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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!

Inspirational women

How To Be A Rocket Woman: Leadership Advice From Women In Tech (Part 1)

9 June, 2014
Kirstine Stewart - Twitter Canada

Twitter Canada’s Kirstine Stewart delivering a keynote address at Communitech’s Tech Leadership Conference 2014

“You have to have confidence in yourself before you can have trust in others.” – Kirstine Stewart, Managing Director and Head of Twitter Canada.

Sound advice from Kirstine Stewart at the Technology Leadership Conference held in Waterloo, Canada. The former CBC Director of Programming discussed her rise from Girl Friday at a local television production company, graduating during a downturn in the publishing industry, to becoming President of Distribution only seven years later. She went on to take on the role of Director of Programming at CBC Television in 2006 where she dealt with 5000 employees.

You don’t get a promotion for keeping your head down.

Kirstine is a graduate of the Global Leadership in the 21st Century program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, selected to advise the World Economic Forum.

During her keynote address Kirstine listed her four principles of leadership:

1) Sets the vision

2) Builds tools and leads way for team to success

3) Sets goals and expectations

4) Gets out of the way

She added that a leader should cultivate a sense of innovation, have trust in and empower their team to make the right decision. A leader “gets out of the way” to allow their team to succeed however will be there on a check-in basis to ensure that they feel supported. Kirstine has a proven career of successful leadership and encourages women to study STEM. With only 16% of women in a director position at Canadian tech companies, Kirstine was asked how to increase the numbers of women in the tech industry.  She depicted an inherent issue present in female career advancement, women have historically done well at school with higher numbers studying technology related subjects, however there is a shift in the business world. Kirstine pointed out that “You don’t get a promotion for keeping your head down”. Women are finding it difficult to learn to add value and transition into the business world. With values at school and at work differing, she stated that women will need to bring attention to themselves and that people are only “as successful as the right decisions you make”. The “ones who come up with the right answers rather than the ones who speak a lot” will be valued. Kirstine also mentioned that women wait to be asked the question, rather than giving the answers before they are asked. This proactive nature would help to make women’s voices count more so in the workplace.

Leaning in doesn’t matter as much as what you do when you lean in.

Kirstine also discussed that rather than traditional masculine leadership traits in business being valued, the values of business and leadership have changed. Attributes such as empathy and multi-tasking, typically female, are now increasingly valued. She stated that “it takes all to lead” and that “gender isn’t as important as the attributes people have”. “If we need to be so outwardly focused, we’ll need a different style of leadership.”

Kirstine ended her session with “Leaning in doesn’t matter as much as what you do when you lean in”. I personally am looking forward to reading more on Kirstine’s views and advice on this pertinent subject in her book released next year, Our Turn:  Time For A New Kind Of Leader. She’s an inspirational woman and one whose success women aspiring to lead can learn a great deal from.

Part 2 of Leadership Advice From Women In Tech will be posted this week featuring advice from Dr. Anita Sands, an innovation & change leadership expert with a PhD in molecular physics and who is currently on the Board of Directors at Symantec Corp.