Saturday, April 20, 2019

Do I Prefer Speaking about Science over Women in Science?

Presenting at the Ivy Space Coalition, April 6, 2019

“Would you prefer speaking about science over women in science?”

The question was posed to me at the the Ivy Space Coalition conference two weeks ago immediately before giving a keynote talk on women in STEM. I knew the answer, but the question surprised me and I didn’t know how to articulate it. I had been invited to speak about women in STEM and I had written a passionate speech about my own experiences as well as the experiences of other underrecognized women in space. I was gearing myself up to give the talk and was determined to do an excellent job.

But yes, I would prefer speaking about science. I wish I didn’t have to speak about women in science as a separate category from all people in science. But that’s not the world we live in.

I used to believe the categorization set us apart and contributed to the problem. I used to get annoyed at the focus on minorities, believing that if we stop separating everyone out, minorities wouldn’t face as much discrimination. Yes, I used to be so naive.

As a teenager and undergraduate student, I did not see or recognize sexual discrimination in science or in the workplace. As a white person, I did not experience racism, so I didn’t understand the focus on race relations. It was only by maturing that I began to understand the focus on minorities wasn’t causing discrimination, it was recognizing and speaking about discrimination that already exist.

Pretending something doesn’t exist and refusing to put words to a problem doesn’t make the problem go away. As a woman in science, discrimination against women affects me whether I recognize it or not. And thanks to inappropriate and unfair behaviors of a few, it’s now impossible for me not to recognize it in my own experiences,

Over the past few years as I’ve grown in my career and become more independent, I’ve grown bolder in speaking out about sexual discrimination and lack of diversity in the space sector. I focus my efforts on supporting women (especially young women) and calling out the lack of representation when I see it. This has attracted attention, including negative attention by those who preferred the status quo. But I will not be silenced. I will only speak louder to counter the voices of negativity and oppression that still exist in our society.

This is why I was chosen to give the keynote address on women in STEM at the Ivy Space Coalition. This is why I happily accepted. This is why I poured my heart out into a speech which revealed personal details of my experiences and made me vulnerable in front of strangers.

But do I prefer to speak about women in STEM? No. I want to talk about space. I want to discuss my vision of moving humanity closer to the heavens and exploring the mysteries of our Universe. I want to explain my analyses of the space industry and speak about my expertise in planetary science, human spaceflight, and space policy.

But I am a woman and I will always be judged for being a woman. And so I will happily add my voice to the discussion about being a woman in STEM and lift up the voices of other women. I will continue to speak until our collective voices become so loud they echo among the cosmos forever and can no longer be ignored.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Georgia Aerospace Day: Space Policy Fun Among the Chaos of the Golden Dome

Yesterday was Georgia Aerospace Day, the annual event dedicated to advocating for aerospace activities in Georgia at the state capitol in Atlanta. Given my interest and experience in space policy, I jumped at the chance to be involved.

Prior to the event, I organized our team. At one point we had 16 people committed to representing Georgia Space Alliance – not bad for a first-time involvement of a new group! Thankfully that number dropped down to a more manageable team size. I am hoping to expand the team next year. By then we'll have more experienced people to assist in leading.

I wrote up the talking points for the take-away flyer. We weren't advocating for specific legislation, so we kept it broad. Most of the aerospace activity in Georgia is aviation-related, so I focused on informing readers of the space activities and parties in the state. We exist and we do cool stuff and here's why it matters.

I contacted the offices of around 30 members of the state Senate and House of Representatives on key committees and the elected officials of members of our team – lots of phone calls and emails! By the end I had appointments with 26 legislators, 6 at specific times and the other 20 to be paged from the chambers' floors while the chambers were in session. Little did I know what that meant.

Our first meeting of the morning was in a representative's office. Unfortunately he couldn't make it, though I did chat with his staff while we were waiting. The second meeting had a scheduled time, but unfortunately the meet-up plan was to page him from the House Chamber floor. So that didn't happen as planned.

The Georgia Space Alliance team holding up our take-away flyers
It was such a contrast to be speaking about forward-thinking 21st century technology relying on 17th century methods. In order to page a member from the floor, we needed to fill out a slip of paper, wait in a long line for 15 to 45 minutes, hand the slip of paper to a woman who hands it to a teenage page (ages ranging from 12 to 18) who tries to find the legislator at their desk but may or may not know what the legislator looks like, then wait until the page returns or the legislator appears at the ropes. Our group filled out 15 to 20 slips (one per person per turn in line) and had one member successfully paged. It's a ridiculously outdated and inefficient system that wasted our entire morning, time we could have spent visiting legislators' offices and talking to their staff.

Our team standing in line for forever to page legislators from the floor.
We did manage to speak with one additional representative and one senator from the ropes. A member of our group recognized a senator from a previous interaction, and while greeting her, explained why we were there. She was kind to indulge us.

I used modern technology to meet with my state congressman: social media. After unsuccessfully waiting in line for 35 minutes to page my rep and having the page not find him, I tweeted my thanks and tagged him. He responded. A few more back-and-forths on Twitter and he found me on the ropes before I had even gotten through the line for the third time.

I have no idea why pages aren't electronic messages sent to members instantly, or at least sent to an aide to approve and then sent to the members. That would not only be quick and easy, it would be much more productive and reduce wasted time by orders of magnitude. Instead of wasting an hour to page a legislator at a high failure rate, it could be done in a minute! One thing is for sure: I will never page a member of congress from the floor using human pages again. Lesson learned.

Our final meeting with multiple legislators was also canceled as members chose to go directly to lunch instead of meeting with us in their office. All told, we met with one state senator, two state representatives, and a few staff members in various offices. Thank you to those who took the time to speak with our small group on such a busy day! Lesson learned #2: visit congress first thing in the legislative year or after crossover day when they're not so busy.

Heading towards the main Georgia Aerospace Day event.
We regrouped and ate at the nearby cafeteria, then geared up for the second event of the day: the networking event and expo in the capitol rotunda. When we arrived back, several companies and organizations had set up booths and banners to promote their aerospace (mainly aviation) business. There were speeches by the event organizer, the Lt. Governor, and the Governor. Those remaining of our team met with Governor Kemp for a photo after his speech.

