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Women In STEM

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

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

27 May, 2019

Natalie Panek [Image credit: Natalia Dolan]

Natalie Panek [Image credit: Natalia Dolan]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Natalie Panek

Natalie Panek

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your favourite things about your workday?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be? Would there be any decisions that you’d have made differently?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Partnerships, Rocket Women Reflections

Rocket Women Reflections on the 2019 Women in Space Conference

18 May, 2019

By Bethany Downer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Media, Scholarships, Shop

Rocket Women Launches Apparel To Support Scholarship

8 December, 2018

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

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

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

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

Here are some of our designs!

Rocket Woman Hoodie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Woman Hoodie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Women Patch Sweatshirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Women Patch Sweatshirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

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

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

Future Rocket Woman Onesie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Onesie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

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

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

Future Rocket Woman [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

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

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Dr. Chiara Mingarelli, Astrophysicist, Flatiron Institute

14 May, 2018

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli [Image: Flatiron Institute]

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli [Image: Flatiron Institute]

Rocket Women are thrilled to feature astrophysicist and trailblazing role model Dr.Chiara Mingarelli. Chiara tells Rocket Women about how she was inspired as a child by Eve Curie’s biography of her mother, Marie Curie, the importance of supporting those marginalized in STEM and giving a talk to Jeff Bezos at the Amazon MARS event!

Tell me about your journey to astrophysics and to where you are now? 

I grew up in a small town called Rockland, Ontario, close to Ottawa – the capital of Canada. I loved looking up at the night sky, full of stars, and dreaming of making a discovery. When I found out about black holes, and that one could study black holes for a living, I was hooked! I did my undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Physics at Carleton University in Ottawa, and then moved to Europe to pursue my graduate work. I did my Master’s degree at the University of Bologna in Italy, and my PhD in the UK, at the University of Birmingham, where there is a large gravitational-wave group. After my PhD, I won a Marie Curie Fellowship, which I took to Caltech for 2 years, after which I had to return to Europe.

When I found out about black holes, and that one could study black holes for a living, I was hooked!

I spent the final year of my fellowship in Bonn, Germany, at the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy. This whirlwind tour brings us to today! After my year in Bonn, I got an offer to join the new Center for Computational Astrophysics at the Flatiron Institute in New York, as a Flatiron Research Fellow. This is where I am now! It’s a great place to work: my colleagues are all world-class and I have been able to expand my research interests (and soon publications!) through my conversations with them.

What are your favourite things about your workday?

I love talking to my colleagues. I am very fortunate to be surrounded by some of the brightest minds in astronomy and astrophysics, and it is a joy to talk to them about their work and how it sometimes interfaces with mine. If I’m lucky, I’ll have a day when I have a great idea! This is really the best part of my job – thinking of new ways to learn about the Universe that other people have overlooked.

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli with Dr. Christine Moran (NASA JPL) and NASA Astronaut Yvonne Cagle

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli with Dr. Christine Moran (NASA JPL) and NASA Astronaut Yvonne Cagle

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

My parents read me Eve Curie’s biography of her mother, Marie Curie, to me as a bedtime story. I learned that Marie Curie won 2 Nobel Prizes, so I set out to win 3! This was before I found out that only two women have ever won the prize, despite there being a huge pool of talent to draw from, so I am not particularly hopeful of this anymore. Instead, I hope to be a role model myself, and encourage women to pursue what they are passionate about, especially in STEM fields where we are underrepresented.

My parents read me Eve Curie’s biography of her mother, Marie Curie, to me as a bedtime story. I learned that Marie Curie won 2 Nobel Prizes, so I set out to win 3!

One of my modern role models was Dana Scully in the X-Files. She was a serious, skeptical scientist who I deeply admired, and was in turn respected by her colleagues for her keen intellect. I was also inspired by Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar, who was the first Canadian woman astronaut, and continue to be inspired by trailblazers like Jane Goodall – a pioneer in primate studies. I believe role models to be of crucial importance to young women, even though they may not realize it. It’s hard to imagine who you want to be if you’ve never seen anyone who looks like you being an astronaut for example.

One of my modern role models was Dana Scully in the X-Files. She was a serious, skeptical scientist who I deeply admired, and was in turn respected by her colleagues for her keen intellect. I was also inspired by Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar, who was the first Canadian woman astronaut, and continue to be inspired by trailblazers like Jane Goodall — a pioneer in primate studies.

