All Hail the Women of Satellite & Space
For too long, the aerospace industry has been considered a man’s world. Though this is still the case to a large extent, women are making a true impact in the sector, as influential leaders and integral figures. The Global SatShow takes a closer look at the importance of these female figures not just to the industry, but to the next generation of female engineers, astronauts, astrophysicists and industry CEOs.
Toy giant Lego has recently launched a new set of its iconic mini figures. This time, these new characters will not be based on fictional superheroes, but the real thing. Lego has taken five pioneering women, all from NASA, who dedicated their careers to working in aerospace, to link up with International Women’s Day which took place on March 8. This is a bold move for Lego and an important one because it is about time that the contributions of women to the aerospace sector were recognised and, more importantly, used to inspire the next generation.
It’s not just Lego that has highlighted the role of women in aerospace. The recently released film, Hidden Figures has brought the discussion to Hollywood. The film is based upon the untold story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and May Jackson, who were the brains behind the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit – an achievement that restored the United States’ confidence and turned the space race around. This recognition is so vital, as it doesn’t just hold up these individuals as incredibly talented, but as women who made history.
The aerospace industry has long been seen as the preserve of men and, let’s be honest, when we think of engineering, the majority of us will assume that it is men behind the amazing technology that is being produced. But this assumption is wrong, and for some years now women in aerospace industry jobs has been on the increase – and this is great news. The problem is that it is nowhere near enough progress.
The fact is that space fascinates women just as much as it does men, yet the world of space has long been a male-dominated domain. However, this is changing. The change may not be as rapid as some would like, but progress is being made. Awareness of the role that women are playing in the space sector has heightened considerably and now women occupy some of the most sought after roles in the satellite and space sectors.
The big challenge that the aerospace sector has is to inspire girls and young women, from an early age, to become engaged in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) in order to go onto successful careers in this amazing and fascinating sector. By engaging females at a young age, providing mentoring and support, they are much more likely to progress into a space career.
In the space and satellite industries, it has been the case that the more technical you get, the less women you will see. You might expect to see women in the marketing department, yet when it comes to the engineering, this expectation does drop. Women fulfil more administrative and non-technical roles, on the whole. It is true that women are under-represented in aerospace, but that is down to the fact that opportunities need to increase, both on the educational level and to retain those women who are trained in STEM, yet eventually decide to leave the field. The more positive role models that are visible to women and the earlier they are engaged in STEM and the aerospace field, the more they will feel inspired to continue. And there are many positive role models to look up to.
International Women’s Day provided a positive focus for reflection on women’s role in the aerospace sector and, although we do still live in an era where men dominate this segment of industry (as they still do many others), we are starting to see a change, and this is hugely encouraging. The amount of inspirational women in aerospace and also in high-level corporate positions is growing fast. In fact, half of the latest wave of astronauts are female, a true sign that the times are indeed changing.
Here are just some of the women that lead and inspire our next generation of female engineers, space entrepreneurs, astronauts and astrophysicists:
Gwynne Shotwell, President & COO, SpaceX
SpaceX is without doubt one of the most interesting and dynamic space companies in the world at the moment. As President and COO of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell has taken the company from a small company with massive ambitions to a pioneering and highly successful space transportation company that has made launcher reusability a reality. Shotwell showed an early interest in engineering and she became the seventh SpaceX employee after a fleeting conversation with Elon Musk, which she met through a friend. Now, she is Musk’s number 2 and is responsible for the daily operations of company.
Mary Cotton, CEO of iDirect
Mary Cotton has run the highly successful satellite IP-based communications technology company for ten years. Previous to iDirect, Cotton held COO and CFO positions at Aspen Technology and is currently serving as a board of director member at Seachange International, a top 250 global software company focused on content delivery services.
Claudia Kessler, CEO, HE Space
Claudia has been CEO of HE Space since 2008 and is a champion of female leaders in the space business. Qualified as an aerospace engineer and MBA, Claudia has worked for more than 25 years in the international space environment. Her company, HE Space is one of the most significant suppliers of engineering services to the space industry. Claudia was a founder of Women in Aerospace Europe and she is passionate about supporting female high-potentials with their career development. Kessler is the driver behind Die Astronautin, a private and crowd-funded initiative that aims to discover two female German astronauts, train and send them to the ISS.
European Space Agency astronaut, Samantha Cristoforetti, is also an engineer and Italian Air Force Pilot with over 500 hours under her belt. She holds the record for the longest space flight by a woman (199 days and 6 hours) and the longest, uninterrupted spaceflight of a European astronaut. She is also the first Italian woman to go to space.
Marillyn A. Hewson is Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation. She previously held a variety of increasingly responsible executive positions with the Corporation, including President and Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President of Lockheed Martin’s Electronic Systems business area. In her more than 30 years with Lockheed Martin, she has held several operational leadership positions. She is a strong advocate for women in STEM.
Ching Yu Hu
Ching Yu Hu is a Co-Founder of Terra Bella, formerly Skybox Imaging. As the Director of Business Development, Ching-Yu is responsible for driving new business opportunities with strategic alliances and partnerships around the world. Since co-founding Skybox, she has played a key role in supporting Skybox’s Series A, B, and C venture capital financing, marketing, sales, and various business operations initiatives. She met her 3 co-founders in 2008, who shared a vision of building a big data company powered by small satellites. Today, this vision is now a reality.
Sarah Parcak is a space archaeologist and has pioneered the use of remote sensing in archaeology. She uses satellite imaging to identify potential archaeological sites in Egypt, Rome, and elsewhere in the former Roman Empire. She is the associate professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Carolyn Porco is the leader of the imaging science team on the Cassini mission presently in orbit around Saturn, a veteran imaging scientist of the Voyager mission to the outer solar system in the 1980s, and an associate member of the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Carolyn has co-authored over 120 scientific papers on a variety of subjects in astronomy and planetary science.
Anousheh Ansari is an Iranian-American engineer and co-founder and chairwoman of Prodea Systems. Her previous business accomplishments include serving as co-founder and CEO of Telecom Technologies, Inc. (TTI). The Ansari family is also the title sponsor of the Ansari X Prize. On September 18, 2006, a few days after her 40th birthday, she became the first Iranian in space. Ansari was the fourth overall self-funded space traveller, and the first self-funded woman to fly to the International Space Station.
Mishaal Achemimry has Bachelor of Science Degrees in Aerospace Engineering and in Applied Mathematics, and a Master of Science Degree in Aerospace Engineering, from Florida Institute of Technology. Her focus included experimental and analytical aerodynamics, rocket design and nuclear thermal propulsion. She founded MISHAAL Aerospace in 2010 and has given a real feminine angle to the company as a woman-owned aerospace company. The company itself specialises in launch vehicle/rocket development for space applications, designing, manufacturing and launching its proprietary vehicles for government, research and commercial aerospace clients.
How can anyone be failed to be inspired by these women? It is women like this that the Global Satshow strives to bring to our event. The inclusion of the women that drive the space and satellite sectors is at the top of our list of priorities. Although there is a great deal of re-balancing still required, the continued emergence of women in the aerospace industry is not only encouraging, but set to grow considerably in coming years. What we need to do now, is ensure that the industry is doing all it can to plug the ‘leaky pipe’ that has lost so much female talent over the years due to lack of support, inspiration and focus on females in STEM.