Friday, February 21, 2020

How Far Millennials Will Soar in Space

Original image courtesy of NASA
One of the most inspiring results of my research interviewing over 100 millennials working in the space sector or studying to work in the space sector was the optimism about the future. Although not unanimous, most millennial interviewees hold high hopes and high expectations for the future. I asked them what they expected millennials will accomplish in space in their lifetimes. The responses formed the final chapter and my favorite chapter of Rise of the Space Age Millennials – How Far We’ll Soar.

It’s impossible to predict the future. But it’s fun to try. My millennial interviewees took a chance at peering 30, 40, 50 years from now to ponder what the world may become. Specifically, what humanity will discover and achieve in space. Much of the focus on space achievements last year was celebrating the past: the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. I wanted to understand what millennials believe we’ll accomplish 50 years from now.

Some interviewees hesitated to imagine too far into the future, if at all. They took some safe bets. Humans will return to the Moon and establish a permanent base or settlement. If NASA’s plans come to fruition in the Artemis program, we will return astronauts to the Moon as soon as 2024 (although more realistically somewhere in the 2025 – 2030 time frame).

Spaceflight frequency and affordability will increase, perhaps bringing spaceflight to the masses with suborbital point-to-point transportation. Suborbital and orbital tourism will take off. The early 2000s saw the first space tourists travel to the International Space Station. Very soon, we hope to see Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin begin suborbital space tourism and SpaceX begin orbital and cislunar tourism.

We will continue to pursue space resources on asteroids and elsewhere, perhaps maturing in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) technology. Although the previous and existing asteroid mining companies were early efforts that have not yet accomplished their goals, perhaps future efforts on asteroids, the Moon, or Mars will help humanity obtain off-Earth resources which are limited on our planet but plentiful elsewhere. Or perhaps water will become the most valuable mined resource in space.

We will be able to observe exoplanet atmospheres in more detail. Exoplanet science is only three decades old and already we’ve discovered over 4,000 confirmed exoplanets. Peering into the atmospheres of these distant planets orbiting distant stars is the latest scientific break-through. Comparative planetology will help us to understand our own planet and how planets are formed and evolve. The search for biosigatures on these distant worlds is vital to the search for extraterrestrial life.

We may even advance beyond chemical rocketry to more efficient modes of propulsion. Nuclear thermal fission, ion engines, plasma propulsion, solar sails, even nuclear fusion may be able to advance our rocket and spacecraft technology to faster and/or less expensive spaceflight.

Most interviewees believe they will see astronauts step foot on Mars within their lifetime. The call of the red planet is strong and is widely believed to be the next goal in human space exploration after the Moon. Some even believe we’ll begin to establish a permanent base on Mars in the coming decades, officially becoming a multi-planetary species.

Some interviewees foresee the creation of private space stations for space tourism and other applications. Companies such as Axiom Space and Bigelow Aerospace already have plans to create their own low-Earth orbit destinations. Some foresee multi-generational spacecraft for deep space exploration.

Some believe we’ll find evidence of past or present extraterrestrial life, whether in our Solar System or on an exoplanet, forever changing our perspective of the Universe and of ourselves as a species.

Some of the idealists interviewed hoped to see space unify humanity in the form of an international partnership that rises above the geopolitics of the present. We can become representatives of one planet as we progress outward to explore new planets. We may even come together to accomplish interstellar space exploration.

Wherever we go in the future, whatever we are able to accomplish in my lifetime, writing Space Millennials has given me renewed hope that the space sector is in good hands with the next generation and those to come.

Have you gotten your copy? You can find it on Amazon or visit https://www.astralytical.com/rise-of-the-space-age-millennials.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Marathon that is Writing, Publishing, & Selling a Book






This is the tweet that began the creation of the book, Rise of the Space Age Millennials: The Space Aspirations of a Rising Generation. It was just a thought, an idea that popped into my head. I never thought of myself as a book author. And yet a little idea kicked off an almost four-year process of researching for, writing, and publishing my first book.

“Are you writing this book for fame or for money?” a few people asked me along the way. Ha, neither! I knew from the start this would be a niche book with a tiny customer base: space-interested millennials and space-interested readers of other generations to some extent. I never dreamed this would be a New York Times Best Seller or that it would make me thousands.