Chiara with Adam Savage from the TV show MythBusters at the Amazon MARS event

Chiara with Adam Savage from the TV show MythBusters at the Amazon MARS event

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

I didn’t expect there to be such a sharp transition from the way people interacted with me as a undergraduate student to a graduate (PhD) student. As an undergraduate I couldn’t understand why I would need feminism, everything seemed fine, why waste one’s breath? As a PhD student I was shocked at the huge differences in which men and women were treated.

As an undergraduate I couldn’t understand why I would need feminism, everything seemed fine, why waste one’s breath? As a PhD student I was shocked at the huge differences in which men and women were treated. This was my first experience with being frequently interrupted, not being listened to and having other claim your ideas as their own a few minutes after you share your idea. It was like being in another dimension.

This was my first experience with being frequently interrupted, not being listened to and having other claim your ideas as their own a few minutes after you share your idea. It was like being in another dimension. This has also taught me the importance of being an ally to those who suffer these experiences more regularly than I, and are marginalized in different ways due to their race or gender nonconformity, for example.

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli

Dr. Chiara Mingarelli

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

I am fortunate to have had many rewarding moments in my career. The most memorable are giving a talk in Feynman’s lecture theatre at Caltech when I was a postdoc there, giving a talk to Jeff Bezos and the amazing people gathered at the “Amazon MARS” event this year in Palm Springs, and seeing my 2017 Nature Astronomy paper published after more than 1.5 years working on it!

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?

Don’t ever stop believing in yourself. You’re amazing, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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.

Celebrate, Inspiration, Inspirational women

UN International Day of Women & Girls In Science 2018: Inspiring The Next Generation

11 February, 2018

The 11th of February marks the United Nations International Day of Women In Science, a day celebrating the achievements of trailblazing women in science, whilst aiming to inspire the next generation of physicists, chemists, engineers and biologists.

I absolutely love this graphic by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) to celebrate, showcasing the variety of careers available in the space industry!

If you’re interested in a career in space be inspired by the stories of trailblazing Rocket Women featured today, from a Flight Controller in Mission Control to an Engineer designing the next generation of satellites, to a Geologist training astronauts for missions to the surface of the Moon and Mars, a Biologist designing novel human life support systems and an Astrophysicist unlocking the mysteries of the Universe.

You don’t have to be the best in maths and science – you don’t have to be number 1 or number 2. You just have to want to help humankind. That should be the passion. You don’t have to be the best –just be proficient. We need to change the conversation to know that you’re all in.

As former NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. Dava Newman said, “You don’t have to be the best in maths and science – you don’t have to be number 1 or number 2. You just have to want to help humankind. That should be the passion. You don’t have to be the best –just be proficient. We need to change the conversation to know that you’re all in.”

Remember, there are lots of different pathways to work in the space industry, even if you not looking to become an engineer, scientist or astronaut. During a Rocket Women interview with Emma Lehnhardt from NASA, Emma rightly mentioned that although we need more female STEM graduates, “we also need policy wonks, like me, accountants, lawyers, artists, English majors, you name it.” In her interview with Rocket Women, Emma revealed a woman who really had an impact on her when she was an intern at NASA, named Lynn Cline. She had only ever had one meeting with her, but was absolutely struck that a French literature scholar became the Deputy Associate Administrator for Space Operations.

To work in the space industry the most important thing that you can do is to study something that you love and are passion about. You have to enjoy what you study and the work that you’re doing. Pay attention to what your passion is for and follow that passion to find your ideal career in space.

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:

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Kim Kowal Arcand, Science Visualization Lead, NASA’s Chandra X-Ray Observatory & Author

10 December, 2017
Kim Kowal Arcand (Image credit: Brittanny Taylor)

Kim Kowal Arcand (Image credit: Brittanny Taylor)

As the Visualization Lead for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory observatory, Kim Kowal Arcand transforms data into stories to communicate about the Universe.

With an impressive background, combining an undergraduate education in molecular biology, and a graduate degree in computer science from Harvard University, Kim talks to Rocket Women about the wonders of NASA’s Chandra Observatory and her crucial role, currently using virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), to communicate its findings to the public.