Photo op with the Governor
The networking event gave me a chance to have some useful conversations with existing colleagues and meet new ones. I'm particularly excited about a new space education project I learned about. I had fun with 3D printed prototypes at one table and 360 degree augmented virtual reality at another table. Plus these events are great for fun “swag” take-away items. Georgia Space Alliance didn't have a table this year but I'm already thinking of possibilities for next year.

Thank you to our Georgia Space Alliance team!

Friday, February 22, 2019

State Space Advocacy

Next week is Georgia Aerospace Day, “a unique opportunity for the aerospace industry to showcase their technology and highlight this important industry's contributions to Georgia's economy,” describes the event page. This year will be the first time my nonprofit Georgia Space Alliance will participate. The policy wonk in me can’t wait!

I’ve been interested in policy since high school. In 11th grade I participated in a program called Presidential Classroom in Washington, DC. I didn’t know anything back then, but I was excited to learn. My love of space persuaded me to pursue astrophysics in college, but I still held onto that policy interest.

It wasn’t until the summer between my junior and senior year of college that I realized space policy was a field. I was an intern in NASA Academy and heard a lecture by an astrophysicist involved in space policy. I could have listened to him for hours. I was hooked. I had no idea how to get involved, but I felt called to it.

As my astrophysics studies in grad school intensify, I had little time to focus on anything else. I was committed to a science career path and realized I could do space policy on the side. But I didn’t have the opportunity to do so until I switched universities and switched fields to planetary science.

I am forever grateful my PhD advisor was so supportive of my various interests. He and another professor recommended me for the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Science's Federal Relations Subcommittee. I was so thankful AAS paid my way to Washington, DC for my first congressional visit. It was just me without a group, so I had to figure it out on my own. I created my own leave-behind document and met with my congressman and a few other offices. My visits went so well and I felt so welcomed! I was motivated to do more.

I don’t remember how I heard about Florida Space Day, but I knew I wanted in. It took me a year to gather the courage to ask. I was just a graduate student, not a representative of a space company or anyone important. Florida Space Day required sponsorship to participate. Even so, I asked. And I asked people I knew who were involved to ask on my behalf. To my surprise, they agreed to bring me with them to the state capital Tallahassee!

I was so nervous to be among all these important people, I didn’t know what to expect or what to say. I didn’t realize at the time elected officials enjoy hearing from students who represent both current education and the future workforce. I was even encouraged to sneak into the VIP-only meeting with the lieutenant governor under the philosophy “it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.” And I was later indirectly scolded for it. But I’m glad I did; I got to meet a strong woman in politics who was passionate about space and who wore purple pumps.

I would go on to participate in Florida Space Day for 4 years serving on both the Implementation Committee and the Steering Committee and leading the Outreach Subcommittee. I became a team leader during the annual congressional visit to the state Capitol in Tallahassee. I had found my space policy community in Florida and thrived in it. I was even asked to serve on Representative Bill Posey’s Space Advisory Council for a year until I moved away.

The space community in Georgia is small but growing. A year ago I formed the nonprofit Georgia Space Alliance to bring all the space players together. Shortly after I moved to Georgia, I met with officials to gauge the status of space activity and space policy in the state. I was advised by four unrelated people to form an organization with members to bring all the voices together in unity to advocate for space in Georgia. So I did.

Georgia Aerospace Day didn’t take place the first year I lived in Georgia. The second year it did, but I had a 19-day-old baby and couldn’t participate. This year, for the first time, Georgia Space Alliance will participate in Georgia Aerospace Day with a team of approximately a dozen people. To my knowledge, this will be the first time a space organization participates in the aviation-dominated Aerospace Day. I look forward to advocating for space with our team!

Traveling to a state or federal capitol is a great way to meet with legislators, but it’s not the only way. I have my elected officials' numbers programmed in my phone and call their offices regularly to discuss legislation and current events. Politicians want to hear about topics most important to their constituents. You can also email or physically write to your elected officials. Use your voice! Tell them why space is so important to you and thank them for their support.

Friday, February 15, 2019

The Birth of a Book

March 7, 2016. It started with a thought, casually tweeted: “I'm playing with a book idea. Anyone out there in the 'millennial' generation working in the space industry willing to be interviewed?”

Millennials this. Millennials aren't that. Millennials are doing this and killing that. So many articles, so many stereotypes, so many negative portrayals. I didn't feel fairly represented.

The story I wanted to know wasn't being told: how are millennials changing the world through space exploration? What grand accomplishments does my generation hope to achieve in space? What do we prioritize and value? What are our individual and collective dreams? And through asking these questions, can I read between the lines to understand whether any of the millennial stereotypes hold true?

I never saw myself becoming a book author. I never saw myself becoming a small business owner, either, but life takes us on unexpected journeys. The idea, planted in my mind, publicly sprouted on Twitter, grew. Numerous people stepped up to volunteer their thoughts and support.

I sincerely appreciate my gracious and talented interviewees. Without them, this book would not exist. I am but one millennial. By the time the interviews were completed, 100 voices from multiple countries, a diversity of disciplines, and a mix of employers had given Rise of the Space Age Millennials life. All I had left to do was to put it all together.

Life got in the way. I had an infant. We moved four times. I had two computer crashes and thought I lost data until I rediscovered my back-up. I had a second baby. There were lots of starts and stops, long stops. At times, I thought the barriers were so high, I would never finish it.

The seemingly insurmountable barrier was one I had erected in my own mind. No one praises my writing. It's good enough to get by for my usual purposes. But it's not popular or award-winning. I don't have a gift for prose. My writing is functional but not fun. Why would anyone pay to read my writing for the fun of it?

I convinced myself I was no good at book writing and I shouldn't take money from people to give them an amateur book that could be better written by someone else. Why waste everyone's time? Why set myself up for rejection?

It took a lot of bad books to change my mind. I knew how to pick them in 2018. I read one forgetable book after another. Some of them were okay. Some of them weren't even worth my time to finish. The best book I read all year, Oh Crap! Potty Training, is wildly popular yet I'd grade it a C for writing excellence.