True to my nature, before writing the book, I researched how to publish a book. I read a lot of guides and personal accounts. I was under no illusions. According to a statistic I found, most self-published books sell fewer than 250 copies ever. Knowing how tiny my market is for this book, I decided I’d be pleased if I sold 10 books. Last year I ran a Kickstarter fundraiser and pre-sold 34 books, so I increased my goal to 100 books. Selling 100 books does not bring fame nor fortune.

So why write it? Because no one else had. It was a topic I was interested in and there was no other resource out there like it. Millennials get a bad reputation due to stereotypes filled with half-truths that didn’t ring true to me. My goal was to give my millennial peers a voice. I wrote the book for myself and for them.

Being a scientist, the first thing I wanted to do was collect data. I interviewed over 100 millennials (101 to 103 depending on how I count it) with a set of questions covering topics ranging from space inspirations, work preferences, connectivity, and space goals. I’m a physical scientist, not a social scientist, so creating interview questions and interpreting the answers stretched me. I did the best I could to represent their views.

My initial introduction draft contained all kinds of statistics. Workforce demographics in the US, at NASA, and at companies such as SpaceX. Statistics about my millennial interview panel. A look at how millennials compare to previous generations. I come from a scientific background and I approached the presentation scientifically. But that doesn’t make for good storytelling. Book writing is entirely different from the technical writing I’m used to. I scrapped that version and instead focused on individuals’ stories and the trends as a whole. I wrote the book with a space-interested audience in mind but with a clarity that could be understood by anyone.

One of my biggest downfalls was impostor syndrome, the fear that I’m not worthy to be doing what I’m doing. After all, I have no formal training in book writing and I’m not famous. Why would anyone want to read a book I wrote? Why would people spend money on my book? How dare I think my writing is good enough to be read by the masses. This fear still plagues me. The only motivation that pushed me forward was reading so many bad books in the past couple of years. I’ve disliked or felt ambivalent about most of the books I’ve read for pleasure recently, both modern and “classic.” Yet those books were still published and sold, recommended to me, and ended up in my hands. If they could do it, so could I.

Unfortunately, negative feedback did paralyze me. Approximately 3 years ago, before I had even begun writing, I presented my initial research results to a local AIAA chapter. The room was filled with members of the silent generation and baby boomers, maybe a generation Xer or two. Aside from me, there was only one other millennial in the room. I presented direct quotes from my interviews and explained some of the trends I was beginning to see. They hated it. They disagreed with it. They fought back on everything I said simply because it was counter to their worldview. Nothing I said helped them to overcome their initial biases to understand the material I was presenting. I left my own presentation early, feeling dejected and disillusioned. If I couldn’t convince a space-interested crowd of the value of my material, why write the book?

Time passed. I suffered a computer crash and then another. I lost files. I built up my business. I got pregnant and had a second child. In the passing time, I had moments of motivation that encouraged me to work on the book, but that never lasted long. The book was largely shelved.

Eventually I realized if I didn’t motivate myself, all my hard work up to that point would be for nothing. So last year, on my birthday, I ran a Kickstarter campaign. I created draft cover art and a promotional video. I asked people for help in acquiring initial funds to pay for art, editing, and publishing. My goal was $1,000 and I raised over $2,300 which also gave me enough funds to create an audiobook. The support was truly motivating! Plus, I knew if I took people’s money in pre-sales, I would finish the book.

But it still took time. Last year was the busiest yet for my small business. I got pregnant and had a devastating late miscarriage. Progress was slow and I needed an end date. I had planned for April, which got pushed to the summer, which got pushed back even later once I realized how many Apollo anniversary books were flooding the market. Finally, I settled again on my birthday, January 17. Book launch day.

Before I knew it, it was November and my manuscript wasn’t yet completed! I worked as best I could for weeks, finally getting it to my publisher in December. I knew I was cutting it close.

My initial dive into self-publishing reading almost 4 years ago led me to believe self-publishing was easier than traditional publishing, especially for a first-time author. The freedom, flexibility, speed, and increased royalties in self-publishing appealed to me. I doubted I could get a publisher to agree to my tiny niche market book. And yet, nothing about self-publishing is easy! I learned the hard way over and over that first-time authors who self-publish have a lot to learn.