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

I’ve had the pleasure of working for NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory since 1998, about a year before the spacecraft was launched from Space Shuttle Columbia. The Chandra X-ray Observatory is an X-ray telescope that studies very hot regions of the Universe such as exploded stars, clusters of galaxies, and black holes. Operated for NASA by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Chandra orbits about one third of the way to the moon at its farthest point from Earth. Scientific and control operations for the observatory are headquartered in Cambridge, MA, where I work.

Operated for NASA by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Chandra orbits about one third of the way to the moon at its farthest point from Earth. Scientific and control operations for the observatory are headquartered in Cambridge, MA, where I work.

But I didn’t go to school thinking I would work in the space industry. Like many kids, I suppose, I had wanted to be an astronaut when I was young (quickly realizing I could in no way handle the bumpy launches!). I really enjoyed science however, in all forms. I completed my undergraduate work in molecular biology and then went on to do graduate work in computer science. That background combining biology, physics, chemistry, computer programming, etc., was incredibly helpful in my job working for Chandra.

I use data to tell stories and communicate about the Universe in many different ways. So I transitioned from working with data from a microscope to working with data from a telescope.

As the Visualization Lead for that observatory, I use data to tell stories and communicate about the Universe in many different ways. So I transitioned from working with data from a microscope to working with data from a telescope.

What are your favourite things about your job?

There are a lot of things to love. In this line of work, I get to learn something new each and every day. Right now, I’m learning all about virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), as I’ve worked with some collaborators to create our first VR/AR data-driven experience for Chandra of a supernova remnant in our Milky Way. Getting to walk inside a star that exploded 10,000 light years away, based on data that we’ve been collecting for a good number of years from Chandra and additional observatories? Just incredible.

Getting to walk inside a star that exploded 10,000 light years away, based on data that we’ve been collecting for a good number of years from Chandra and additional observatories? Just incredible.

Our work is typically very collaborative. Being able to work with and learn from incredibly bright, interesting people from all across the world is another definite perk.

I’ve learned so much in this job, beyond the scientific/technical aspects, from how to write better, to how to speak better, to how to work through highly complex situations. Those softer skills have really helped me grow into areas I would not have expected – writing popular science books (my fourth one just came out this month), giving a number of public talks around the world, working with scientific diplomacy groups, etc.

Kim Kowal Arcand on the TEDx stage (Image credit: Tracy Karin Prell)

Kim Kowal Arcand on the TEDx stage (Image credit: Tracy Karin Prell)

When you’re having a stressful or bad day, what helps you get through it?

Beyond smaller practical techniques such as keeping an organized digital calendar and a lot of sticky notes, I would say two things help me. One is that my job is flexible, and the other is that it can be creative. So if I’m feeling particularly stressed about a project or situation, I know that I can usually step aside for a bit, and get a little space or perspective. I might use that time to switch to a project that’s more creative leaning until I can figure out the way to approach the other more difficult situation.

Sometimes, when I’m really deep in a stressful project or situation, I try to remind myself that I’m not saving lives in the ER or on an operating table. I love my job, but keeping a reality check is healthy for me.

Also, I have a very, very supportive family. I couldn’t do much without them! The whole “it takes a village” thing is definitely something I believe and am fortunate to have.

Kim presenting on-stage (Image credit: Rudy Montez)

Kim presenting on-stage (Image credit: Rudy Montez)

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

I didn’t know many women in science or technology when I was young. I was a little bit isolated I think. But I always looked up to my mom. She was a waitress when I was very young but she wanted to be a nurse. I remember sitting with her at our dining table when she was studying anatomy for one of her classes at a local community college. I was really interested in that anatomy book! But I was also so inspired that she could be more than one thing- a mother, a waitress, a student – all at once. She even took me to school with her a few times, and I can remember looking through the bookstore at science texts. She became a nurse’s aide a few years later and enjoyed her job until she retired recently.

I didn’t know it was ok to fail sometimes. I didn’t know where to look for internships and events and organizations and jobs. I tried to read up on my fields and take an educated guess, but I was just stumbling through hoping I would make the right decisions.

It is important to have role models. In high school and college, most of my science and computer science teachers were men. As a first generation college graduate I didn’t have a network in either of these fields. I didn’t know it was ok to fail sometimes. I didn’t know where to look for internships and events and organizations and jobs. I tried to read up on my fields and take an educated guess, but I was just stumbling through hoping I would make the right decisions.