And then it occurred to me: every book I had read was recommended to me or was somehow placed in my awareness despite the fact that they were average to poor quality. If those books got published and put on shelves, why shouldn't my book have the same opportunity?

I conquered my fear of rejection by choosing to ignore it. I was writing for myself to finally get this book out of my head. I no longer cared whether it sold. Ten seemed like a respectable low bar; I decided to try to sell ten books and call it a success. I vowed to do my best not to read reviews or glance at star ratings. It doesn't matter. Someone will love it. Someone will hate it. My book isn't for everyone, but it's for someone. It's for me. And maybe it's for others too.

I calculated the bare minimum budget I needed to publish with editing, art, and publishing costs. I rounded: $1000. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing crowdfunding platform; I needed to raise at least $1000 or I'd get nothing at all.

I raised my goal within the first 2 hours of the campaign. I met my stretch goal as well: enough of a budget to record an audiobook. I was flattered by the positive response. The topic interests people. I hope my writing will as well.

As of this posting, there's 24 hours left in the Kickstarter campaign. Preordering the book through the campaign allows me to include extra perks such as thanking contributors in the book, autographing, consulting, and traveling for a lecture and book signing.

If you're reading this within the last 24 hours, you still have time to support the Kickstarter campaign and preorder your copy:

I still have plenty of work left to do. I won't truly believe it's real until I'm holding it in my hands. I'm not going to let anyone stop me, not even myself.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Thank You Space Journalists & My List of Space News Sources to Follow

I have a great deal of respect for journalists and the independent press. I have admired journalists since childhood, watching Murphy Brown (don't laugh) and mourning the death of Daniel Pearl. I applaud Time Magazine's 2018 Person of the Year: Jamal Khashoggi, The Guardians, and The War on Truth.

In college when I was Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, I considered becoming a space journalist. But I am a very slow writer and I'm not great at the objective reporting writing style. I did get mistaken for a journalist twice at space events in college and grad school, paying attention and taking notes. Even now, I occasionally get mistaken for a journalist even though I'm just an analyst who is active on Twitter.

Upon creating my own company nearly 3 years ago, I realized my freedom to represent myself and to speak my mind had significantly increased. And not only did some people want to hear my opinions, a few were paying me for it. This gave me courage to create a professional goal: contribute to space news. At the time, I didn't know if that meant I should be writing articles myself, being interviewed, or contributing to stories in some other way.

I had done both previously, minimally. Once year or so I would be contacted for a story, leading to some cool opportunities such as being interviewed at HLN studios in Orlando for a piece on NASA's planetary science budget, being featured in Florida Today's One To Watch, and writing an op-ed in favor of a new Florida spaceport. I wanted to do more but I didn't know what or how.

I signed up for a couple databases that promote female professionals as sources, though nothing ever came from that. I subscribed to an email newsletter Help a Reporter Out (HARO) that sends me a list of requests for sources from reporters three times every weekday. Requests for space sources on HARO is rare, but I was able to connect with a few opportunities. I am not really sure how the ball got rolling, but one opportunity led to another and soon reporters were contacting me (usually on Twitter) out of the blue. It helps that I follow and interact with all my favorite reporters on social media.

I didn't realize the number of times I had been interviewed or quoted in publications this year until I tallied it up. In the first year of my company, 2016: twice. In 2017: 11 times. In 2018: 31 times as of today. And two interviews done this year should be published in 2019.

I've been asked which space news sources I follow. I highly recommend looking these individuals and publications up:

Alan Boyle, GeekWire
Anatoly Zak,
Andrew Jones, The Planetary Society & Space News
Brian Berger, Space News
Bryan Bender, Politico
Caleb Henry, Space News
Chabeli Herrera, Orlando Sentinel
Chris Bergin,
Chris Gebhardt,
Christian Davenport, The Washington Post
Doug Messier, Parabolic Arc
Elizabeth Howell
Emre Kelly, Florida Today
Eric Berger, Ars Technica
Irene Klotz, Aviation Week
Jacqueline Klimas, Politico
James Dean, Florida Today
Jason Davis, The Planetary Society & Rocketgut!
Jason Rhian, Spaceflight Insider
Jeff Foust, Space News & The Space Report
Jonathan O’Callaghan
Keith Cowing, NASA Watch & SpaceRef
Kenneth Chang, the New York Times
Leah Crane, New Scientist
Loren Grush, The Verge
Marcia Smith,
Marina Koren, The Atlantic
Michael Sheetz, CNBC
Sandra Erwin, Space News
Tim Fernholz, Quartz

Anthony Colangelo, Main Engine Cut Off
Brendan Byrne, WFME Orlando & Are We There Yet?
Carrie Nugent, Spacepod
Chad Anderson, Space Angels
David Livingston, The Space Show
Emilee Speck, News 6 WKMG Orlando
Gary Jordan, Houston We Have a Podcast
Gene Mikulka, Talking Space
Jackie Wattles, CNN
Jake Robins, WeMartians
Jim Green, Gravity Assist
Joshua Santora, The Rocket Ranch
Mat Kaplan, Planetary Radio
Michelle Thaller, Orbital Path
Rachel Crane, CNN
The Orbital Mechanics (Ben Etherington, David Fourman, & Dennis Just)

A few weeks ago during Thanksgiving week, I posted a thank you on Twitter to our fabulous space journalists for the job they do and letting them know I appreciate them and their work. The response from one journalist: we don't hear that often! If you appreciate the space news you read every day, thank the journalists who do the work to bring you that news.

My top three tips to help a journalist who contacts you:

1) Say yes. It's frustrating for journalists (and analyst) to find a source, take the time to contact them, and have them decline.
2) Respond as quickly as you can. They are on a deadline.
3) Recommend other sources if you are able. Especially if you declined the interview.

Once again, thank you to those who cover the space beat. I look forward to working with you and reading/watching/listening to your work even more in 2019.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Adding to the Legacy of Human Spaceflight with the Coca-Cola Space Science Center

With all of the space excitement in November, I'm delayed in writing about this great local news: the opening of the Legacy of Human Spaceflight exhibit at Columbus State University's Coca-Cola Space Science Center.