I hired a freelance artist to redesign my cover art and to make a spine and back cover. At the time, I did not know anything about trim sizes and page numbers. After a few iterations, I was pleased with the final product. Only much later did I realize the dimensions of my cover art were all wrong! Cover art unexpectedly ended up being the most frustrating part of the entire book publishing experience. After 6 or 7 tries, I think I’ve finally gotten the cover art to where it’s supposed to be, even if it is a little stretched.

Last-minute I decided to hire another artist, a talented young woman in the space industry, to create interior art. Working with Caroline was a breeze and my chapters now begin with her beautiful little illustrations. It’s the details that make the book format so enjoyable over a blog or other plain text communication.

I expected editing to be tough, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I had done a fair amount of proof-reading ahead of time. But it’s always humbling to see just how many mistakes I made without even realizing it. My editor Bart offered so many wonderful suggestions, the hardest part was implementing them all in the time constraint I had. Although I know I missed some mistakes, including an embarrassing one I caught during the typesetting process, I’m pleased with the quality of the book. I’m never pleased with the quality of my writing, but it is what it is. I’ll never be as good of a writer as some, but I’m better than others.

I hired another freelancer to format and typeset the book for print and ebook formats. He did a decent job, but after a few iterations to fix all the little mistakes, I really felt the time crunch. It was under one week until book launch!

I also learned last-minute, as I was preparing my book launch webpage, media kits are expected. I knew of press kits from rocket launches, not book launches. In the final days before book launch day, I created a media kit with a press release, photos, information, and even a mock interview.

As much as I had read and read about self-publishing, I was not prepared for the nightmare that is the publishing process on Amazon. Publishing the ebook (both on Amazon and Barnes & Noble) was fairly straightforward and I had that task accomplished days early. But print publishing was another story.

For such a huge company that almost holds a monopoly on self-publishing, Amazon’s instructions are atrocious. I give them a D for unclear and contradictory information, vague error messages, and long response times (approximately 20 hours between submissions and rejections). Finally, a day late, the paperback was on sale. But it was an early customer who informed me the art wasn’t great and I needed to fix it. So, finally, now the paperback is on sale and in good shape, no thanks to Amazon.

Amazon conveniently ignores Prime user status when selling author copies. So not only do I need to pay for shipping boxes of books, I also need to wait longer than the standard 2-day delivery. It’s embarrassing to me I still haven’t shipped out pre-order books, let alone the autographed books that have been ordered over the past week since book launch. But, it will be done by tomorrow morning when I can finally get to the post office.

After doing even more reading about marketing, I’ve come to understand book sales are a marathon, not a sprint. Book launch is just the beginning. I did a little bit of organic social media marketing before book launch and over the past week, plus documenting my findings and experiences in this blog. My goal to sell 100 books has almost been reached. As of this writing, I’m 90% there.

I did three podcast interviews about the book prior to its release and I have a radio interview lined up soon. I’m giving my first live audience talk about the book at a conference in March, specifically about how to market space and space business to space-interested millennials. I plan to turn that talk into a guide to publish for free on my company’s website. Marketing will continue until the book topic is no longer relevant, which may be when millennials really are running the space sector.

Publishing Space Millennials isn’t over yet. This weekend, I’ll play with my new microphone and pop filter. I’ll download audio recording software and try to get an idea how to create an audiobook. Over the next few months, I’ll record myself narrating the book for the readers who prefer to listen.

My dabble into book writing and publishing isn’t over yet. For over a year now, I’ve had an idea for a second book, but I haven’t allowed myself to pursue it until this book is completed. The topic: how to prepare and what to expect as a space tourist. Wish me luck!

To purchase Rise of the Space Age Millennials and help me reach my goal, visit: https://www.astralytical.com/rise-of-the-space-age-millennials .

Edit: Goal of 100 copies sold achieved in the first 9 days. Thank you all!

Friday, January 10, 2020

What Inspires Space Millennials?

Original image by NASA
Will millennials become the Artemis Generation?


“I have a celebrity crush on Elon Musk. I love his brazen, fearless approach. I see him doing more than just energizing space exploration itself; I see him inspiring my generation to be bold and fearless in the face of 'impossible' missions.”
- Interviewee quote from Rise of the Space Age Millennials.