I was very fortunate to land in a job where there was a supportive network growing for women in STEM, from the scientists and administrators to the very astronauts who launched the telescope. I’ve had that personal support for much of my career in a male-dominated field, and I truly appreciate it. I also try to pay it back as much as I can for young women and minoritized groups exploring the field.

Kim Kowal Arcand experiencing VR (Photo credit: Elaine Jiang)

Kim Kowal Arcand experiencing VR (Photo credit: Elaine Jiang)

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

One technical achievement was working on the first 3D printed data-driven model ever created of a supernova remnant, the leftover bits of an exploded star (as mentioned above). 3D models of distant objects in space are difficult to create due to the limitations of the data- they require not only a very large amount of data on the specific object, but also the type of data must provide velocity maps to gauge the depth since we cannot fly to and around such objects ourselves.

The successful data-driven model of the supernova remnant Cassiopeia A was the first of its kind and we translated that into a format that can be manipulated in-browser by the user, be printed in 3D, and just recently, be experienced in VR. Such technological applications for astronomical sources have wide applicability for accessibility for users of different needs, for educational purposes for non-experts, as well as new avenues for exploration of data by experts.

One major non-technical moment, however, would be the work we did for the International Year of Astronomy in 2009 and the follow-up work for the International Year of Light in 2015. These were large-scale public communications efforts to reach out into communities across the world with high-quality science content placed in free or otherwise accessible areas such as malls, metros, airports, cafes, libraries, town squares and even hospitals and a prison.

We worked with grassroots community organizers to translate content into many languages, incorporate local information, culture and perspectives, and ended up reaching many tens of millions of people worldwide. Working with UNESCO, the International Astronomical Union, the international society for optics and photonics, the U.S. Department of State and a number of other groups on these “International Years,” celebrating a common topic, we were able to communicate with so many new people.

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’m sure I should have some advice for my 10-year-old self, but I’m too much of the mindset that it’s good to learn from your mistakes and it’s okay to fail and learn from that failure. I prefer to look forwards instead of backwards – perhaps that’s somewhat ironic considering how much of astronomy involves looking back in time.

I wanted to save the world when I was young and although I certainly can’t claim that privilege, I have a life of meaning and a career I find worthy of one of the most precious of commodities – time.

Instead, I do tend to think on what my 12-year-old daughter might experience in her possible future career. She currently wants to go into a STEM field, and it’s rather depressing to me that so little seems to have changed since I have been a part of those fields. For her, and all the other children considering how to make an impactful stamp on the world, I would say dream big, think big, look forward, and –when you can – help others do the same. I wanted to save the world when I was young and although I certainly can’t claim that privilege, I have a life of meaning and a career I find worthy of one of the most precious of commodities – time.

Education, Inspiration

Super Cool Scientists – A Colouring Book Celebrating Women In Science

8 October, 2017

Super Cool Scientists Illustration of NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir, by Illustrator Yvonne Page [Super Cool Scientists]

Super Cool Scientists’ Illustration of NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir, by Illustrator Yvonne Page [Super Cool Scientists]

If you’re looking for a birthday present or stocking filler this Christmas, look no further than the brilliant Super Cool Scientists by Sara MacSorley.

Sara has created a masterpiece of stunning illustrations celebrating 22 women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), perfect for your niece, nephew or yourself to colour in! Super Cool Scientists was created to inspire the next generation of science researchers, educators and communicators by showcasing the stories of female engineers, marine biologists, astronauts, artists, entrepreneurs and computer animators.

The book highlights that these incredible women, “travel the world, explore unknown environments and even let fossils take them back in time.” They represent a variety of ages, races, experiences, origins, abilities and orientations; proof that science is for everybody.

Rocket Women talked to Sara MacSorley about how she was inspired to develop Super Cool Scientists!

Rocket Women: What sparked the idea to create Super Cool Scientists, the colouring and story book celebrating women in STEM?

Sara MacSorley: I have a science background – marine biology – and learned in college that I was more interested in the outreach and communication side of science than the research side. Over time, my career path took me further away from science and I missed it. I was looking for a project outside of my day job that brought more science into my life.

I was simultaneously learning how to manage my own issues with anxiety and found coloring was something that helped me relax.

I was simultaneously learning how to manage my own issues with anxiety and found coloring was something that helped me relax. Searching for books that I would like, I found that nothing like this that celebrated current women in science existed.

The lightbulb went on that creating such a book would be the perfect project to bring some science back to my life and also promote the inclusion of diversity in STEM careers.

