more information about the Student Participation Initiative and to apply.

Media

Representing Rocket Women In Discussion With The Prime Minister Of Canada

22 June, 2016
Truly honoured to meet the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Truly honoured to meet the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

I was truly honoured to represent Rocket Women at the beginning of this month in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, during an intimate round table discussion with Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minster of Canada, and Instagram COO Marne Levine at Parliament Hill.

This amazing opportunity came about through an education campaign with the Prime Minister’s office, #EducationCan. My story and those of seven inspiring young Canadians were featured on the Prime Minister’s Instagram account, where we discussed the importance of education and how it had shaped our lives. We were lucky to additionally receive a fortuitious invitation to take part in a round table discussion with Prime Minister Trudeau and the Instagram team at Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada. During this hour we discussed how to inspire the next generation, education and encouraging young women to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). The Prime Minster genuinely cared about these causes and listened carefully to each participant’s viewpoint and story. It was truly an honour to participate alongside some incredibly talented and inspirational young people. I’m extremely grateful to the Instagram team and the Prime Minister’s office for this incredible opportunity.

This spring, some outstanding young Canadians took over my Instagram to talk about how education has fueled their success. I had the honour to meet them today on the Hill and hear their thoughts on how governments can better engage with – and listen to – young people. Now it’s time to hear from you. How can our government do better for young Canadians? Post your thoughts using the hashtag #PMYouth. Ce printemps, de jeunes Canadiens exceptionnels ont utilisé mon compte Instagram pour dire en quoi l’éducation avait été un moteur de leur réussite. J’ai eu l’honneur de les rencontrer aujourd’hui sur la Colline et d’entendre leurs points de vue sur des façons qui permettraient au gouvernement de mieux dialoguer avec les jeunes – et les écouter. C’est maintenant votre tour de vous exprimer. Comment notre gouvernement pourrait-il faire mieux pour les jeunes Canadiens? Publiez vos réflexions à l’aide du mot-clic #PMJeunesse.

A photo posted by Justin Trudeau (@justinpjtrudeau) on

 

Media

Honoured To Be Featured On The Prime Minister of Canada’s Instagram Account

11 May, 2016

I’m truly honoured to be featured on the Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau‘s Instagram account discussing the importance of education.

I hope it inspires others to follow their dreams and aspirations!

‘Gaining an education in physics and engineering has allowed me to follow my dreams and work in the space industry, specifically on human spaceflight. Through my education and related internships, I’ve been fortunate to contribute to projects including a spacesuit, worn on the International Space Station (ISS), that aims to improve spinal health in space and work in Germany’s version of Mission Control.” [email protected] Getting early work experience is crucial to building a career. That’s why #Budget2016 doubled the size of the Canada Summer Jobs program for students, helping create nearly 70,000 jobs a year for young people in each of the next 3 years. « Mes études en physique et en génie m’ont permis de réaliser mes rêves et de travailler dans l’industrie de l’aérospatiale, plus spécifiquement en lien avec les vols spatiaux habités. Grâce à mes études et aux stages qui s’y rattachaient, j’ai eu la chance de contribuer à des projets, par exemple un projet de combinaison spatiale, portée dans la station spatiale internationale (SSI) pour améliorer la santé vertébrale dans l’espace, et de travailler à la version allemande du contrôle de mission. » [email protected] Il est essentiel d’acquérir rapidement de l’expérience de travail pour faire carrière. C’est pourquoi le #Budget2016 double le montant du programme Emplois d’été Canada pour les étudiants, aidant ainsi à créer près de 70 000 emplois par an pour des jeunes, pour chacune des trois prochaines années. #EducationCan

A photo posted by Justin Trudeau (@justinpjtrudeau) on

Inspirational women, Media

Rocket Women Featured By Fast Company

26 January, 2016

Vinita Marwaha Madill Featured In Fast Company's Piece On Women In Space

Vinita Marwaha Madill Featured In Fast Company’s Piece On Women In Space – Seen here on-console supporting International Space Station (ISS) operations at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Cologne, Germany [Fast Company]

I’m excited to share that Rocket Women and myself were featured in Fast Company’s recent article “Women In Space Seek More Women In Space“.

The Fast Company piece details:

Prominent women in STEM are ensuring their stories are part of the narrative about space careers—with the explicit goal of attracting more.

Vinita Marwaha Madill, a consultant in space engineering and STEM outreach and the founder of Rocket Women, a website focused on women and space, likewise wants to encourage more women to enter the field. Madill’s career has included stints as an Engineering Manager leading the Intelligent Transportation Systems Engineering Team in Canada, and as an International Space Station operations engineer at the German Aerospace Center, among other things.

On Rocket Women, she posts interviews with women around the world in STEM fields, especially space-related, as well as advice to encourage girls to become involved in STEM.

Rocket Women Featured By Fast Company

Rocket Women Featured By Fast Company

“Watching Helen Sharman’s Soyuz launch on BBC News at a young age, and knowing that there had been a British female astronaut, helped me push through any negativity around my chosen career path when I was younger,” Madill says. “I knew that I wanted to be an astronaut, or at least work in human space flight. And eventually I did. But I wouldn’t have had that impetus and drive if I hadn’t known that someone had come before me. There had been a female British astronaut, and maybe there could be again. It was possible. Through featuring advice and stories of women in STEM, I want Rocket Women to give other girls and women that same realization.”

Other women featured include Natalie Panek, Mission Systems Engineer at MDA (Canada) and Dr. Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago (USA).

Read the full article here

Inspiration

Stargazing Lottie Doll Designed By 6-Year-Old Girl Arrives At Space Station

17 December, 2015

UPDATE: Here’s a new photo of the Stargazer Lottie doll on the ISS:

A new photo of the Stargazing Lottie doll in space on the International Space Station (ISS) [22/12/15]

A new photo of the Stargazer Lottie doll in space on the International Space Station (ISS) [22/12/15]

Six-Year-Old Abigail Enthralled By Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield's Sokol spacesuit

Six-Year-Old Abigail Enthralled By Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Sokol spacesuit

Tim Peake, the first British European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut arrived at the ISS on Tuesday 15th December, but he’s also in charge of precious cargo designed by a talented 6-Year-Old space-loving Canadian girl called Abigail. A Stargazer Lottie doll. The doll was created by the European Space Agency and with the help of Lucie Follett, (Creative Director, Arklu). Lucie Follett describes how the company worked with Abigail, “to really create something that reflects Abigail’s ideas of what other kids would like and what gets her excited about all things astronomy related.”

An excited Abigail watching her Lottie Stargazing doll launch to the ISS in December 2015

An excited Abigail watching her Stargazer Lottie doll launch to the ISS in December 2015

The project began as Abigail’s Mum emailed the doll company to thank them for inspiring her daughter through their dolls and convey that she loved interacting with them. Each Lottie doll has a specific activity theme, meant to promote careers to children through their interaction (a fantastic idea!). The Stargazer Lottie doll comes complete with a doll sized telescope, a set of planet cards and as Abigail’s Mum describes is, “wearing clothes that a child would wear to look outside at the stars as well, so she’s a natural companion.” Abigail’s signed book by astronaut Chris Hadfield, her self-proclaimed hero, is her prized possession and her passion for space is apparent, “Sometimes I look up and think maybe I could go up there one day, somehow maybe I could see what’s up there.”

The Stargazer Lottie doll is available now worldwide and would make a fantastic Christmas gift for any young budding astronomers!

Astronauts

All-Female Russian Crew Start Mock Mission To The Moon

2 November, 2015
The crew of 6 Russian women prior to entering isolation

The Crew Of 6 Russian Women Prior To Entering Isolation

A year after Russia sent it’s first female cosmonaut to the International Space Station (ISS), a group of six Russian women are currently undergoing an 8-day analogue mission to the Moon. The accomplished women, with expertise in backgrounds including biophysics and medicine, entered a suite of wood-panelled rooms on October 28 at Moscow’s Institute of Biomedical Problems to simulate the mission. The psychological effects of spaceflight are being tested, with a team of doctors and psychologists remotely monitoring the study.

The institute has previously undertaken a 520 day isolation mock mission, Mars 500, in which 6 male candidates lived in similar conditions, simulating a mission to Mars. Another older analogue study with a mixed crew ended early after two male crewmembers fought and one male crewmember attempted to kiss a female crewmember.

One of the most challenging parts of the all-female Russian mock mission may have occurred before it had even started, during the pre-study press conference. The institute’s director Igor Ushakov remarked, “We believe women might not only be no worse than men at performing certain tasks in space, but actually better.” His casual derogatory remarks continued with, “I’d like to wish you a lack of conflicts, even though they say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together.” A potentially inspiring endeavour for women in space was unfortunately reduced to a sterotypical comparison of being a housewife and not being good enough for spaceflight. His remarks deepening the fact that a lack of self-confidence in one’s ability is an internal barrier that women battle around the world. When Canadian Space Agency (CSA) retired astronaut Dr.Julie Payette was asked what her biggest challenge in the pursuit of her goals, she admitted that it was “Fear and doubt I wouldn’t perform as needed.”  Dr.Payette admitted that it had been her biggest challenge and it had taken a lengthy amount of time to convince herself that she was good for the job, even once she was selected and in training.

The institute director’s remarks continued to set the tone for the press conference, where the 6 women, all experts in their fields, were asked by the press how they would cope without men or makeup for the next week. When the subject being inquired into moved to how they could possibly cope for 8 days without shampoo, the women sarcastically remarked back to the press, “I don’t know how we’ll survive without shampoo. Because even in this situation, we really want to stay looking pretty.”  The media’s line of questioning is similar to that faced recently by cosmonaut Yelena Serova, Russia’s 4th cosmonaut(!) and the first female cosmonaut on the ISS. Yelena, an engineer with significant experience, was asked prior to her mission how she would style her hair in the microgravity conditions on the ISS and how she would continue to bond with her daughter during her 6-month mission. The then head of Russia’s space agency’s remarks about Yelena’s mission of, “We are doing this flight for Russia’s image. She will manage it, but the next woman won’t fly out soon.”, do little to inspire hope in the numbers of Russian women in space increasing in the near future. Though by choosing to conduct a study with 6 female candidates simulating a mission to the Moon, Russia will gain additional results that may help with this issue and hopefully inspire young Russian girls to realise that they can be a cosmonaut too.