Apollo inspired a generation. In a short time, NASA accomplished the seemingly impossible. The iconic Apollo 11 Moon landing unified much of the world as people from all walks of life gathered around TVs to watch those first steps into a new era.

Many from the Baby Boomer generation (born 1946 – 1964) remember this defining moment from their childhood or early adulthood. Some were so captivated by the moment and the movement, they pursued space careers and remained lifelong advocates of space exploration.

Last summer, the United States celebrated the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 with great fanfare and reflection. Nostalgic essays, books, and films looked back on the grand days of the early space program and the feats NASA was able to accomplish.

But for many, including millennials (born approximately 1981 – 2000), Apollo 50th anniversary celebrations were a source of frustration. Millennials were not yet born during those glory days. No one from the millennial generation or Generation Z (born approximately after 2000), and many from Generation X (born approximately 1965 – 1980) have ever seen humans step foot on another world. If we could land humans on the Moon 50 years ago, why can't we do so today?

Older millennials grew up during the era of the Space Shuttle program. For many, their source of inspiration were astronauts floating in the International Space Station, doing somersaults, playing with droplets of water, and advancing science. For many millennials in the United States, the space shuttles were all they knew of vehicles capable of taking humans off-world.

Robotic space voyagers also served as a source of inspiration for generations born after Apollo. Mars rovers Pathfinder's Sojourner (landed 1997), Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity (landed 2004), and Mars Science Laboratory's Curiosity (landed 2012) brought the red planet into the imaginations of the millennial generation. The astrophysics-advancing Hubble Space Telescope (launched 1990), Saturn-exploring Cassini–Huygens (launched 1997), Pluto-imaging New Horizons (launched 2006), and exoplanet-hunting Kepler Space Telescope (launched 2009) are also among the missions that inspired millennials to contemplate the cosmos.

But by far, the #1 source of inspiration and excitement cited by over 100 millennials I interviewed for my upcoming book, Rise of the Space Age Millennials (released January 17, 2020), is the emerging commercial space industry, or “NewSpace.” Top of the list: SpaceX with its charismatic founder Elon Musk and its impressive rocket booster landings, enormous Starship, and ambitious plans, including human missions to the Moon and Mars. The quote at the top is by a millennial interviewee in Space Millennials and echoes many of the other interviewees' sentiments.

With feats never before seen (landing two rocket boosters back to the ground simultaneously) to public-engaging showmanship (launching a Falcon Heavy carrying a Tesla Roadster with a spacesuited mannequin playing David Bowie music), it's no surprise SpaceX motivates and excites millennials just now entering and growing in their space careers. Other sources of NewSpace inspiration from my millennial interviewees: Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Bigelow Aerospace.

This isn't to say Apollo didn't also inspire millennials. Apollo inspired me when I was a child. NASA's current human exploration Moon-to-Mars program Artemis calls the explorers of this time the Artemis Generation. When humanity returns to our nearest celestial neighbor again, many will be inspired for generations to come. Perhaps, with determination, luck, and public-private partnerships, millennials and Generation Z will be celebrating the Apollo 11 centennial from on the Moon in 2069.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Rising Space Millennials to Mars & Beyond

Mars image courtesy of NASA


Astronauts landing on Mars. Permanent settlements on the Moon and Mars. Private space stations. Advanced rocket propulsion. Deep space tourism cruises. The discovery of life on one of our Solar System moons or a distant exoplanet. Even global peace and unity through space activity. These are some of the predictions and dreams space millennials have for their time in the workforce as described in my upcoming book, Rise of the Space Age Millennials.

The summer of 2019 was all about reliving the glory days of Apollo (as we remember them now). The astounding achievement of landing astronauts on the Moon in 1969 deserves the praise and celebration it received 50 years later. Written accounts and oral histories contributed to our nostalgic reflections on what we've accomplished over the past half-century.

Relatively few pondered what we'll accomplish over the next half-century. Where will humanity be in space when we celebrate the centennial of the Apollo 11 lunar landing? Can you imagine 2069?

The generations that built the early space age will be long gone by then. The current rising working generation of millennials will be nearing retirement. Generation Z and the generations to come will be carrying the torch forward for humanity into the cosmos. I asked approximately 100 millennials working in the space sector or studying to work in the space sector what they hope we will accomplish before we retire.

Refreshingly, their outlook was bright! A few cynics offered skepticism we'd get much farther out into space than we already are. But the vast majority of respondents had lofty goals and high expectations. I fully admit to a selection bias in my sample. All respondents were working or pursuing work in a field they love and only those willing to share their dreams with me responded. There's also something to be said for the optimism of youth before it's crushed into realism and cynicism by delayed projects, canceled programs, and broken promises. And yet, millennials in their 20s and 30s who have already seen their share of shifting priorities and timelines still remained optimistic.

Mars Mars Mars. No destination calls to millennials the way Mars does. Many millennials shared my desire to return humans to the Moon, but almost universally, Mars was the most important goal. Just about every one of the millennials respondents believes they will witness humans land on the red planet in their lifetimes. NASA's current focus on taking the Artemis Generation to the Moon, then Mars, just as Constellation and other programs previously promised, is in line with millennial expectations for the future. Whether it's a government program or a private company such as SpaceX, millennials assume a future on Mars.

How we get to Mars is still an area of active debate. Some millennials call for a push reminiscent of the Apollo era, complete with an Apollo-sized NASA budget, to achieve a grand goal for the global space community. Some millennials call for a more incremental approach, improving life support systems, radiation shielding, and propulsion technology before sending our pioneering astronauts deeper into space than ever before. Some call for a large government initiative while others put their faith in the ambitious of innovative new companies. The path we take is still to be written.

Who participates will look different than the Right Stuff astronauts of 50 years ago. Millennials in the United States represent a more diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural population than previous generations. Each successive generation is getting more diverse. On average, millennials also value diversity and inclusivity more than their older colleagues. Many millennials I interviewed mentioned the imperative of a more representative space workforce and the importance of involving the international community. Future human expeditions to Mars will be more representative of the global population.

It was a pleasure getting to know my peers better through these interviews. For more insights on these topics or others, I invite you to read Rise of the Space Age Millennials (released January 17, 2020).

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Long, Uncertain Path to Influencing in the Space Community

Having Fun at the Brooke Owens Fellowship Summit, July 2019


For as long as I can remember in my adult life, I’ve been trying to prove myself. My constant effort balancing multiple projects, most unpaid to gain experience, recognition, or networking. My all-too-frequent battles with impostor syndrome, a war within myself to conquer self-doubts and dismiss undue self-criticisms. The hunts and races seeking admission into projects or meetings or circles I felt I belonged in or could belong in if given the chance to grow. The unresolved questions following rejection or disregard: Is it me? Is it my age? Is it my gender? Is it my reputation? Is it something within my control to change or maddingly outside of my control? Despite earning and pushing my way through many doors, I too frequently feel as an outside looking in, striving for more acceptance and more opportunity to prove I can do this.

I was largely ignored by my professors as an undergraduate student, as most undergrads are, only gaining recognition and acceptance by them after I had graduated and proved myself with additional successes. I was ultimately rejected by my primary advisor in my first graduate school, being issued an “it’s my way or the highway” ultimatum and choosing the highway, boldly and unabashedly choosing my own path. I was bullied by a peer in my second graduate school and my self-confidence plummeted despite my more advanced successes. My first full-time job kept me locked in a cage, refusing to allow me the space to grow despite my frequent cage rattlings and occasional breakouts. It was only in my second full-time position when, given the title of Manager and the freedom of flexibility and responsibility, I began to feel myself thrive. Unfortunately, that position didn’t last when the company declared bankruptcy.

My true acceptance of my career success and space community membership didn’t come until I started my own company Astralytical nearly 4 years ago. But it didn’t come immediately. That first year I felt as though I was grasping at straws, pursuing any potential path forward, frequently ignored or worse: being led down rabbit holes by insincere promises and exploitations. The pride I felt signing my first two clients was quickly deflated when the first could not pay me as promised and the second took advantage of my naivety and lack of internalized self-worth.

A constant theme throughout: I was worth more but didn’t realize it.