RW: Name a woman (or women), past or present, whom you admire or look up to?

SM: There are many! Two in particular were my mentors in college that helped me figure out how to continue with a science career when I realized I didn’t want to do research. Dr. Jacqueline Webb was my marine biology advisor at the University of Rhode Island. She guided me to finding work study jobs that focused more on science outreach and communication.

Dr. Sunshine Menezes was one of my bosses at those early work study jobs. She leads the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting and that is where I learned about my interest in science communication and storytelling.

Whenever I’m reassessing my career (to this day), both of these amazing women scientists are there to listen, help make connections if they can, and share their experiences. I am so grateful for their mentorship, and now, friendship.

RW: What is your goal with the second book, which features awesome scientists including astronomer Lucianne Walkowicz?

SM: My goal with the book is to expose young people lots of types of science, technology, engineering, and maths careers. I freaked out in college after I realized I didn’t want to do research because no one had ever told me what else you could do with a science degree.

I want every reader who looks at the book to find something to relate to in the stories and images. The hope there is that by learning more about people who have similar experiences or looks, that young people can also envision themselves in these types of careers.

The original book features the stories of 22 diverse women in a range of careers from astronaut to mechanic to (of course) marine biologist. I want every reader who looks at the book to find something to relate to in the stories and images. The hope there is that by learning more about people who have similar experiences or looks, that young people can also envision themselves in these types of careers.

The second book will feature another 20+ women. This time around, I’d like to feature even more types of careers such as astronomer, software engineer, and climate scientist.

Super Cool Scientists

Super Cool Scientists

Rocket Women: What were your biggest challenges in the development of Super Cool Scientists?

SM: This was totally a new experience for me and all of that was scary. I had never written a book, never launched a crowdfunding campaign, never started a business around a product. I was researching, asking a lot of questions, and learning as I went all while working a separate full time job.

I’d say a combination of time management and also the self-confidence to remind myself that I could be successful were two big challenges. Surrounding myself with cheerleaders (not just of the project, but also of me) was helpful in the confidence piece. My family and friends were so supportive (still are!) and I love them all for that so much.

Now, I can say that I am a small business owner and an author who has run a successful, international crowdfunding campaign.

Rocket Women: Where can readers learn more about Super Cool Scientists and your goals?

SM: Readers can visit www.supercoolscientists.com or my website www.saramacsorley.com to learn more. You can also find us on social media: Twitter @SuperCoolSci and Facebook Super Cool Scientists.

Readers can also share their coloring pages on social media using #supercoolscientists. Seeing the pictures from our readers is my favorite part of the project.

Volume 1 of Super Cool Scientists is available now!

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet The NASA Rocket Women That Kept The Space Station Flying During Hurricane Harvey: Part 4

21 September, 2017
Natalie Gogins working in NASA Mission Control Center at the CRONUS Console

Natalie Gogins working in NASA Mission Control Center at the CRONUS Console

In a special four-part feature Rocket Women are highlighting the untold stories of the dedicated Orbit1 team. NASA’s Orbit1 team remained in Mission Control at NASA Johnson Space Center to tirelessly battle Hurricane Harvey, keeping the space station flying and the astronauts safe onboard.

These amazing 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 fourth and last interview in the series, features Natalie Gogins, ‘CRONUS Operator Flight Controller’ at NASA’s Mission Control.

Natalie’s role in NASA’s Mission Control Center is to monitor and configure systems to ensure the astronauts onboard the International Space Station are safe, and the space station itself. She talked to Rocket Women about the challenges that she overcame to become an engineer, her experience of being in Mission Control during Hurricane Harvey and sharing her love of space to inspire others!

What was the path to get to where you are now? How were you inspired to consider a career in the space industry? 

From an early age, I always dreamed of travelling to the stars. I wanted to explore new places and work alongside fellow adventurers from other nations to improve life on Earth. In high school, I volunteered at aviation museums and took private pilot flight lessons. While researching potential college degrees, engineering drew me in. It required using creativity and knowledge to solve problems and make the world a better place. I chose a school, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, near Kennedy Space Center in Florida. I started an Engineering Physics (which is a combination of Aeronautical Engineering and Space Physics) degree before I realized I wanted a major with more hands-on courses.

From an early age, I always dreamed of travelling to the stars. I wanted to explore new places and work alongside fellow adventurers from other nations to improve life on Earth.