My son Leo and I spent the morning of November 10 in Columbus, Georgia as a guest for the ribbon cutting. Among the announcement: Apollo astronaut Fred Haise will be a special guest at the museum next July for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

My fellow museum explorer Leo strapped in for the ride.

Museum Executive Director Shawn Cruzen gave us the first tour. He described every item in the new exhibit with pride. This was my first visit to the museum so I was grateful for the explanations. Even though it was a replica, my favorite item was the Coca-Cola dispenser flown on the space shuttle before we realized carbonated beverages and microgravity don't mix.

Getting a first look at the new exhibit.

Executive Director Shawn Cruzen giving the first tour.

Replica of a microgravity Coca-Cola dispenser

Shawn was very excited to show us the exhibit donated by the brother of Apollo and Gemini astronaut Dave Scott and the mission control sign that will soon be backlit illuminated. I noted many personal touches among the donated artifacts.

Artifacts donated by Dave Scott's brother

After the tour, Leo and I explored the rest of the museum, which didn't take long because it's small. A space shuttle simulator vibrated like crazy, filling the room with rumbles. Images of human spaceflight were everywhere. A space shuttle main engine nozzle sat in the center of it all.

Space shuttle simulator

Mission control console

Space Shuttle Main Engine Nozzle

I took the opportunity to speak with a few of the museum curators and employees. I was surprised to learn how much work goes into identifying each artifact. I had the misconception that NASA keeps meticulous records on each part and its history, but this is not the case, especially in the days following the space shuttle retirement when contracts were ending and employees were leaving or had already left.

As an example, a curator explain one particular space shuttle piece of hardware, a tire, had been flagged as never flown but had in fact flown twice, a history uncovered by his efforts tracking down part numbers and going through databases. Even larger items such as spacesuits (their current project) aren't necessarily kept with accurate records. A lot of work goes into creating accurate descriptions on museum plaques.

I have a better appreciation for what curators go through to create records of history and human progress for the public. I look forward to seeing the Space Science Center continue to grow.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Space Innovations & Parties in Atlanta

Just before the conference began.

Not many conference attendees understand and appreciate the months of preparation that goes into putting together a successful event. For the second year, a small group of dedicated Atlanta space professionals hosted a space conference, the Symposium on Space Innovations. We had a little more to work with this year after last year's first successful event, but we had ambitious goals: increasing from one day to two days, boosting the number of registrants, securing more sponsors, and booking higher profile speakers. And we did quite well! I'm uncertain what the final count was, but we had close to 200 attendees!

I'm a space loving extrovert. Surrounded by like-minded people doing great things, I feel alive and vibrant. Although most certainly not a morning person, I was happy to be there at Georgia Tech at 7 AM on Tuesday to set up and prepare for the event. My company Astralytical was again a sponsor but I opted not to have a booth, instead dedicating myself to social media, meet & greet, and after-party planning activities.

The top of the morning was a briefing by retired Admiral James Ellis, Chairman of the National Space Council Users' Advisory Group. I've been following the NSpC and UAG activities closely. It was a pleasure to meet Admiral Ellis in person, a great speaker who commanded the attention of the audience. We are all space users and he asked us all for input. The space policy geek that I am, I would love to be part of the NSpC in some capacity in the future.

During the morning parallel sessions, I chose the Space Science & Deep Space Missions track. The Lunar Exploration Advisory Group (LEAG) meeting was going on in Maryland, but we had our own lunar exploration discussions. It was fun to get an update from my graduate school labmate Addie on the latest activities and successes in my former university group. Dropping marbles into sand and floating around in microgravity – for science!

Our lunch speaker was former astronaut and current CEO of Ad Astra Rocket Company, Franklin Chang-Díaz. I had heard interviews with him and had the impression he was a good guy, and I was correct. He gave us an overview of the VASIMR engine and spoke a bit about his experience as a 7-time space flyer. His push is for humanity to become a multi-planet species. He sees the VASIMR engine as the diesel trucking solution of the future.

With astronaut Franklin Chang-Díaz

Following lunch, I was the moderator for the Rise of Commercial Space panel. This was my first time moderating a panel and I was quite excited about it. One of my panelist had fallen ill a couple days before and was unable to attend, but I made sure she was there in spirit. I kicked off the panel with one of my questions, then asked one of her's. The audience took over from there.

It was great fun when the discussion got heated over the debate about the usefulness of NASA's heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). One of the panelists had quite a strong opinion on the subject, admittedly mirroring my own opinion, though I stayed neutral. I was pleased when an audience member jumped in without raising his hand, passionately expressing the opposing point of view. Our missing panelist would have made the same points, so again I felt she was there in spirit. It was an amicable debate cut too short because of time constraints.

I wrapped up the panel asking a surprise question: what were the panelists most excited about in 2019? Universally, all four of us are excited about human spaceflight, both SpaceX and Boeing's plans to launch astronauts next year through NASA's Commercial Crew Program and the efforts to return humans to the Moon.

Moderating the Rise of Commercial Space panel

I chose the Human Spaceflight track during the afternoon parallel session. I learned about putting humans in hibernation during long space missions and got an update from Northrop Grumman about former Orbital ATK's latest activities.

The talks wrapped up with four-time astronaut and current professor Stephen Robinson who gave an excellent presentation about space shuttle reentry thermodynamics and his role with the space shuttle tile gap filling after the Space Shuttle Columbia accident. I got to chat with him after his talk before he had to catch a flight home. I can't remember how the topic got brought up, but Stephen Robinson has the distinction of being the first person I've spoken with about my second book idea (which intimately involves astronauts). He was also the 50th astronaut I've ever met according to the list I've been keeping since high school.

Astronaut Stephen Robinson

The day was not done. We gathered elsewhere on the Georgia Tech campus to enjoy an evening reception: food and student posters. Mainly I chatted with a couple colleagues about space policy, travel, and science fiction before exhaustion from the day caught up with me.

We reconvened Wednesday morning with an opening talk by the Chief Technologist of the National Reconnaissance Office. He read from a script of prepared remarks with no slides, and I was told not to share anything on social media. Given how technical his talk was, slides would have been useful, but I understand his position. He then proceeded to dodge every question asked of him, including my question about collaborating with international allies. He didn't answer the questions but he was so skilled and smooth at not answering them.