It's a strange feeling to realize I've operated for so long under the motivation, “I want to make a difference,” to then realize: I am making a difference. It's turning the tables on my career position, my level of accomplishment, my age, my very purpose in what I do every day. I tend to carry with me the ever-illusive question, “What can I do to become successful in my field?” when I really should be carrying with me, “I am successful in my field. What do I want to do with my success?” It's a difficult change in mindset to grasp.

Only now, in my mid 30s, growing my company, feeling the ease of acceptance and belonging (most of the time), do I feel this success. I have moments of doubt which are squashed by someone or something reassuring me. Earlier this year, a colleague reached out to me in concern with a, “What are you doing? You've made it. You're great. You're on the right track and you've got potential to really influence things. You don't need to make this tangential move.” Sometimes an outside perspective can really help breathe fresh air into my lungs.

A blast of fresh air came this summer with 38 impressive, inspiring young professionals I was privileged to meet as part of the Brooke Owens Fellowship. This year I served as a mentor for the program, a position I felt wholly inadequate to fulfill, but I did my imperfect best.

The Brooke Owens Fellowship Summit (along with the adjacent Future Space Leaders conference which I was pleased to volunteer my time to help run) was a series of events and a collection of people who touched my heart and motivated me to become even better at what I do and what I strive to do. The Brookies are a sisterhood who shared deep parts of their heart with us fortunate to be in the room. I have never seen anything like it and I doubt it could be replicated at another event. As I walked back to my hotel room that night with one of the other mentors, my heart felt so full. I did not know I could feel so emotionally connected at a space event.

The strength, passion, enthusiasm, ambition, and encouragement of the Brookies brought me back 14 years to my first NASA internship during my junior year of undergrad, a program called NASA Academy which focused on leadership and the “one NASA” experience. I didn't feel inadequate during my two NASA Academy summers. I felt on top of the world! I had my whole career ahead of me and I knew it was starting off well. I could have never guessed the twists, turns, falls, and heights I'd experience in my early career which carried me to where I am now.

I feel a different kind of pressure now: the pressure to live up to the expectations and admirations of those who are now where I was then. I am making a difference right now, and people are watching. What do I do with this responsibility? What direction do I focus my efforts? Where can I make the most impact in the community I love? What kind of difference do I want to make? What future do I want to help create for those who will carry the torch for us when we're gone?

I don't know where I'll go from here. I'm not sure how I'll do my part to progress space exploration forward. I have some ideas. I hope I'm in for a wild ride!

Friday, June 21, 2019

What it's Like to Talk about Space on a CNN TV Broadcast




My love of journalism goes back as far as high school when I really started paying attention to the news. CNN was always my favorite. Back before mobile technology made it easier, I had CNN videos streaming in the background on my school's library's computers during study periods. I still dream of meeting Christiane Amanpour.

At some point during my higher education, I considered becoming a space or science journalist. But as you may have gathered from how long it’s taking me to publish my book, I'm an exceedingly slow writer.

Five years ago over July 4th weekend, I visited my best friend who had recently relocated to Atlanta. The very first place I wanted to see was CNN Headquarters. Because it was a Friday, we were able to watch a live broadcast during the VIP tour. I hoped to someday see myself behind the camera.

CNN Center in Atlanta, July 4, 2014

(A few weeks later, my best friend and I became an official couple. We married the following year. He’s the reason I relocated to Atlanta nearly 3 years ago.)

Founding my own company gave me the opportunity and freedom to speak out and speak my mind more than I ever had before. My job became to analyze the space sector every day, living and breathing space news and progress. Journalists began reaching out to me as a source of information.

I have never been paid for a news interview. Journalism ethics doesn’t allow it and I’ve never expected it. There are great resources out there for people who want to negotiate compensation when being interviewed for documentaries and other entertainment productions, but I have yet to be asked and therefore have no personal experience regarding entertainment interviews. I speak with journalists and podcasters because I appreciate the work they do. And because it’s fun.

When I got the interview request, I dived into research. Not space research, TV broadcast research! I wanted to understand what clothing, jewelry, styles, colors, and patterns work best on camera. Blazer or no blazer? A simple necklace or no necklace? Earrings? I studied the women on CNN and noticed the current style seems to be solid colored boatneck dresses, but not owning one of those, I opted for my navy star-patterned wrap dress with simple jewelry.

Hello CNN! June 4, 2019

I arrived at the CNN Center 45 minutes early. I didn’t need to wait in the lobby long before an assistant producer picked me up and escorted me through the maze of hallways. My first stop was hair and makeup. Because I wasn’t sure about timing and expectations, I did my own makeup that morning. The friendly makeup artist said I looked all set and then proceeded to do my makeup for the next 20 minutes while the hairstylist worked behind me. I couldn’t even tell you what they did other than to add more of everything and then some. This was the first time I had gotten my hair and makeup done professionally since my wedding and I looked great!

Couldn't resist a selfie while I waited!

The assistant producer then led me to a small studio. I was positioned in a chair in front of a collection of fuzzy blue screens for background. Because the journalist I would be speaking with is based in New York City, I was directed to speak to a black screen. I had done this only once before being interviewed by HLN in a tiny Orlando studio in 2011 about NASA's planetary science budget, but admittedly I need practice. A woman clipped a microphone to my dress and adjusted the connection between Atlanta and New York.

Hello Rachel!

I know space current events backwards and forwards so I usually don’t need to prepare much for an interview. But because I am new to TV, I wrote up a script based on the type of questions I expected to be asked and did my best to repeat those thoughts in front of the camera. I had a lot to say! I took the advice I'd read about speaking in short soundbite statements to heart and made sure my prepared remarks fit within 12 seconds each, although I’m sure I spoke longer during the interview.

The gift at the end was what a CNN employee said after the interview. As he unclipped my microphone, he told me he was so excited about astronauts returning to the Moon and we should pour all our money into NASA! I advised him to tell that to his elected officials. This is the American taxpayers’ space program and every American has a say.

Of the approximately 20 minute interview, I get a few seconds of airtime during the 3 minute segment, enough for one line. I expected that, especially since one of the other interviewees was NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. It was a blast and I can’t wait to do it again someday!

The segment airs live on CNN this afternoon at 3:50 Eastern. You can watch the video on CNN’s website: https://www.cnn.com/videos/business/2019/06/21/moon-2024-artemis-mission-scn.cnn

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Vision of Space For All




I had an emotional conversation with a colleague last week, He confessed he saw great potential in me and advised me not to lose sight of my purpose or settle for less than what my values are. One thing he was particularly alarmed about is that I might someday lose my outspoken, independent voice in the space sector. Rest assured, readers, I will not. But the conversation did get me thinking.

When I started my company 3 years ago, I didn't know what I was doing. I had no compass, no map, no guidebook. I accepted any space-related work, even work that was only of marginal interest to me. I focused on my clients' missions and goals to the determent of my own. I was overworked (and significantly underpaid), pouring my time and energy into others' visions for their companies. I quickly realized clients aren't my compass. My company is a reflection of my values.


And so, yesterday I created a vision statement for my company. I usually ignore company mission, vision, and purpose statements, full of corporate prose but empty of substance. But it was time for my tiny company to grow in vision.

Astralytical's vision is space access and use for everyone. This is a reflection of my own values and goals.

I took the slogan “Space For All” from my now-defunct previous employer. I truly believe in that mission. With Astralytical, I strive to make space accessible to any person on this Earth, in my own little way.

I take on clients in a wide variety of backgrounds to assist them in making space more accessible to them. Later this year, I will release a project to do so more broadly. I don't want anyone to think space is off-limits to them.

I'm not building mass transit to space. I'm not bringing internet to the masses via satellites. I'm not creating space infrastructure for thousands. I'm simply doing my small part to bring about the future I wish to create.

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: https://kickstarter.com/projects/spacemillennials/rise-of-the-space-age-millennials

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:

Print
Alan Boyle, GeekWire
Anatoly Zak, RussianSpaceWeb.com
Andrew Jones, The Planetary Society & Space News
Brian Berger, Space News
Bryan Bender, Politico
Caleb Henry, Space News
Chabeli Herrera, Orlando Sentinel
Chris Bergin, NASASpaceFlight.com
Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceFlight.com
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, SpacePolicyOnline.com
Marina Koren, The Atlantic
Michael Sheetz, CNBC
Sandra Erwin, Space News
Tim Fernholz, Quartz

Podcast/Radio/TV
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.