I switched to Mechanical Engineering with a Robotics focus and, of course, modeled an International Space Station (ISS) robot arm for a class project. During my time at Embry-Riddle, I had internships with NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston and The Boeing Company in my home state of Washington. I also got to float in a microgravity simulating plane twice!

These internships and experiences helped me gain confidence in my ability to succeed in “the real world” and allowed me to make connections for my future position. Before starting my career, however, I wanted to get a Master’s degree, so I attended Purdue University as a graduate researcher. Although my thesis work was in the field of hydraulics, I never lost my passion for space, and gladly returned to Johnson Space Center as a more experienced engineer to become a flight controller.

Natalie At U.S. Space Camp

Natalie At U.S. Space Camp

What does your average day look like in your role?

My day-to-day tasks vary as a CRONUS (Communications, RF, Onboard Network Utilization Specialist) flight controller. On average, I spend 7 days a month supporting the real-time ISS mission (known as being “on console”) in Houston’s Flight Control Room 1 (FCR-1). I monitor, maintain, and configure our systems to make sure astronauts are safe, the vehicle is healthy, and the mission is accomplished. I also get to work with people in Alabama (USA), Canada, Europe, Japan, and Russia.

I monitor, maintain, and configure our systems to make sure astronauts are safe, the vehicle [International Space Station] is healthy, and the mission is accomplished.

My group works with the computers and audio, video, telemetry, and commanding equipment. One of the best parts about being CRONUS is getting to control our external cameras to capture all kinds of exciting things such as an astronaut on EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity), hurricanes, experiments, or spacecraft.

Natalie's Fantastic College Graduation Cap

Natalie’s Fantastic College Graduation Cap

When I’m not on console, I’m back in the office. Right now I’m training to become an Instructor so I can teach CRONUS flight controllers and astronauts and run simulations. Simulations are critical for training as they give uncertified controllers the chance to practice responding to failures and dealing with problems they’ve never seen before. Things in real life never happen or fail in ways you expect, so you have to know how to think on your feet and make the best decision possible.

I’m also privileged to serve as our division’s Morale, Awards, Recognition, and Social (MARS) Team lead. This gives me specific opportunities to use my creativity and organizational skills. It can be easy to get discouraged in an environment where we always evaluate how something can be better next time, but learning and interacting as a team reminds us why we love working at NASA and why we can’t give up on being our best.

Natalie Flying in Microgravity

Natalie Flying in Microgravity

Describe your experience of being on-console during Hurricane Harvey?

I was on a 7-day overnight shift throughout Hurricane Harvey’s visit to Texas. This set of shifts is already extremely challenging, but the hurricane made it seem like an unbelievably long week. Based on the weather reports, I wanted to pack everything I might need if I was stuck at NASA for the full 7 days, just in case the roads flooded. I had a suitcase full of clothes for mission control shifts, lounging/sleeping, and even exercising. I brought lots of food and water and towels and blankets and drove to work early Friday morning.

I had a suitcase full of clothes for mission control shifts, lounging/sleeping, and even exercising.

It didn’t seem like much of a storm until Sunday night. During our normal LOS (loss of signal) with the satellites, when flight controllers get up to use the restroom and grab food, we instead went down to the first floor to check on the parking lot. That night, the water rose to 6” or about 15 cm below my car. Thankfully I had a raincoat and shorts to change in to before I ran out in the pouring rain with water above my knee. I was able to drive it up on a sidewalk and kept it there for the rest of the week.

Thankfully I had a raincoat and shorts to change in to before I ran out in the pouring rain with water above my knee. I was able to drive my car up on a sidewalk and kept it there for the rest of the week.

NASA's Mission Control During Hurricane Harvey With The Harvey Patch in Flight Control Room 1 (FCR-1)

NASA’s Mission Control During Hurricane Harvey With The Harvey Patch in Flight Control Room 1 (FCR-1)

What was the hardest part of maintaining ISS operations from MCC-H during Hurricane Harvey?

As the hours and shifts went on, there were so many friends and co-workers with stories of water creeping in to their homes and vehicles. Harvey was forecasted to keep dumping rain on us for days to come. But, we all stayed focused on our job, knowing that the people floating on the ISS were counting on us. As a CRONUS, I tracked Harvey when the ISS passed above it using the external video cameras, and it was surreal that the storm I was zooming in on was in fact, above me, attempting to destroy my home.

