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Inspirational women, Media

Inspiring Women To Reach For The Stars In Silicon Republic

10 March, 2016

Vinita Marwaha Madill at the at DLR (German Aerospace Centre) in Cologne, Germany, working on ISS Operations

Vinita Marwaha Madill at the at DLR (German Aerospace Centre) in Cologne, Germany, working on ISS Operations [Silicon Republic]

Rocket Women is honoured to be featured by Ireland’s biggest science and technology news website, Silicon Republic. The article is part of their ‘Women Invent’ series, which highlights and profiles women in STEM, aiming to encourage young women to be more aware of STEM and pursue careers in it.

Here’s an excerpt from the article in which I discuss the importance of encouraging girls to consider a career in STEM, my reasoning behind starting Rocket Women and the path to achieving my goals in the space industry:

The sky is no limit for space consultant Vinita Marwaha Madill, who is keen for young women interested in STEM to have role models.

‘In space, no-one can hear your bones weaken, but some exercise and a specially-designed spacesuit can help – and this is where space engineering consultant Vinita Marwaha Madill comes in.

“Astronauts carrying out six-month missions on the International Space Station [ISS], including Tim Peake, can grow up to 5cm to 7cm in height, with the spinal growth causing tension in the vertebrae and back pain,” explains Marwaha, adding that, in microgravity, humans can lose 1-2pc of their bone mass per month and their muscles can waste.

Exercise can help protect against these changes, but what else can be done? Marwaha has been involved in designing a ‘gravity-loading countermeasure skinsuit’ with the European Space Agency to mimic the effects of gravity on the body and help prevent elongation of the spine.

The suit, which draws on several years of research and development, was evaluated last year onboard the ISS by Danish ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen.

“With a force close to that felt on Earth, the suit effectively squeezes an astronaut’s body gradually in hundreds of stages from the shoulders to the feet,” explains Marwaha. “The suit could also be used alongside current exercise countermeasures on the ISS to help prevent bone loss. Bone responds to loading and the suit’s pressure on the skeleton could help to stimulate bone growth.”

Vinita Marwaha  Madill installing and developing the astronaut procedures for EML (Electromagnetic Levitator) using the training model at the European Astronaut Centre

Vinita Marwaha Madill installing and developing the astronaut procedures for EML (Electromagnetic Levitator) using the training model at the European Astronaut Centre [Silicon Republic]

Marwaha Madill has also helped astronauts to get to grips with spacewalk (EVA) skills at the European Space Agency’s European Astronaut Centre (EAC) in Cologne, Germany.

“The astronauts train to carry out EVA,s or spacewalks, underwater,” she explains, because training underwater provides a microgravity-type experience. “Astronauts initially learned how to translate, or move along, the Station using its handrails, move in the spacesuit and operate tools, before eventually moving on to training for full-length spacewalks.”

Currently based in the UK and Canada, Marwaha has worked too on ISS operations at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), guiding and training astronauts through experiments on the Station as it orbits Earth.

Marwaha credits role models such as astronauts Helen Sharman and Sally Ride for inspiring her to work in the space sector.

Aged 12, Marwaha went to the library and printed the astronaut candidate guidelines (you can see a contemporary version here) from NASA’s website, then stuck them to the inside cover of her school folder. She recalls them as being a daily reminder of how to reach her goal and set her focus on achieving them. “Those guidelines set the direction for my career,” she says.

Today, as well as working as a consultant focusing on space engineering, Marwaha is heavily involved in STEM Outreach through talks and through her website Rocket Women, for which she interviews women in STEM and space around the world.

“Only 6pc of the UK engineering workforce are female, meaning that UK companies are missing out on almost 50pc of their engineering talent. This is coupled with the fact that girls make up under 20pc of students taking physics A-level,” she says.

“My passion, and the goal of my website Rocket Women, is to try and reverse this trend by inspiring girls globally to consider a career in STEM. I think you need those role models out there, tangible and visible, to be able to inspire the next generation of young girls to become astronauts, or be whatever they want to be. I started Rocket Women to give these women a voice and a platform to spread their advice.”

Read the full Silicon Republic article here.

Science Spotlight

Science Spotlight: The Date History Was Made

14 November, 2014

Wednesday 12th November, 2014: The date history was made.

An achievement solely made possible through the efforts and countless hours of work by scientists & engineers at DLR (German Aerospace Centre), CNES (Centre national d’études spatiales – French Space Agency), ESA (European Space Agency) and through partnerships with companies and space agencies globally. The mission has been ongoing for over a decade, since it’s launch on 2nd March 2004. Travelling over 6.4 billion kilometres (4 billion miles) to reach it’s destination, Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, the Philae lander separated from the Rosetta spacecraft and seven (nail-biting) hours later soft-landed on the surface of the comet. It in fact landed a total of 3 times, bouncing twice, initially 1km off the comet before finally coming to rest (landing at 15:33, 17:26 & 17:33 UTC.).

The Philae Lander Control Centre (LCC) At DLR MUSC In Cologne, Germany [DLR]

I was lucky enough to work at DLR MUSC (Microgravity User Support Centre) with the fantastic Philae Lander team whilst operating payloads on the ISS (International Space Station). Landing Philae, a spacecraft the size of a household fridge, on a 3-mile-long comet travelling at 80,000 miles per hour is no easy task. Arduous work that ESA’s Director General Jean-Jacques Dordain mentioned in his congratulatory speech as success made look easy.

Due to their work we’re lucky to have a multitude of scientific discoveries to come. Comet 67P is over 4 billion years old, older than the Earth itself. Through the Rosetta mission we will hopefully discover whether comets are responsible for bringing life to Earth, through the prebiotic molecules and water, along with gaining a deeper insight into the origins of our solar system, our own home. After landing, telemetry showed that Philae had actually sunk four centimeters into the surface of the comet, indicating a partially-soft surface.

The Top 3 Trending Topics on Twitter in London, UK On The Day Of Philae’s Landing

The photos below show the sheer emotion of the entire Rosetta/Philae team when learning that Philae had touched down on the surface of 67P. As said after the successful landing, ‘We hope that the Rosetta mission will inspire the next generation to go to space, just as Apollo has done for us.” It indeed looks as though the Rosetta mission has caught the world’s imagination, with the top 3 trending topics on Twitter in London, UK yesterday being #CometLanding, #Rosetta and #Philae. With #CometLanding or Comet being mentioned in 479,434 tweets! Here’s hoping that the young people watching the Rosetta mission are inspired to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) and create their own extraordinary achievement in the years to come.

Rosetta Mission Managers & Operations Directors Celebrating!

CNES scientists & engineers celebrating

Mission Managers & Operations Directors Checking Telemetry From Philae and Rosetta

Space Agency Directors Celebrating The Successful Landing of Philae


Sidenote: On a less positive note, the unfortunate choice of attire by a Rosetta scientist (live on air in a broadcast watched by hundreds of thousands worldwide), brought an uncalled-for distraction from the amazing achievements of hundreds of scientists and engineers who had meticulously planned the project over the previous 25 years. After the science gained and successful landing of Philae, the next most talked about Rosetta-related topic on social media was the scientist’s (who I’m sure is extremely talented in his own right) choice to wear this:

Worn During A Live Global Broadcast

I wanted to say that this choice of attire isn’t the norm of scientists and operations engineers in the space industry or in a STEM career, especially considering the scientist was on a LIVE on-air broadcast. With formal attire worn at NASA’s Mission Control for on-camera personnel and those on-console, Europe’s (mission polo-heavy) control centres are certainly not a place where the offending shirt would be welcome. I’ve certainly never seen anything like this during my time on-console carrying out ISS payload operations or whilst working at any of ESA or DLR’s centres. I strongly hope this doesn’t dissuade anyone from following a career into space operations, or takes away from the astonishing scientific achievement conducted by the team. Spacecraft operations is an extremely rewarding career, as I’ll talk about in my next post!