The morning panel was about spaceports. Representatives from Georgia and Florida spaceports chatted together on the same panel, which makes sense given we're neighbors. I knew the Kennedy Space Center and Cecil Spaceport representatives from my days working in Florida, and the Camden representative is a colleague and former client of mine. The two emerging spaceports made good arguments about their benefits, including the ease of decision-making and operations. KSC/Cape Canaveral will always have a draw based on the existing infrastructure, expertise, and rich history.

During the morning parallel sessions, I chose the Space Resources & Materials track. My NASA Academy internship colleague Tracie gave an overview on her work about manufacturing in space on the International Space Station. I learned a bit more about the surface-bounded exosphere on the Moon and what it means for future lunar miners.

We ate lunch in the banquet hall and talked amongst ourselves. I sat with some ladies from Atlanta-based space company SpaceWorks and learned a bit more about their company culture. I also spent some time preparing for the next session.

I moderated the Next-Generation Launch & Propulsion Systems track after lunch. A really fun executive vice president from Rocket Lab gave an overview of their successful small launch company. Although I've never been there, I think Rocket Lab's spaceport in New Zealand is the most beautiful in the world. Unusual for a space conference, we had an 8-year-old boy attend and present a poster. This enthusiastic young student joined the speaker on stage and gave thumbs up throughout.

Moderating the Next-Generation Launch & Propulsion Systems track

A speaker from SpaceWorks gave an update about their company Generation Orbit and their suborbital vehicle X-60A. I am looking forward to seeing it fly in the next year or so.

In the final parallel session of the conference, I sat in on the Student Activities & Programs track. I recently attended an event hosted by two of the presenters so I was quite familiar with their work launching small sensors on weather balloons to teach students about building satellite payloads. I learned about the smallsat lab at nearby University of Georgia that I had no idea was so successful.

And finally, the moment I had been most excited about: the Georgia Space Alliance conference after-party Galactic Get-together. GSA began with the conference after-party last year and we're still in the process of building and growing. In the cold and rainy wind, I walked with two boxes to a nearby bar and restaurant that was closed for renovations. The owner was kind enough to open the venue just for us. As I struggled with the large GSA banner, helpers came in early to assist and we finally got it hanging. The personalized take-home GSA rocket name tags were a hit. Both conference attendees and local space enthusiasts mingled and relaxed with finger food, drinks, and space-themed napkins. I have plans to make the party even bigger next year!

We finally got the Georgia Space Alliance banner hung

Enjoying the GSA Galactic Get-together party

I'm so thankful for the efforts of my fellow conference organizing team members, especially Jud and Caleb. I'm looking forward to the third Symposium on Space Innovations next fall!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Dear Conferences: I Miss You

The second annual Symposium on Space Innovations in Atlanta is next week. Surprisingly, this is the only conference I will attend this year. This is unusual for me and got me thinking about where I have been and where I'd like to be.

I attended my first scientific conference in 2006 during my senior year of undergraduate. The conference was hosted at my university so there were no travel costs and I was able to attend for free. No one asked me to give a talk or even offered it as a suggestion, and I would have been terrified if I had. It was intimidating enough just to attend. It was a broad scientific conference so only a few talks held any interest for me, but I was happy to be there. I'm an extrovert and enjoy being surrounded by like-minded people.

We all have different comfort levels with conference attendance and travel. Some of my colleagues seem to always be on the road, back to back to back conferences. Some of my colleagues avoid conferences as much as they are able. I learned in grad school that as much as I love traveling, I do have a limit. One conference per quarter is a good rate for me, maybe more if it's a local conference. Seven in a year is too many for me as I learned in 2013. I remember that year turning down an opportunity to travel for a conference, and to this day I wish I could have gone, but my mental health necessitated the decline.

Out of curiosity, I tallied up all the science and space conferences I've ever attended to the best of my memory and records. Most of these conferences included a poster or oral presentation. I worked some of these conferences as part of the volunteering staff or organizing committee. Currently I'm on the organizing committees for two conferences.

2018: 1
2017: 4
2016: 3
2015: 3
2014: 1
2013: 7
2012: 4
2011: 4
2010: 3
2009: 1
2008: 3
2007: 3
2006: 2

This year is an anomaly for me. One conference in a year is not my usual rate. I had to turn down conference talk earlier this year because I didn't feel comfortable traveling with a 5-week-old baby. But truly, the limiting factor has been funds.

Starting my own business has been a challenging adventure. I've been fortunate that my company has been profitable since its third month, but I'm not rolling in dough. I don't have a university grant or company budget line to support my conference registration and travel. My travel budget comes out of my own salary. Many times this year, I've seen conferences come and go, wishing I could afford to attend. "Maybe next year," I think, knowing full well my financial situation will likely not be much different next year. (Unless a big client wants to hire me for a lot of hours right now. Contact me!)

Wanting to feel less alone about my situation, I inquired within my Twitter community: how do others running small businesses and startups travel for conferences? I want to thank everyone who responded because I truly felt I wasn't alone. Others struggle with this as well.

One piece of advice I got was to combine conference travel with other business travel. I'm glad this works for others, but this isn't great advice for me. Almost all of my clients are non-local to the Atlanta area and almost all of my business is conducted online with little to no need to travel to client locations.

Others suggested ways to stretch a penny. I was a poor grad student once; I know how to travel and eat on the cheap. That's not an issue unless it's a far away destination with an expensive airline ticket. US west coast and international conferences are out of my reach for a while.

Conference registration costs are usually the big killer. Many conferences comp registration cost (complimentary registration) for student volunteers and conference organizers. Students: contact conferences to ask about joining their student volunteer teams! Some are even able to provide hotel rooms for their staff. I'll gladly join more organizing committees if anyone is looking to expand their teams!

Of the 4 or 5 conferences I was invited to attend later this year, none of them could provide funds for their speakers for registration and travel expenses so I had to decline. Many new and small conferences can't afford to provide for their speakers, but most well established conferences can. I don't seem to be on the radar for those conferences.

Having been on conference planning committees, I know we are guilty of a speaker bias. We see someone speak at one event and we think of them first when we are planning our event (unless they are a terrible speaker). This leads to many of the same people getting invited speaker slots. Hello conference and colloquium organizers: I am available as a speaker. So long as you can get me there.

There is a misconception in the public that scientists are paid for their talks through speaker fees. This is rarely the case. The famous can command a speaker fee. The rest of us just want to be active in the community, spreading our ideas and being part of the conversation.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Dream, Imagine, Create, Explore: The Art of Space

Original image by SpaceX

Last night, Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa surprised us all when he announced he purchased a private flight to orbit the Moon on SpaceX's under-development rocket BFR to fly not only himself, but also six to eight artist from around the world to create art under the #dearMoon project.

First I want to talk about this image which captured my heart when SpaceX showed it in June. Elon Musk discussed his desire for fun and entertainment on long human spaceflight missions. Although I have no musical talent of my own, I have a lifelong love of the violin which Lindsey Stirling's talent has intensify. This artist's rendering of a violin concert in space is beautiful.

This image invokes questions, wonder, and imagination. What will the acoustics be like in a BFR-sized spacecraft? How will the vibrations of the violin strings sound in the pressurized air? What kind of music and tempo will be inspired by the flight? What natural background noises will contribute to the music? Concerts are visual as well as auditory. Look at the flow of her dress and imagine how fabrics and cuts will move in microgravity. What motions of the musician's violin playing will move her around the room in any direction and orientation? Will she even notice or care? Will she dance? Will she sing? How might the audience hear her music differently if she is upside down, hovering above them? There is so much unexplored art to be discovered in space.

The #dearMoon project is as unprecedented as it is inspired. Picture a spacecraft of artists traveling around the Moon, our closest celestial neighbor, the glowing orb that has universally inspired so many throughout human history. The Moon inspired me on my career path into space science and the space industry. Countless art has been produced with the Moon as a muse, including by Alan Bean, an Apollo 12 astronaut who touched the lunar surface and used the dust from his flightsuit in his paintings.

Like most of the rest of us, these lunar artists will be able to view but not touch the Moon. But they will get a significantly better view of this familiar yet new world than most of us ever will. They will witness humanity once again spreading out into the stars, and this time, their primary mission will not be science, engineering, or political victory. Their primary mission will be art.

As scientist Ellie Arroway said in Carl Sagan's Contact when witnessing humanity's journey through the stars, "No words to describe it. Poetry! They should have sent a poet. So beautiful." Although most of us will not be chosen for this flight, I'd argue we are all artists in our own ways. We all creatively express the emotions and motivations of life and humanity. The #dearMoon project brings out the emotion and humanity in what we do and why we do human spaceflight. It touches us all. I can't think of better representatives to send to the Moon on behalf of humanity than those charged with imagining, dreaming, and creating.

The analyst in me is skeptical this mission will happen, but the soul inside of me hopes it does.

For more information about the #dearMoon project, visit

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Path to Space Consulting

Every once in a while, someone asks me about my decision to become a space consultant. They want to know how I got here and whether my path is a good path for them. I can truly say I have better job satisfaction in my current work than I ever had before. In owning my own company, self-direction and freedom have made all the difference.

I didn't set out to be a space consultant. As with many things in life, our path zigzags. I knew soon after starting graduate school that I wasn't the sort of person to dedicate myself to one tiny niche for the rest of my career. The Universe is too big and my interests too varied. I even had to switch advisors to one who understood this.

I knew starting out in grad school I didn't want to pursue a professor track. I was much more interested in research, especially space research connected with NASA. I worked with NASA for many years as a student at Marshall Space Flight Center and Kennedy Space Center. I soaked up everything space. I enjoyed hands-on research in the lab much more than computer programming. But running the same experiments over and over was tedious, especially when I had a little control over of my work and direction. The more I stepped my toe, then my foot, then my ankle in the commercial space world, the more I wanted to jump in.

In retrospect, it's no surprise to me that I jumped on the chance to enter the working world before I completed my dissertation. I needed a fresh challenge and new things to learn. The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space brought the diversity of research I craved. I was responsible for facilitating all physical science experiments sponsored by CASIS and occasionally helping with the life science experiments as well. I thrived on learning such a wide collection of science and engineering.

I surprised even myself how restless I became once I was accustom to my work. I wanted more, more than what my managers were willing to give me. When I tried to spread my wings, I found myself caged. Each time I tried to fly, they tried to clip my wings. I began pouring myself into volunteer work outside of my employer such as spaceport development. I knew I needed freedom in order to reach my potential and soar.

I hired a career coach. With her direction, I wrote up my ideal job description. Self-direction, collaboration, and being a member of the community were a part of what I wanted. At the time, working as an independent space consultant hadn't crossed my mind. Looking back, I've been able to give myself a lot of what I was seeking.

My next job offer seemed like freedom delivered on a plate: the chance to manage my own office from the start. Because there were only two employees of my new company in North America, my boss and myself, we wore many hats. I learned that as much as I craved new challenges, I didn't like all new things, such as being responsible for financial reports. But I loved working with local, federal, and foreign authorities and partners to build and operate a parabolic aircraft and a spaceplane. Given the freedom to take initiative, I thrived. The company did not and went under.

I was a couple weeks away from giving birth to my firstborn when I cleared out the office at Cape Canaveral. I wasn't willing to look for a full-time job at that time. I thought, maybe I could consult. I had worked part-time as an analyst for a tiny space consulting firm in grad school. I was already consulting on major projects for free. As I eased into motherhood, maybe I could ease into part-time space consulting as well.

I had two main hesitations related to each other: 1) Was I old enough? and 2) Did I have enough experience? All of the independent space consultants I knew were towards the end of their distinguished careers. I wrote to a few of them to ask their advice. It was discouraging. They echoed my concerns back to me. Imposer syndrome, always lurking in the background, gave me a serious pause. But I had nothing to lose. So I created Astralytical.

Immediately I began diving into the work I was interested in, feeling free to drive my own direction. I set my own hours, set my own rate, decided which projects were worth my volunteer time, and communicated with anyone I pleased on any space topic I fancied. Owning my own company was so liberating, I felt angry that I had ever felt limited before.

But the first year of Astralytical wasn't great. I made two common beginner mistakes: not valuing myself enough and not having the confidence to stand up for myself enough. As a result, I took on two clients who were not easy to work with and who significantly underpaid me. I became bolder, more confident, and more willing to stand up for my own voice and worth. And I never have to work with bad clients again. I can pick and choose. My company's second year was so much better.

I am now in my third year of consulting and feeling pride in what I've accomplished thus far. My initial fears are gone. I do have significant experience with which I can rely on. I find joy in analyzing the space sector as a whole and contributing to the discussion. My greatest job satisfaction is helping individuals on their space career paths. I'm considering applying for larger projects and grants, although I don't know if I'm ready yet. Maybe I should give it a go and find out.

Is space consulting right for you? Maybe. Do you have at least some experience as a foundation? Do you find yourself craving work in a diversity of experiences and areas? Do you enjoy working with a variety of people? Are you okay with a lower salary, at least to start with? Do you have the confidence to believe in yourself and your work and be able to convince others? Do you see the big picture in a multidisciplinary and international industry? Can you dive deep into a topic if you need to? Do you have the self-discipline to manage your time and accomplish multiple projects simultaneously, with or without a boss or demanding client?

Admittedly I still need to work on some of the above, especially completing projects without deadlines! But if this work appeals to you, then consider it. Space consulting might be the job you've been seeking.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Science Talking with Babe in Arms

Baby Leo after the Dahlonega Science Festival, March 24, 2018

When my firstborn was a baby, I made the decision to continue with my career rather than to give it up, pause, or hide. Since I was exclusively breastfeeding and she didn't take to the bottle, this meant taking her out to professional events and activities when she was quite young. I had never seen a professional bring their baby to a business event before, although I had noticed their spouses would sometimes show up with kids. Babies in a professional environment are very rare in our culture, from what I've seen in the space industry.

I started small. At just a few weeks old, I took my daughter to two space meeting evening receptions. Encouraged, I took her to a local conference. At five months old, I took her on business travel with me to an out-of-state conference. Although it was challenging at times, I made it work.

Once she started to become more mobile, keeping her contained became too much for me to handle. But by that point, she also became more independent of me, eliminating the need for me to take her everywhere with me.

Taking my baby son with me wasn't even a question when he was born. I knew I could do it. But a new question arose: could I give a talk while holding a baby?

When I was invited to be a panelist on a panel about space travel for the Dahlonega Science Festival in north Georgia, I knew my two-month-old baby was too young to stay at home. I informed the organizers I would be bringing him. I half expected them to rescind their invitation. I was once uninvited to a meeting when I informed the organizer I would be bringing my baby daughter, so my fear wasn't unfounded.

I was surprised - shocked even - when the response back from the Science Festival organizers was not one of distancing but one of welcoming. Sonny went above and beyond to accommodate me by look into baby changing facilities and areas where I could have privacy if I needed it. He even surprised me by gifting us a "future astronaut" onesie after the panel talk. My fellow panelists also welcomed our youngest contributor. I felt at ease and a sense of belonging.

As for my baby, he was easy. He alternated between nursing under a blanket and sleeping in my arms. Not once was he disruptive. Things couldn't have gone better.

A huge thank you to Sonny and the rest of the Dahlonega Science Festival organizers and my fellow panelist for welcoming a working mother and her baby! These small acts encourage me to continue doing what I do, and they hopefully encourage other women to participate in these events, with or without babies.

Speaking on the space travel panel at the Dahlonega Science Festival, March 24, 2018

Friday, January 26, 2018

Introducing Leonardo Nicholas, Planet Earth's New Space Traveler

Little Leo

Please allow a rare personal note on this blog.

Introducing my secondborn, Leonardo Nicholas, who arrived early Thursday morning, January 25. Although he was born on his estimated due date, his arrival surprised us. I took the time to watch the International Space Station fly in front of the half Moon from our front yard on Wednesday evening before I even knew he was on his way into the world. Before a friend even knew of the birth, he joked the ISS flyover portended the arrival of a new child.

ISS flyover Atlanta - January 24, 2018

I'll be on limited work hours for an undecided amount of time while on maternity "leave". Having done this once before, I know I can accomplish tasks one-handed while holding a newborn with the other. I type this as I balance sleeping little Leo on my lap and arm. Several people were amazed I was tweeting space news and commentary hours after his birth, but there wasn't a whole lot to do while resting in the birthing suite and scrolling on my phone is pretty easy these days. I can't stay away from my space community!

I'm excited to show both my children, Josephine and Leonardo, the night sky and the Universe as they grow.

Dreaming of the stars

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017: Experiencing Space in New Places and in New Ways

This year was a time of transition, adjustment, and growth for me professionally. In 2016 we moved from the Space Coast of Florida to Atlanta, Georgia. We moved 4 times in 6 months, finally settling into our current home in December 2016. Atlanta is a technology hub with a small and growing space community. The year 2017 gave me the opportunity to learn, grow, and find my place within this new space community.

I won’t sugarcoat it: I was at a low in January. I was exhausted from the moves and felt isolated in a new area. I felt stuck in a bad contract with an unhealthy client: overworked, significantly underpaid, and dissatisfied with the direction of my work. Just a year after forming my company Astralytical, I seriously considered calling it quits and finding a traditional full-time position in my new city. I learned some very valuable lessons about valuing myself, standing up for myself, and structuring a contract so I’m not taken advantage of. The experience made me a better professional and small business owner.

The beauty of running my own business is the freedom to change direction. In the second week of January, I celebrated the sweet gift of a blank canvas and refocused my efforts on the direction I wanted to grow professionally. I published a small report predicting U.S. orbital launch rates in 2017 (which I will soon update for 2018). I joined local space-related organizations and met new colleagues.

In December I joined the local NDIA chapter’s Space Committee and attended their annual space breakfast with guest speaker George Nield of FAA AST. In January I began attending space advocacy briefings with state-level elected representatives and other state government officials with the NDIA Space Committee.

George Nield, Dec. 7, 2016

Posing at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta - Feb. 1, 2017

In mid January I had the pleasure of getting a tour of SpaceWorks and their related companies with John Olds. I was so grateful to feel so welcomed in my new community.

Hello SpaceWorks! Jan. 10, 2017

In February I began a new area of business: space career coaching. This has been a very rewarding direction. I truly enjoy assisting students, recently graduates, and mid-level professionals in their space career journeys. This has also been a more popular service than I intended, demonstrating the strong demand for guidance while pursuing a space career.

Also in February I attended my first Georgia Space Working Group meeting. This group quickly turned into the planning committee for the first annual Symposium on Space Innovations hosted here in Atlanta in October.

By the end of February, I set up the Astralytical laboratory for space resources, focused on lunar and Martian regolith (dirt) simulant.

Measuring lunar regolith simulant - Feb. 17, 2017

In March I joined my local astronomy club and started attending monthly meetings. I also took my daughter to a local science museum with fun space exhibits and to the Atlanta Science Festival dressed as a mini astronaut. In connection with the science festival, I attended a talk by astronaut Mark Kelly.

Astronaut Josephine and me at the Tellus Museum - March 5, 2017

Posing with the Atlanta Science Festival mascot at the Mark Kelly talk - March 14, 2017

Atlanta Science Festival - March 25, 2017

In March, after the release of the Trump Administration’s proposed budget, I passionately fought against the cuts to the NASA Education office, an office which has significantly helped me and so many others in starting my space career. Thankfully, these cuts were reversed by Congress.

I was the guest speaker at the AIAA Atlanta chapter dinner in March, which I joined back in January. I gave some preliminary results from my to-be-published book about millennials working in the space industry. I got some enthusiastic and colorful responses from the older generations, the most feedback I’ve ever gotten from a talk.

AIAA Atlanta talk - March 28, 2017

Atlanta is home to several broadcasting companies. In June, I got a tour of the Intelsat facility, including their antenna dish field and control centers.

Intelsat - June 7, 2017

In June I presented preliminary research regarding Spaceport Camden to a group hosted by Camden County, Georgia. A few days later, I was a guest speaker in the Camden Roundtable on the same topic. I had been working on the report for a few months at that point and was ready to discuss some of the findings with the community that would be most impacted by the spaceport.

Spaceport Camden presentation - June 15, 2017

In June I was a speaker at the first annual We Rise Women in Tech conference in Atlanta, highlighting NASA’s coding projects and needs. I was also interviewed by the Women Who Code organization for their blog.

We Rise conference - June 24, 2017

I crashed the July AIAA Propulsion conference networking events and got to reconnect with some colleagues. I had the pleasure of meeting astronaut Sandy Magnus again.

AIAA Propulsion conference - July 11, 2017

Also in July I traveled to the new Braves stadium in Atlanta to check out the traveling Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex exhibit on a Mars concept vehicle. The Batmobile design isn’t at all what a Mars vehicle would look like but it’s fun for the public.

Mars concept vehicle - July 16, 2017

Also in July I took a trip to my old stomping ground: Huntsville, Alabama. Thanks to my friend Yohon and a few other friends and colleagues, I got some great tours of old and new sites at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, including accidentally stumbling upon a lab where I used to work.

So many historic sites at Redstone Arsenal and MSFC! - July 14, 2017

While in Huntsville, I attended the 10th annual Space Camp Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. I worked as volunteer staff for the first event a decade prior, and I’m a 6-time Space Camp alumna. It was fun to reconnect with Space Camp and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center! I also met astronauts Charlie Bolden and Hoot Gibson again.

Posing with the Saturn V rocket at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center - July 14, 2017

In August I traveled to the beautiful town of Helen, Georgia to see the total solar eclipse. It was one of the most beautiful and emotional events I’ve ever witnessed, surprisingly so. I’m now hooked and so excited for the next total solar eclipse!

Solar eclipse totality from Helen, Georgia - Aug. 21, 2017

All smiles after the solar eclipse totality - Aug. 21, 2017

In September I was a guest speaker for two talks in the Space Track of the huge DragonCon in Atlanta. It was a pleasure to speak with my fellow panelists on the topics of commercial space and NASA’s Deep Space Gateway. It was fun re-meeting private spaceflight participant Richard Garriott.

DragonCon! Sept. 2, 2017

Finally in October, the conference planning team was able to celebrate the successful first Symposium on Space Innovations! A lot of work brought us all together and it was a hit. I was especially thankful to moderate a panel on Launch, Landing, and Spaceports.

Astronaut Shane Kimbrough at the Symposium on Space Innovations - Oct. 19, 2017

In partnership with the conference, we kicked off the Georgia Space Alliance, a nonprofit I had been working with a team for months to create! The kick-off party was a great success, a larger turn-out than expected with great enthusiasm for the future.

Georgia Space Alliance kick-off space party with space art - Oct. 17, 2017

The Mission Possible report on Spaceport Camden was finally published in November! After many months of effort, it was so rewarding to release it to the public and get such positive feedback. And a thank-you to those who made the report beautiful with images and graphic art.

I had the pleasure of reconnecting with Eric Stallmer of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation when he came to Atlanta to be the guest speaker for the NDIA annual space breakfast in November.

Eric Stallmer of Commercial Spaceflight Federation - Nov. 9, 2017

Earlier in the year, I connected with another space-related organization SSPI. In November, I attended their program on NASA broadcasting from the ISS and elsewhere. I also got a tour of the Encompass facility which included their antenna dish field and control centers. I was surprised to learn all of NASA TV’s broadcasts go through that facility.

In December, I almost made my space movie premier! I arrived at the studio for a fitting for the movie First Man about Neil Armstrong, but was cut due to being visibly pregnant. Next time.

My First Man costume tag - Dec. 2, 2017

I wrapped up the year with the 6th Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in Broomfield, Colorado – one of my favorite conferences! I’ve attended all six since 2010 and I’ve been on board as conference staff for the past two. Although I got caught in the Great Atlanta Airport Power Outage of 2017 and therefore missed the first day of the conference, I was still able to enjoy two days of suborbital spaceflight and space science fun.

Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, Broomfield, Colorado - Dec. 18, 2017

I'm ending 2017 on a high. I've met so many great people and participated in wonderful spacey things in the past year! I'm grateful for where I am right now. And I suspect 2018 will be even better with more spacey plans in the works! I look forward even more to the surprises to come.