We all stayed focused on our job, knowing that the people floating on the ISS were counting on us. As a CRONUS, I tracked Harvey when the ISS passed above it using the external video cameras, and it was surreal that the storm I was zooming in on was in fact, above me, attempting to destroy my home.

We had cots set up in other flight control rooms and even some conference rooms. It almost felt like camping or being back in a college dorm. When the roads were drained enough later in the week, people brought us homemade bread and meals. One of my co-workers edited the Flight Operations patch in honor of our trying week. Instead of ad astra per aspera, “to the stars through difficulty”, it says ad astra per aqua or aquam, “to the stars through water”.

The hardest part of keeping ISS going was staying tough and competent during the unknown. But we made the best of it and knew the memories we’d have from this incredible, exhausting week would stay with us forever. And, when we were relaxing after shifts, it was wonderful to see all the people that donated their time and risked their lives to try and rescue others during the storm and then helped clean out flooded homes. Houston was just the place I lived, but now, it truly feels like home.

The hardest part of keeping ISS going was staying tough and competent during the unknown. But we made the best of it and knew the memories we’d have from this incredible, exhausting week would stay with us forever.

Natalie Meeting Actors from The Martian Movie at NASA Johnson Space Center

Natalie Meeting Actors from The Martian Movie at NASA Johnson Space Center

Has this experienced changed you from a professional or personal perspective?

From a personal perspective, Harvey gave me a tiny taste of what life as a first responder or as a soldier might be like (minus feeling like your own life is at risk). You’re away from family and worried about their well-being, yet the only thing you can do is focus on the task in front of you. It’s not like a movie scene with inspirational music and a montage that gets you through the difficult times in 2 min or less. Instead, you do as you were trained and focus on helping those around you.

At times I was really tempted to ask to go home and have someone take my place for the rest of the week, but then I realized it would mean someone else had to leave their family and get used to living on site.

At times I was really tempted to ask to go home and have someone take my place for the rest of the week, but then I realized it would mean someone else had to leave their family and get used to living on site. I knew my husband and third floor apartment were safe and my eye mask and earplugs were helping me get enough sleep, so I continued on.

I will forever be thankful for the sacrifice of those around the world who take care of strangers even on the darkest of days, and I hope my minor sacrifice of working all my overnight shifts so someone else didn’t have to helped in some small way. My thoughts and prayers were with those out in the storm, scared and waiting for help.

Natalie With Her Husband Loren At Their College

Natalie With Her Husband Loren At Their College

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

The most rewarding moments in my young career are the times when I overcame a challenge or when I get to share my love for space with others.

Getting an engineering degree was not easy for me; it was the first time in my life that I had to persevere over several years. School had always felt easy to me until I started college. I used to start assignments early so I had enough time to ask the professor questions, go to tutoring, or push through it myself. When I graduated from college, I saw that fighting for something brings the greatest reward. That’s part of why I chose to become a flight controller, even though I knew it would be my most difficult challenge yet.

When I graduated from college, I saw that fighting for something brings the greatest reward. That’s part of why I chose to become a flight controller, even though I knew it would be my most difficult challenge yet.

The other thing I love about my career is that I get to inspire other people. From talking to a 3rd grade class about space travel to volunteering at a career fair, I love to see the look on young faces when they find out I work at NASA. There are so many who want to know about life in space and what’s happening next. I hope that some of them get that same spark of passion for exploration that leads them to STEM fields and maybe even to space.

Natalie Talking To Elementary School Students Through Videochat

Natalie Talking To Elementary School Students Through Videochat

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

I’m thankful for where my path in life has taken me, but if I could give my 10-year-old self some advice, I’d say don’t take a mistake as a disaster. I used to feel like getting questions wrong on an exam or missing a shot in basketball made me a failure, but no one is perfect.

If I could give my 10-year-old self some advice, I’d say don’t take a mistake as a disaster. I used to feel like getting questions wrong on an exam or missing a shot in basketball made me a failure, but no one is perfect.

Being happy with who you are, or having the bravery to change something for the better, is what matters. It’s worth it to push yourself and fight for what you love, just know that the path toward an extraordinary life is not an easy one. You cannot recognize success without knowing failure.

Natalie’s flight control group also controls the International Space Station’s (ISS) external cameras, and recently supporting this Soyuz docking to the ISS, carrying three astronauts: