Monday, July 11, 2022

A Plethora of Space Podcasts


Better late than never: my third annual space podcast recommendations!

Podcasting has become a popular way to communicate. I’m particularly hooked on space podcasts. Below are some of my favorites, most new within the past year.

If you missed it, check out my 2020 and 2021 space podcast recommendations:

Space Podcasts I'm Hooked On (2020)

Space Podcasts for Your Post-Pandemic Life (2021)

7-Things Space

This new podcast only has one episode out, so I can’t predict its frequency or future style. But in the first episode, co-hosts Aravind Ravichandran and Case Taylor discuss seven current space topics for 35 minutes.

EVONA Origin Stories

In this new podcast by space recruiting company EVONA, the host interviews guests about their space careers and career paths for 30 to 60 minutes, publishing roughly every-other-week.

JAXA Space and Astronautical Science Podcast

This podcast isn’t afraid to go long! Hosted by the The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, this English-language podcast interviews with JAXA-associated guests every month about their work and careers, with interviews ranging from 45 minutes to a whopping 2-hour-17-minute marathon.

Kathy Sullivan Explores

Published weekly, explorer and former astronaut Kathy Sullivan interviews a variety of guests, most space-related, some not, on topics of their work and life for approximately an hour. She also publishes little mini memoirs, 5 to 15 minutes long, with a personal story of her time as an astronaut, which have quickly become some of my favorite episodes to listen to of any podcast.

Lockheed Martin Space Makers Podcast

This professionally-produced podcast tells the stories of various space missions that Lockheed Martin has taken part in through narration and interviews with key individuals. First season episodes were 20 – 60 minutes long and published weekly.


This new weekly podcast by Payload Space’s Ryan Duffy features interviews with space-related guests, 45 – 60 minutes long.

Pod Ad Astra

In this sporadically -published podcast, guests are interviewed for 20 – 60 minutes on topics surrounding rarely-discussed human right in space.

Space Connect Podcast

This weekly podcast with host Phillip Tarrant focuses on the Australian space sector with 30 – 60 minute interviews with guests,

Space in 60

Co-hosted by TerraMetric’s Clint Grauman, Chad Baker, and Andrew Pylypchuk, this every-other-week podcast interviews space guests for 30 – 60 minutes.

Space Marketing Podcast

This new podcast hosted by Izzy House only has one episode out featuring an interview with a guest for 35 minutes. Future episodes will presumably focus more on space-related marketing.

Space Strategy

This sporadically-published podcast hosted by Peter Garretson features interviews with space policy guests ranging in length from 15 minutes to 2 hours.

Space, Eh?

As the humorous title implies, this podcast is by The Canadian Space Society featuring interviews with Canadian space guests, published sporadically, around 10 – 30 minutes each.

Spaced Out

The first season of this podcast by NYU Abu Dhabi featured 30 – 45 minute interviews with space guests.

Spaceport America Podcast

This monthly podcast, hosted by Alice Carruth, features 20 – 40 minute interviews with guests surrounding topics related to Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The Downlink

This weekly podcast by the Defense & Aerospace Report, hosted by Laura Winter, features interviews with guests surrounding space-related current events, ranging between 25 – 40 minutes long.

The Future of Space

This frequently published podcast (every Tuesday and Thursday) hosted by Daniel Fox features interviews with guests, around 45 minutes each.

Where's My Jetpack?

In its first season, this podcast by co-hosts Sarah Cruddas and Luke Moore tackle topics of futuristic technology(most space-related) with interviews with guests around 40 minutes each.

Not seeing your favorite space podcast on my list? Check out the 2020 and 2021 lists or leave a comment to recommend one!

Friday, February 4, 2022

The Next Generations


Meet baby Jude, the newest little explorer of our family

Introducing my fourth child, space baby Jude Angelo, who launched into this world late Wednesday night, 2/2/22.

After the birth of my second child, an acquaintance advised me not to post personal updates on professional platforms such as LinkedIn, not even life-changing events such as the birth of a child. I didn’t fully understand at the time why that advice bothered me so much that I deliberately chose to do the opposite.

My third child was born early enough into the pandemic that it was still novel to get a peak into the personal lives of our colleagues working from home. I’d been working from home since 2014 and always felt the need to hide the fact that I had babies and young children as office companions over the years.

The rise of coronavirus-times work-at-home normality changed how we collectively perceive the office environment. While I still do my best to minimize noise and take calls away from the kids, I no longer feel hesitant to mention their existence in this home we share.

When my third baby was still young in late 2020 and early 2021, I held her during video calls and conference talks when I needed to, sometimes off camera but usually within view. I had taken my previous two babies to in-person conferences and business events in “the before times.” Holding a baby during a video meeting or talk was a natural extension of that willingness to be public about my working motherhood.

I’ve tried to keep this open mentality moving forward in my public/private life of inviting the world to view a sliver of my home office. I was giving a conference video talk a couple of weeks ago when my 6-year-old calmly walked into the office during the last 5 minutes of my talk and sat on the floor beside me off-camera. It was a sweet moment I treasured. It reminded me of all the times I’d hang out in my mom’s law office or when she was at court, observing her in a professional environment that no doubt influenced me.

I did not enter the space sector with a focus on the next generation. But bringing children into this world has naturally shifted my perspective to become more forward-focused. I want to progress humanity to the stars for the current generations but even more so for the next ones. I want to open the opportunities for everyone who comes after me.

With two, possibly three of my children being similarly disabled, I’m newly motivated to work toward a more inclusive world that won’t limit my children’s passions by their physical challenges. I want my kids, and all who feel called to look up, to be able to reach for the stars.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Lessons Learned Writing My Second Space Book

It’s out! I’m so excited, proud, thrilled, ready to collapse – it’s out! On Monday, I published my second book, Becoming Off-Worldly: Learning from Astronauts to Prepare for Your Spaceflight Journey.

This is a book for future astronaut hopefuls like me. I loved hearing all the fun and insightful stories of what surprised astronauts about their spaceflight experiences. I was so touched by the stories of space pioneers who helped create this new era of commercial human spaceflight as well as those who have signed up to put their lives on the line to fly.

It took me almost two years to write Becoming Off-Worldly and it was worth it. It’s my favorite work I've ever written. I really love this book.

If you’ve ever published a book, you know it’s a feat. It’s also a labor of love. I’m not aiming to be a best selling author, yet only best sellers are financially successful enough to justify the many, many, MANY hours of research, interviews, writing, rewriting, editing, publishing, marketing, and everything else. It’s a lot more work than typing a blog article and pressing publish. It’s a project!

I call my first book, Rise of the Space Age Millennials, my “starter book.” I raised initial funds on a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign and stumbled my way through self-publishing. I made so many mistakes and learned so much along the way. I’m still very proud of it, but there are many things I want to change. I plan to release a new edition later this year to improve and add to the work with voices from a younger generation.

I didn’t make the same mistakes the second time around. I made completely new ones! And yet, with all the learning as I go, I created a truly good book that I’m immensely proud of. Becoming Off-Worldly earns its place among the other books on your bookshelves.

Not that I expect the book to be on many bookshelves because I’m embarrassingly bad at sales. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

Starting from the top. If any of my readers want to put yourself through the roller coaster ride that is book writing and publishing, I’m rooting for you! If I can do it, you can do it! I’m a scientist, not an English major. Here are some lessons I learned the hard way that I hope you can avoid.

Lesson 1: Too Many Interviews

This was a lesson I mostly but not entirely learned from my first book. I did just admit to being a scientist, yes? Maybe because of my X-ray astrophysics background where photons are scarce and each one valuable, I really wanted more data. People provide data. A large number of interviewees provide a collection of quality data!

But I was writing a book, not creating a survey. It was difficult to introduce readers to the 103 interviewees in my first book. There were many diverse voices but the reader couldn’t remember one from another. It was too much noise.

So of course I’m adding a few more interviews in the next edition. Will I never learn?

With my second book, I set out to focus on telling the stories of just a few individuals. I really thought maybe 5 astronauts tops would agree to speak with me. But I kept hearing yeses and making new connections. Who can say no to an astronaut agreeing to tell a space story or two? I ended up with 17 flown astronauts interviewed plus 4 “future fliers” who flew before the book was published. Altogether there are 32 interviewees featured plus a foreword author.

I had a cut-off time for interviews, really I did. I called it my biological deadline. I planned to finish the interview stage of my book by the time my third child was born in August 2020, take a few months’ break, then enter the writing stage.

But I kept coming across new people I just had to include! The Inspiration4 crew was announced in early 2021. I heard a fun, quirky interview with a future ISS private astronaut who I just had to connect with. My friend Kellie got her ticket to fly. How could I pass on anyone whose voice could add so much value to the insights in the book?

I am so, so thankful to everyone who agreed to be interviewed for the book! This book wouldn’t exist without their stories and insights.

Lesson 2: Persistence Can Pay Off, But I Can’t Win Them All

Even with over 30 interviews in the book, the ones I didn’t get still bother me. There was the one who agreed to an interview then ghosted me. There are the two who acknowledged receipt of my request then became unresponsive. Seriously people, just reply to decline, don’t make me send email after email and then leave you an awkward voicemail! Those three interviewees could have added such great perspectives and it’s our collective loss that I could not include their stories in the book.

I also tried and failed to interview a Russian cosmonaut. They all seem to be connected to the Russian government, even after they retired from their spaceflight careers. I asked for help from NASA astronauts who flew with cosmonauts as well as assistance from an organization whose entire membership has flown in space and got nothing. My goal was for the book to be culturally diverse and I succeeded in many ways, but the lack of a Russian perspective is a hole.

There were also the companies who were completely uncooperative despite the book being free positive publicity for them. I’m figuratively glaring at two spaceflight facilitators in particular. But their silence made room for me to shine a spotlight on their competitors who did add their voices to the book and got that free publicity.

Lesson 3: Be Quiet When Recording Interviews

Do you know how hard it is to accurately transcribe an interview over an imperfect connection? It’s even harder to transcribe when I’m tapping my fingers, moving around paper, laughing over what someone is saying, or doing who knows what to make whatever noise I’m hearing as I listen to the same sentence ten times trying to understand the words coming from my interviewee’s mouth.

It’s a skill to be still and quite and just let the other person talk.

Lesson 4: Write Without Distractions

Everyone works differently. Some people like to write in coffee shops or libraries or parks among noise and crowds and endless distractions. That’s not me.

I need a quiet room alone for a solid hour or two or three to really get into the flow of writing. Bonus if I can keep away from email and social media.

I have young children so this is very difficult to arrange. A supportive husband who has been working from home since the start of the pandemic gets the credit by providing me with those solid blocks of time alone to get into the flow.

Lesson 5: Allow More Time for Editing and Release

I rushed my first book. I spent so long self-doubting and procrastinating on the writing, by the time I finished the manuscript, I just wanted it done. I wanted it published on my birthday, very soon after I finished writing, and it shows. I ended up with cover art I didn’t like, writing that needed more refinement, and a boatload of typos.

With my second book, I hired not just an editor, but also enlisted the help of proofreaders. I allowed for more time to prepare the manuscript and art. I had a last-minute manuscript edit when an interviewee needed me to change her introduction, but that didn’t feel like an emergency because I had the time to make those changes.

Not only did I feel that I could prepare the book better, I felt that I could prepare myself better for the release date. I was physically (well, digitally) and mentally prepared by the time of book launch. The extra time even allowed for a soft release to ask for endorsement blurbs and early reviews.

I still wanted it published on my birthday (this past Monday). And I have another biological deadline. Today I’m T-7 days away from the estimated due date of my fourth child. I knew there was a possibility I might publish the book while nursing an early-arriving newborn if circumstances arose. Life is always happening no matter what deadlines you give yourself which is all the more reason to allow for buffer time if possible.

Of course, even after all that extra time and help, I still managed to find all kinds of typos after publication. Oops. I’ll fix them eventually.

Lesson 6: Pay For Good Help

One thing I did right with my first book as well as my second book was to pay someone I trust to edit my book. Bonus that he works in the space sector and could fact-check as well as edit. Good editing is worth paying a professional for.

Advice everywhere is to pay a professional artist for cover art. I had great luck with finding an interior artist for my first book. And my company’s graphic designer is invaluable. But I’ve had terrible luck finding a quality cover artist. I’ve paid artists twice now for cover art I didn’t like. So, I went against common advice and designed my own cover for my second book. I think it turned out better than the first time! The key here is to pay for good help, and I just haven’t found a good cover artist yet.

There have been issues with formatting and typesetting with both of my books. The end result is good, but not without the struggle of multiple revisions. Both individuals came highly recommended so I’m not sure what to do differently next time (if there is a next time). Maybe I just need to accept that formatting a book takes extra time due to the need for revisions. In the end, I am glad I’ve paid for professionals to format my books this instead of attempting to do it myself.

Lesson 7: Get Those Early Readers

One thing I didn’t do – didn’t even think to do – with my first book was to ask anyone to write a foreword, endorsement blurb, or early review. I didn’t allow for enough time between finishing the book and publication to allow for such extras. Nor did I know who to ask or how.

If it wasn’t for my editor introducing me to Frank White, I wouldn’t have thought to include a foreword. Frank’s generous words offered valuable context and insight right at the start of the book. Among the holiday season and his work responsibilities, he needed time to read the book and write such thoughtful words. I’m glad I factored in that extra time before publication.

Frank’s kind offer to write a foreword gave me the courage to reach out to some of my interviewees and one person who had no connection to the book to ask for blurbs, essentially testimonials from people whose opinions matter. I don’t know if I would have been brave enough to even ask for words of praise from such high-profile individuals if I hadn’t already been encouraged by Frank’s involvement. I was thrilled when I got so many positive responses, more than I could include on the back of the book! I’m so thankful for the encouragement.

I rejected the very notion of caring about reviews with my first book. I was writing for myself, so what did reviews matter? But reader reviews really do matter to potential customers who want the assurance that the product is good before they invest their money and time. If a book is brand new and it has no reviews, potential readers might pass it over compared to a new book that has several early positive reviews.

I really didn’t focus much on early reviews with this second book, either, but at least I understand them better. I was shocked to see a recent space book receive over 100 of 4- and 5-star reviews on Amazon despite it being pretty poorly written in my opinion. I realized that the author probably gave out hundreds (or thousands) of free copies to get so many reviews, just as he had given a free copy to me to read. The sheer number of decently good reviews is enough to encourage people to take a chance on a product.

I have been giving out more free copies of my book this time around, but more as a thank-you gift rather than a request for reviews. If I could go back in time, I’d make an extensive list of people I want to give books to and do so before book launch so I’m not in the situation I’m in today, suddenly realizing I should gift someone an ebook copy days after publication.

Lesson Still In Progress: Marketing and Sales

Readers, I have no idea what I’m doing as I try to get this book into others’ hands. I’m a scientist, not a salesperson. Even after founding my own company 6 years ago, I’ve been learning the business side as I go and I’m still terrible at sales.

I know I created a quality book. I know so many people would enjoy it and learn from it. I have no idea how to get “so many people” to even know about it, much less read it.

Becoming Off-Worldly has the potential to touch so many lives. It gives hope to those who long to have their chance to touch the stars and admire our planet from above. It gives actionable advice to anyone preparing to fly to space, whether next week or some future unknown date. It explores lesser known perspectives about what surprised astronauts about spaceflight and what motivates commercial space pioneers.

If I had a larger budget, I’d go back to Lesson 6 and pay a professional to design and execute a marketing campaign. But alas, my marketing budget is just not that large as of yet.

Have any advice for me on how to get my book into reader’s hands? Or can I help you with your book writing or spaceflight preparation? Post in the comments, reply on social media, or send me a message.

You can buy a copy of the book on Amazon or Astralytical. Get a free Becoming Off-Worldly sticker when you buy an autographed copy (US shipping only). Request a copy through your local library or favorite bookstore.

Like what you read? Sign up for my new author newsletter and get a free copy of Chapter 2 of Becoming Off-Worldly.

If you enjoy the book, please consider leaving an honest review on your favorite book review site.

Pre-register for the Prepare to Become Off-Worldly Astronaut Training course and get $50 off registration! Or send me proof of your honest review of Becoming Off-Worldly to enroll for free.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

The Time I Almost Quit My Own Company But Quit a Client Instead

Photo from Feb. 2017, finally free from a bad client.

January will mark the six year anniversary of my small company. I’m thrilled to have recovered from a poor 2020 to make 2021 the most successful year of Astralytical yet!

Five years ago, I almost threw in the towel and gave up on running my little business. Almost. But I toughed it out and learned a lot along the way.

The last year of working for my previous employer was rough. The company stopped meeting regular payroll, a decision they made while I was on my honeymoon after spending our savings on a wedding and a trip to St. Croix.

I struggled with irregular paychecks as my husband and I lived in two different states for the first few months of our marriage. We learned I was pregnant. We had expected to live in two residences on two incomes, flying back and forth regularly to see each other. We quickly realized we needed to consolidate and rethink our finances with a baby on the way.

As my income shrunk and became unpredictable, my anxiety climbed. I tutored in my spare time for the little bit of extra income. In December, in my final weeks of pregnancy, the company stopped paying for our health insurance. I’m forever grateful to my direct boss who ensured I had health insurance for that last month so I could give birth to my child with peace of mind. I officially resigned at the end of that year.

I officially started Astralytical in January with no clear idea of what I wanted to do with it. My initial ideas were to publish reports, consult, and work on academic projects. Those first few months, I felt out the market, trying to figure out where I belonged and what others would pay me to do. I struggled. I was a scientist with no background in business, trying to start a small business part-time from scratch.

I was thrilled to sign my first client in April! It was a milestone for my brand new company. Someone was willing to pay me to help them with their space-related project. That’s exactly what I wanted for my young company and for my future as a consultant! I felt like I was proving my business case. I could do this!

The thrill faded quickly. My client, owner of a one-person nonprofit, had even less business sense than I had. Her heart was in the right place but her finances were not.

My client wanted me to make things happen but was hesitant to pay me for my time to do so. She snubbed my fundraising advice. When I learned she was broke and sacrificing basic living needs to fund the nonprofit, I no longer felt I could ethically continue to charge her. After a few weeks of work, very little money, and no real accomplishments, I felt as though my work with my first client was a failure.

I kept going. For months I volunteered my time here and there, trying to find leads that would pay me. I was thrilled to get a call back months later from a small company I had been talking with earlier in the year. They needed my help to expand into the emerging commercial space industry, they said. Well, they were in luck because that’s my expertise!

I started work with my second client in July. Oh how I wish I could go back in time and fix one thing that would have made all the difference. I knew I had been screwed over very shortly after signing the contract, but what could I do? It was my fault for signing it, for not negotiating better.

You see, they misled me. They weren’t willing to pay me what I was worth. They sent me a contract for a flat fee per month worth about half-time pay. When I pushed back, they claimed it was part-time work. But they didn’t specify in writing. Why oh why did I sign a contract with no cap on the number of hours per month or no tiered payment based on hours worked? I will never make that mistake again.

The job was, in fact, not half-time. Most weeks, it was much closer to full-time. Some weeks, it was well over full-time. My personal life and my mental health suffered as my husband and I moved four times in six months with a young baby and I struggled to get the work accomplished under their short timelines.

Since we had little savings due to my minimal pay the previous year, we really needed the money. I was doing good work and I didn’t want to lose this client. That is, until around three months in.

After I completed my first project, they abruptly decided to change direction away from commercial space. They gave me a new project that was completely unrelated to my expertise. I really should have questioned why I was assigned this work given my total lack of experience with the subject matter. But, I needed the money, and I could learn on the job. I had to keep going.

The client’s expectations were unreasonable. They had never trained me on processes and procedures so I had to figure it all out on my own as I went. This led to a lot of tears when the software they wanted me to use didn’t work, but I figured it out. They set unspoken expectations and I had to guess at what they were. When the second project was assigned, I think they assumed that I knew the process already and could complete the work very quickly. Never mind that I had no knowledge of the topic and the deadline was over the end-of-year holiday season!

October was when I began to admit aloud to my husband how miserable I was. Working too many hours, being significantly underpaid, and dealing with poor and discouraging management – it was all too much.

But I had no other clients knocking at my door, nor did I have time to look for any new clients. My husband was switching jobs and we were moving again. We were house shopping. We needed the income. How long could I stay with a bad client? How long would they keep me? With their pivot away from emerging commercial space, I was no longer a good match for the company. Everything felt wrong.

As the holidays approached, work intensified, and management became harder to deal with and even more discouraging. The year had not gone as I expected. My little company had failed. I was no longer even working on my company. The website existed, but I had been neglecting the company for months to work for a client that was demanding full-time work for half-time pay with no benefits or vacation days. My space career was stalling. Something needed to change.

I could quit Astralytical, I considered. With our move into our new home in a new city complete, I could find a full-time job with benefits and make double what my client was paying me. Why was I continuing down a path that was all wrong for me?

But I still had so many great ideas for Astralytical! I had so much left I wanted to try, so many projects I wanted to attempt. I felt that I hadn’t given Astralytical enough time to prove itself as a worthwhile business. I hadn’t given it the time it needed to really grow as I wanted.

It was settled, then. I would drop the bad client so I could refocus on Astralytical’s core. But, how? I had never fired a client before. I postponed the decision until after I completed the second project in early January.

I was almost giddy with relief when, after handing in that project, the client told me they “couldn’t figure out how to monetize my skill set” and decided to stop working with me for now. I was free!

I was so energized by my new free time to focus on my company, I immediately got to work writing and publishing a mini space report. And I laughed and shook my head in disbelief when the ex-client, who was no longer paying me, tried to tell me I wasn’t allowed to publish anything under my company’s name because it was confusing to their clients. Maybe they should have written that into the contract!

Five years later, that client remains the worst I’ve ever had, the one that almost made me quit consulting altogether. And that’s saying something; I had a belligerent client refuse to pay me earlier this year (just for a 1 hour phone call, thankfully) who only ranks second worst. I’m thankful I kept going. As it turned out, Astralytical did need more time to prove itself and to grow.

With my new focus on Astralytical’s purpose and goals that second year, I formed the space career coaching segment and signed my first coaching client in March. I’ve since worked with over 55 coaching clients from all over the world with a wide diversity of backgrounds, all pursuing space careers.

Also in March, I signed my third consulting client. It was a pleasure working with this client to research and write a report for them that they still refer to today. I enjoy keeping up with their progress to this day. It was this third client that finally showed me what consulting could be like: a mutually beneficial relationship that carries on into the future.

From wanting to dissolve the company at the end of 2016 to delivering a satisfying report to a great client in mid 2017, my mindset completely shifted. I felt like my company was really on the right track.

Altogether I’ve worked with 27 consulting clients on a wide variety of projects internationally. It’s been so rewarding to assist in the background with so many aspects of the space sector from science to education to business to public policy. The diversity of topics keeps me always learning something new and piecing together connections at the intersections.

Six years down, Astralytical is the best job I’ve ever had! I’m looking forward to seeing what the seventh year brings.

Sometimes, when you know you’re going in the wrong direction and you just want to throw up your hands and quit, it helps to dive deeper. What don’t you like about your current path? What do you like about your current path? What would you change if you could? Whether a small tweak or a giant turn, you do have the power to move away from what’s making you unhappy and work toward your real motivations and goals.

I hired a general career coach when I was dissatisfied in my first career job. She advised me to drop what drained my energy and pursue what gave me energy. Or, in the words of Marie Kondo, “Does this spark joy?” If not, thank it and let it go.

I needed to drop the client that drained me so I could pursue forming my small business in a way that brings me joy. And it made all the difference. What changes will you make in the new year?

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Manifesting Space Dreams Into Reality


Forming my dreams at the 2010 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference

Human spaceflight always has been emotional for me. From the very first space shuttle launch I saw at NASA Kennedy Space Center when I was a new freshman in college to the new commercial vehicles conducting test flights, there's a mix of rush, excitement, and fear. Lives are on the line. The memory of those we've lost are a constant reminder that these brave pioneers could die before my eyes. But spaceflight is one of the most grand undertakings humanity has ever accomplished. And I want to join them, personally.

It's difficult to express how meaningful it is to know someone preparing to fly to space and to watch them make that dream a reality. I've met over 50 flown astronauts and a few who were selected by NASA but hadn't yet had their chance to fly. But of the astronauts I've gotten to know for more than a brief meeting or two, I knew none of them before their spaceflights. When I met them, they already symbolized that beyond-sky-high achievement that seems out-of-reach for so many of us.

When Alan Stern was selected in October last year to become NASA's first sponsored suborbital researcher on a future Virgin Galactic flight, I was elated. I've known Alan since I was a graduate student and I've worked with him on a number of small projects. I've watched him champion for human-tended suborbital science within NASA and the wider space community.

Alan and two of his colleagues at Southwest Research Institute, Dan Durda and Cathy Olkin, already held tickets to fly as researchers on Virgin Galactic (and XCOR Aerospace back in the day) via SwRI. But there was something about the NASA selection that made it feel more real, more official, more notable. NASA astronaut selection and training is a highly rigorous process with an elite group of very few people wearing the coveted title of NASA astronaut. For NASA to select someone outside of that tight selection process to fly on a suborbital spaceflight on behalf of NASA, that stood out to me as different. As more attainable. As a way for me and others like me to fly as a researcher someday.

My friend Kellie Gerardi blew me away with the way she defined her dream to fly to space (read her book Not Necessarily Rocket Science) and then made it happen! In June, the International Institute of Astronautical Sciences selected her to fly on a future Virgin Galactic research flight. I burst into tears when I heard the news! Not only was I thrilled for Kellie, I recognized her in myself. We share the same dreams and the same motivations. She's making her dream happen. So can I.

On July 1, Virgin Galactic announced the crew of its next test flight with Sirisha Bandla on board. One of my first memories of Sirisha was watching her assist with a raffle at the 2012 Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference, both of us watching as someone in the audience won a trip to suborbital space with XCOR Aerospace. XCOR may not have made it, but Sirisha did.

Knot in my throat, I teared up as I watched Virgin Galactic astronaut 004 Sirisha Bandla soar to space today with the rest of the Unity22 crew, focused on suborbital science all the while. Sirisha accomplished her dream today. I can too. And so can so many others who saw her fly today and were inspired by her accomplishment.

One of the first times I met Alan when I was a graduate student, he asked me what I was doing to accomplish my goals. He meant it as a rhetorical question to emphasize a point: it's not enough to dream, we need to take actions to pursue our dreams. It wasn't until Alan spoke at the first Next-Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference in 2010 that I even considered the possibility of becoming a suborbital researcher. Now I've witnessed Sirisha make history doing so and I'm cheering on Kellie, Alan, Dan, and others who will someday as well. My dream is to fly suborbital science myself someday. And/or go to the Moon, of course.

What am I doing to make my dream happen? The beauty of this new industry is that there are multiple ways to pursue my dream. I'm involved in the space community, assisting with space payloads and supporting space companies. I'm entering various contests by Inspiration4, DearMoon, Omaze, and others to win a trip to space. I've spoken with flown astronauts and future flyers for my upcoming book on private spaceflight, hoping to better prepare my readers and myself for a future where we ourselves will fly. I'm always open to someone sponsoring my ride – call me!

They can do it. The crew of Unity22 have done it. The crew of Blue Origin's upcoming New Shepard flight are preparing to do it. We can do it too. Space belongs to all of us. This is just the very beginning of newly paved narrow-but-widening paths to allow us all to reach our dream of spaceflight.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Space Podcasts for Your Post-Pandemic Life

Original photo credit NASA

With many of us stuck at home over the past year, companies and individuals have been seeking new ways to communicate with their audiences. The number of space podcasts has skyrocketed. There's nothing more human than to want to connect with other people. Podcasts offer a way for one's voice to reach a wide number of listener's phones and computers.

At the start of the pandemic last year, I listed some of my favorite space-related podcasts. Since then, I've increased my podcast subscriptions to 80 and added quite a few new and new-to-me podcasts to share with you.

Read: 2020's Space Podcasts I'm Hooked On

2 Funny Astronauts

This brand new weekly podcast by Mike Massimino and Garrett Reisman features two astronauts telling entertaining stories about their unique experiences in 25 to 40 minute conversations.

Brave New Space

This space industry-focused podcast by Robert Jacobson and Keegan Kirkpatrick offers 20 to 30 minute interviews with space business guests once or twice per month.

But It Is Rocket Science

This every-other-week podcast by aerospace engineers Henna and Anna offer relatable deep dives into various historical and current aerospace topics and casual insights into the hosts' lives in 30 to 60 minute segments.

Celestial Citizen

This weekly podcast for planning humanity's future in space features 45 to 60 minute interviews with a wide variety of guests by Britt Duffy Adkins just wrapped up its first season.

Dare to Explore

This podcast from the Space Camp Explorers Club is so new, I can't tell you its cadence. Perhaps monthly. It features 30 minute interviews with space-related guests.

Deep Space Podcast

This 15 to 30 minute podcast by Christen Kapavik and Jamil Castillo of the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration features interviews with space-related guests.

Dongfang Hour

This 30-minute weekly podcast by Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville covers Chinese aerospace and technology with weekly news summaries and occasional interviews.

Ex Terra

This 30-minute weekly podcast by Tom Patton features interviews with guests focusing on space commerce.

For All Humankind

This new monthly podcast by Matt Marcus and Annika Rollock in partnership with Women of Aeronautics & Astronautics features interviews with young space professionals.

Making Space: The Female Frontier

This 6-episode limited edition podcast by CNET's Claire Reilly tells the stories of trailblazing women in space history and interviews women currently making history.

Mission: Interplanetary

This 30 to 45 minute weekly podcast by astronaut Cady Coleman and Andrew Maynard sponsored by Arizona State University and SLATE features interviews with space-related guests and discussions on space topics of interest.


This monthly podcast by Sven Przywarra and Daniel Seidel, currently on break, offers interviews with space business guests ranging from 20 to 80 minutes long.

Preparing for Launch

This every-other-week podcast by Caroline Swenson of UKSEDS, currently on break, offers 40 to 60 minute interviews with space guests.


This weekly student-run podcast by SEDS USA recently wrapped up season 3. It offers 25 to 45 minute interviews with space guests.

Space and Things

This weekly 30 to 75 minute podcast by Emily Carney and Dave Giles offers space news, space discussions, and interviews with space guests.

Space Business Podcast

This mostly weekly podcast by Raphael Roettgen, produced in partnership with the International Space University, offers 30 to 60 minute interviews with space business guests.

Space Café Podcast

This fortnightly podcast by Markus Mooslechner and SpaceWatch.Global offers roughly 1 hour interviews with space guests. Not to be confused with the live video interview series by the same name.

Space Curious

This 15 to 20 minute, every-other-week podcast by WKMG News 6 reporter Emilee Speck covers questions of interest submitted space-curious audience and features interviews with space guests.

Space Explored

This sort of weekly podcast by 9to5Mac hosts covers space news with a particular emphasis on SpaceX in 30 to 90 minute episodes.

Space Policy Pod

This non-regular podcast by Steve Sidorek, sponsored by AIAA, MITRE Corporation, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce featured 25 to 40 minute interviews with space policy guests.

Space to Grow

This every-other-week podcast by Astroscale's Chris Blackerby and Charity Weeden offers 45 minute interviews with guests on space sustainability.

SpaceBase Podcast

This monthly podcast by Emeline Paat-Dahlstrom offers 30 to 60 minute interviews with space guests relevant to New Zealand.

Spaced Out!

This weekly podcast by Sarah Begum offers 45 to 60 minute interviews with space guests with a particular emphasis on meditation and spirituality.


This weekly podcast by SSPI's Lou Zacharilla offers 25 to 50 minute interviews in their Better Satellite World series focusing on how satellites benefit life of Earth.

TerraWatch Space

This every-other-week podcast by Aravind Ravichandran offers 30 to 75 minute interviews with guests to demystify space technology.

The Diaries of Space Explorers

This weekly podcast by Gavin Tolometti offers 45 to 60 minute interviews with young professionals about their career journeys.

Total Space Network

This irregular but frequently published podcast by RichLB, Kage, and Mikko is new to me, but appears to include a collection of shows ranging from 10 to 75 minutes which provide overviews of space news and technology and includes interviews with guests.

Your Space Journey

This non-regular podcast by Chuck Fields offers roughly 20 minute podcasts with a variety of space guests.

Do you have a favorite space podcast not yet featured on my 2020 and 2021 lists? Let me know in the comments. Happy listening!

Friday, March 26, 2021

A Day in the Life of a Space Consultant


I'm sometimes asked what it's like being a space consultant and what I do on a daily basis. This question is difficult to answer because my work changes from day to day. I usually respond with something like, “I take care of my clients' needs, do my own internal research, and keep up with the space news and community.”

I thought it might be helpful to document what I do on a typical day. I chose Wednesday, a relatively simple day of no meetings, no phone calls, and no deadlines. I do have days when I'm tied up on phone or video calls more often than not, but those aren't as fun to write about.

I apologize for the length of this play-by-play. Due to the diversity of topics I cover in a typical day, it's unavoidable if I'm to accurately portray just how much I jump around in a typical day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

I have the luxury of sleeping in. I'm a night owl and my husband is a morning person, so he cares for the baby in the early morning, allowing me to get up and start work at my leisure. One of the first things I do is check on the status of the SpaceX Starlink launch. I wake up enough at night as it is with my two youngest children, I wasn't going to wake up at 4:28 AM my time for what is now an almost routine launch of satellites. Cheers, the launch was successful!

I check email and listen to podcasts as I start my morning. I'm subscribed to many podcasts, most of them space-related. I listen to podcasts throughout the day when I'm cooking, cleaning, or doing simple labor. By the end of this day I've listened to 4 and a half podcast episodes.

I catch up with my overnight and morning Twitter feed while listening to the rest of Tuesday's FAA Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee (COMSTAC) meeting which I wasn't able to listen to in its entirety yesterday. I click on any interesting space news articles to add to my “To Read” tab group for later.

I pause Twitter scrolling and the meeting recording in order to read and respond to an email from one of my Generation Z interviewees for the second edition of my first book Rise of the Space Age Millennials. I plan to incorporate the voices of the younger generation in my book on space perspectives, motivations, and dreams. I'm nearly done with the interview process.

While I'm in my email inbox, I start reading through various space-related newsletters. I'm subscribed to 4 daily space newsletters plus at least 11 weekly ones and a few monthly ones. I click on any interesting articles to read later.

I make the painful decision to turn down a prospective client. I hate doing it, but the job wasn't the right fit for my business. I referred him to others. Thankfully, he takes it well.

I send a couple quick emails to members of my sales team who I require updates from.

With email done for now, I return to Twitter and the COMSTAC meeting. I turn my entire attention to COMSTAC for a moment to jot down an exact quote to use in the Astralytical blog article I'm writing about launch delays out of Cape Canaveral.

I resign myself to doing required NASA SATERN training for IT security. I don't do this often, but I include it to emphasize that even a small business owner needs to do tedious stuff like this. One of my clients has a NASA contract that requires it. Thankfully they pay me for my time.

The training takes longer than expected so I pause to make lunch for the kids and me. I finish the training over lunch. Then I take a half an hour break away from my computer to rest.

Back to work! I do a math check for another client working on a NASA proposal on a timely subject. I don't talk about my clients and their work as a rule. But I can tell you my work for clients ranges from business-heavy such as due diligence for investors, science-heavy such as evaluating science proposals, and policy-heavy such as prioritizing national space directions.

I review a draft cover letter for another client who is applying for a space industry job. Then I take another break.

I email my client working on the proposal a few more times. Yes, much of my work involves email.

I catch up with Twitter. Then I turn to my “To Read” tabs. First thing: an article with satellite images of that ship blocking the Suez Canal. An article about corporate responsibility in space. The details of that fabulous polarized image of a black hole. A contract to expand the Space Force's space objects library.

Whew, a quick break. Then more reading. An article on NASA's Commercial LEO Development program following a NASA presentation I attended yesterday. I pause to do some cross-platform social media postings for my company about the topic.

Back to the news. Relativity's 3D printing of its rocket second stage (with a neat video!). An interview with astronaut Kathy Sullivan. A few older articles I looked up on a proposed national spaceport authority that was discussed during the COMSTAC meeting.

I look for an Aerospace Corporation report "A National Spaceport Strategy" published last year but can't find it. I ask my space community on Twitter if any of them know where I can find it.

I take a quick break including checking my personal social media accounts. I read another space newsletter that just arrived in my inbox as well as other email.

I read another article, this one about Astroscale's ELSA-d satellite deorbiting mission that just launched.

I catch up with Twitter and pause to watch Emily Calandrelli's TikTok video on a piece of fabric from the Wright Brothers' plane on the Mars helicopter Ingenuity. 

I read an article on private astronaut training. This reminds me to write a follow-up email with an interview request to a private spaceflight facilitator for my upcoming book about space tourism and private spaceflight.

A take another break. I read another incoming space newsletter. I read an article about a space recruiting agency. Then I visit individual space news websites to find any interesting news I missed. I read the first of a series of articles on the challenges of measuring the space economy.

I catch up with Twitter. Then I read about a seal skin spacesuit by an Inuit artist (with a neat video), followed by an article about zodiacal light due to Mars dust. Yes, I read a lot. This is part of my job. I try to stay informed about as many thing space-related as possible.

Another break. More Twitter. I read an document called Forecasting Future NASA Demand in Low-Earth Orbit from 2019 that was referenced in the NASA presentation yesterday.

Not having received a response on Twitter, I send a quick email to Aerospace Corporation requesting the report about a national spaceport authority.

I complete my analysis on Cape Canaveral Spaceport launch delays for the blog article I've been planning to write. This is a quick task because I've already collected the data, I just need to rearrange it and make the plot.

I get responses back from the Aerospace Corporation by both Twitter and email saying the report is not publicly available. Oh well. I was just curious.

I catch up with Twitter and take another break. If it seems I take a lot of breaks, it's because I have three small children. I'm not even mentioning breaks unless they're at least 3 minutes long.

I begin writing the Cape Canaveral launch delays blog. I want to finish it before dinnertime, but I keep getting interrupted. Eventually the kids win and I stop work for the evening.

Dinner, family time, cleaning, and kids dominate my evening. I get back on my computer just in time to watch the launch of the Arianespace Soyuz at 10:47 PM my time. I try to get the baby to go back to sleep as I read an article about space company exits and SPACS then another on a Cold War project to build a huge radio telescope in West Virginia.

Finally, in the peace and quiet of the late night, I spend half an hour finishing writing the launch delays blog article. It just needs to be proofread before being published tomorrow morning. I end my day reading for pleasure, space-related yes, but science fiction.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Sprouting the Seed of a New Space Analytics Idea


Image credit: NASA

Sometimes a seed of an idea takes extra long to sprout. When I started my company Astralytical five years ago, I knew I wanted to focus on analysis of the space industry. I had experience working at a now-quiescent space industry analysis company leading their analysis team. I knew I was good at it.

But I didn't know quite how to achieve the kind of company I envisioned. In those early months of my young company, I experimented writing a short space policy report. But the result wasn't exactly what I was going for. In the following years, a few clients commissioned me to write reports on various space topics, diving deep into areas important to the clients' needs. But there's a difference between working on what someone else finds important versus working on what I find important.

Two years ago, the nucleus of the idea for the Astralytical Explore: Flybys and Orbits began to take shape. I worked with an intern and even hired an artist to create two prototypes. And it wasn't at all what I wanted. I accepted the monetary loss and scrapped the project. I needed to better understand what I hoped to achieve before I could create it.

One thing that has always bothered me is the high expense of industry market reports. I remember reading my first report when I just started my first full-time job, written by a well known general market analysis company. It was... okay. Not great. Even very early into my job, I knew I could have written a better report. I knew the space industry better than they did. I wondered how much my employer paid for this commissioned report but I didn't ask.

The shocker came when I was hired to write two reports for a client and learned how much they were selling the reports for. Let me tell you – these reports are overpriced. They only sell for thousands to tens of thousands of dollars because that's what others are willing to pay. But just because a report sells for $5,000 doesn't mean it's high-quality, accurate, or reliable. I was dismayed at the shoddiness of the process.

I have two problems with the high-cost report model: 1) The price point of these market reports promotes an exclusive, elitist, gatekeeping element to the space industry which is the opposite of my viewpoint that space should be for everyone. 2) The price point also limits the readership of these reports to a very small number, so my work helps very few people. I didn't find it satisfying to work so hard for so long for my work to benefit almost no one.

I kept all this in mind as I formulated the Astralytical Flybys and Orbits concept. Then it came to me: focus. I decided to focus these graphical mini-reports on bite-sized questions. Flybys consist of information and insights surrounding one question of interest. Orbits consist of multiple questions related to one hot topic.

Because these are mini-reports, I could price them accordingly. Anyone can afford a Flyby. And the top-level insights are published for free in Astralytical blog articles. My work can be broadly assimilated by anyone and affordable to those who want to dive deeper. And for those with money to spend, an annual subscription is available to provide even more access to information.

I'm so heartened to have gotten such overwhelming response to my first series on space tourism! This is a hot topic filled with headline-grabbing hype that was a big flashing target for me to tackle in a realistic, critical, hype-free way. I've had the idea of a space tourism report for four years now since I gave the idea to a former client who rejected it, then decided three years later to do it, but did it poorly. In fact, all space tourism reports I've ever come across have been unsatisfactory or laughable. It takes someone who knows the industry very well to do a great job with a report on any topic. I'm literally writing a book on space tourism and I'm excellent at my job. I'm so pleased my work (both the Astralytical Flybys and Orbit series and the upcoming book) will help people widely as they navigate this emerging field.

Sometimes a delayed seed sprouts into a beautiful, healthy plant. I've already dived deep into the next Astralytical Flybys and Orbit topic: launch delays. In-space manufacturing is next. I've got a whole list of hot space topics I'm excited to dive into and release for anyone to read and understand. I look forward to contributing more to the understanding of these topics with a realistic, critical, hype-free eye. The space community needs it.

Friday, September 4, 2020

No Such Thing as a PhD Drop-out


I recently had a conversation with a client about discerning a PhD program as a mid-level professional. His major concern was the time commitment. Is it worth dedicating several years, perhaps balancing a full-time job and a family, to gain the credential and title Doctor?

The answer really depends on one's motivations for pursuing a PhD. Do you love the topic or research area? Are you after that prestige? Are you wanting to further your education? Are you needing the credential for a career path such as professorship? Are you just not sure how to move forward and you think a PhD would help, at least for now until your path become clearer?

All of these motivations (and more) are valid reasons for pursuing a PhD. There is popular advice out there that you should not pursue a PhD unless you are truly passionate about the subject matter. This is entirely false. Passion for a certain topic is a great reason for pursuing a PhD. It is not the only reason.

Many (if not most) people are not head-over-heals in love with their PhD topic. That's okay. Most graduate students do not choose their exact area of research and instead are assigned a topic area by their professor, advisor, or funding agency. Telling students they must have passion for a PhD is setting up an ideal that is unattainable for most graduate students and is a form of gatekeeping that signals to prospective students that they don't belong. You do belong, even if you don't love your PhD topic.

Whatever the reason one is considering a PhD, the question remains: is it worth it? Only you can answer this question for yourself. Only you know your dreams, goals, motivations, and level of commitment to continue down this path. No one else can make this decision for you.

There are many benefits and moments of exhilaration pursing a PhD and conducting independent research. There are also many challenges and moments of despair. There are countless stories of the mental health challenges graduate students face. A prospective graduate student needs to consider the potential negatives, challenges, and stressors of the path they are about to embark on to be able to fully assess whether beginning this journey is worth it to them.

Beginning a journey is not a promise to end the journey the same way you intended when you began. Humans are remarkably adaptable. We adjust as we travel along our paths, learning new things about ourselves and the world. New opportunities present themselves. We continually make choices about where and how we spend our time and whether we're better off shifting our journeys based on another path. We evolve.

Is a professor or advisor not working out for you? It's okay to switch. Really, it is. I did it. It was a painful, emotional decision that led to me losing the third year of my NASA fellowship funds, but it's doable.

Is a lab, research group, department, or university not working out for you? It's okay to switch. Again, I did it. I completely changed from pursuing a PhD in astrophysics to a PhD in planetary science, a related field, but different enough to require a university change and extra courses. But it's okay to change your mind and direction.

Once I got over the anxiety and self-doubt about switching programs, I saw the benefits of my new path. I was more sure about myself and what I wanted. My new graduate advisor was a better fit for me than my previous one. My resume and experience was impressive. I was viewed as a more mature graduate students. Changing my mind and my path allowed me to experience something new, something closer to what I wanted to do with my time and labor.

Then came the most unexpected change of path: “dropping out.” I am an all-but-dissertation PhD drop-out twice over, not because I failed or was forced to leave, but because I chose to leave. I chose a different path than the one I embarked on when I began my graduate school journey. And I do not regret it. My path was the correct one for me.

It all ties back to one's motivations. My reasons for pursuing a PhD were met by literally pursuing the PhD, not obtaining it. I was interested in the research areas I pursued. I wanted to learn more. But I never needed the prestige or credential of the PhD title or degree. I never wanted to be a professor. “You'll change your mind,” I was told as a brand new graduate student, already certain I didn't want to become a professor. No, I didn't change my mind.

Because my motivation for pursuing a PhD was to go down that path but not necessarily to complete it, gaining the PhD became a secondary goal. When I unexpectedly received a full-time job offer while I was working on my dissertation, I had a choice to make. Do I complete the PhD or do I take the job? Can I do both? Well, I tried to do both and failed. Some people could combine paths, but I could not. I made a choice: to leave one job to focus on another.

It sounds a bit different framing it that way, doesn't it? Leaving one job for another. Graduate research is a job, and a very underpaid and underappreciated one at that. When we leave a job to pursue another opportunity or direction, do we call it dropping out? No. Why is there a negative connotation leaving a graduate student job but that negative connotation doesn't exist when leaving almost any other job?

Academia is known for its elitism. Many professors (but not all) are convinced that their path is the superior path and all other paths are seen as lessor. I've had professors I know and professors I just met ask me when I'm “returning” to complete my PhD, as if my graduate student labor and knowledge up to that point was discounted because I didn't gain a credential I don't need.

What did I gain? I dived deep into astrophysics and planetary science. I completed the physics comprehensive exam, a multi-day written and oral exam on graduate-level physics, the hardest exam of my life. I gained the knowledge, satisfaction, and confidence that comes from passing such a test. I know I know my stuff! I gained research and lab experience, data analysis, programming, technical writing, public speaking, and many other skills. I worked with colleagues and met new people, networking and maturing in my field. I gained what I wanted from my graduate school experience.

When an experience gives us what we wanted to gain based on our motivations for pursuing that experience, it's okay to look forward to our next steps and shift our path depending on what our motivations are. It's also okay to recognize when an experience is not meeting your expectations and to change your path accordingly. It's okay to leave. It's okay to try something new. It's okay to get a different job than an academic job and reject the stigma of “dropping out” or “leaving academia.”

Back to my client. I gave him the advice I wish I had received years ago when I was just starting out on my PhD path: if this is the path you want to pursue for now, pursue it for now. Don't feel obligated to commit x number of years of your life to it. Don't feel obligated to finish it because of someone else's expectation. This may be the best path for you now. This may not be the best path for you later, and if so, you can change your mind.

I didn't drop out of my PhD. I pursued a better path. And I'm better for it.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Choosing Motherhood on my Space Career Journey


When my first child was born, I posted a birth announcement on LinkedIn. I almost exclusively use LinkedIn for professional communications, but I felt something as monumental as becoming a mother was worth mentioning.

An acquaintance didn’t think so. He sent me a message that I shouldn’t post such things on a professional platform. Others may not take me as seriously if I post about my personal life, if I write about being a mother.

I took what he said to heart. Then I posted a birth announcement for my second child. Two weeks ago, my third child was born, and I proudly posted about her too. I no longer fear displaying my motherhood alongside my professional persona.

Throughout my adulthood, I have been fiercely enthusiastic in my pursuit of a space career. I have been equally enthusiastic in my pursuit of family life. The former was more within my control than the latter. I was able to form my space career in my 20s. It took until my 30s to begin my family life. Both are vital parts of my identity, intertwined and essential to who I am.

When I was in graduate school, I attended a space event where the mayor of a Florida Space Coast town struck up a conversation with me. The level of passion I had for my career surprised him. “Never marry and have kids,” he advised. In his limited view, doing so would be a detriment to my career and dampen my space passion.

He didn’t know I was watching my friends marry and have children with envy, longing for the day when I could do the same. He couldn’t fathom that a woman could have both a successful career and a strong family life. Many men and some women are hung up on this reality, yet never wondering how men can be fathers and have successful careers.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed much in our culture. With video calls becoming a new staple of our communications, we are seeing many colleagues and coworkers in their home environments. We are getting to know their pets and their kids. We are seeing them not just as professionals but also as whole people. We are thinking about our professional associates in a new way and becoming more accepting of who they are in their entirety. We are normalizing a fuller version of humanity.

I was never shy about broadcasting my motherhood. Just days after giving birth, my firstborn accompanied me at a space industry event. I nursed her in a wrap while networking with space professionals. I have taken my first two babies to conferences, meetings, and lectures, even giving talks with baby in arms. My fortunate firstborn lived in Florida for the first few months of her life, meeting a few astronauts and seeing several rocket launches that she’ll never remember.

I’ll never forget the young woman who approached me in the parking lot after that space event as I was nursing my 18-day-old baby. She thanked me for bringing my baby and for normalizing motherhood in a male-dominated industry. She was just the first. Many people since have thanked me for being a mother so publicly in my professional life. One man remarked that hearing baby sounds at a conference reminded him of life and why we do what we do.

Space exploration provides a unique perspective on long-term thinking. We naturally think beyond our own lives and our own generation to what we can accomplish as a human species for decades and centuries and millennia to come. Our children, individually and collectively, represent this future. They are what we are working towards. They are who we are doing this for. They are the ones who will continue this effort after we are gone.

One day, a descendant of mine will step foot on another planet. A descendant of mine will live on a deep space exploration vehicle. A descendant of mine will accomplish feats in the Universe unimaginable to us now.

It starts with a baby. It continues with humanity going where no one has gone before.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Mentoring for a Better Space Career Journey

In lieu of traveling this summer to events where I'd interact with students and young professionals just starting out in their space careers, this spring and summer I opened myself up to speak with as many students one-on-one as I could pro bono, focusing in particular on the Brooke Owens Fellowship and the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship recipients and finalists. As always, it's been such a rewarding experience to get to know these talented students.

Back to high school and early undergraduate years, I was very curious about what it was really like to work in the space sector. I only had an outsider's perspective based on pop culture. I didn't know anyone who worked in space who could answer my questions or guide me. I was very fortunate to be able to job shadow scientists and engineers at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center for a week when I was 16 which gave me glimpses into what a space career could be.

It wasn't until later in undergrad when I began to meet more space professionals did I begin to start forming a true picture of what space careers look like. I knew very early on I did not want to be a professor, but I was very interested in being a research scientist at NASA. I was fortunate to begin meeting and getting involved in research, initially under professors.

Then my big break came: my first NASA internship when I was 21. Surrounded by space professionals of all kinds and hearing guest lectures all summer, I truly began to see the diversity of career paths and professional experiences. I've been learning from others' experiences ever since.

Speaking with students at any level reminds me of of those times when I was exploring career paths and trying to determine where I belonged. Most of the students I speak with are already very well informed and have their own space-related experiences to draw from. Many of these students are more experienced and knowledgeable than I was at their age. It can be humbling but also inspiring! The future is in good hands.

Many students are uncertain whether they are allowed to reach out to professionals, whether they are too young or inexperienced to begin networking, or whether certain professionals are off-limits for them to communicate with. On all points, I try to reassure students that they can and should politely reach out to and learn from professionals whose work or career paths they're interested in. Not everyone will respond, but many are happy to answer student questions and speak about their work and career paths.

Networking is one of the best things students and young professionals can do to discern their career choices and understand the industry or field they want to join or are in the early stages of navigating. I've recently had the pleasure of chatting with two high school students who were very mature, confident, and well-informed about space already because of the professionals they've already conversed with. The more networking one does, the more comfortable ones becomes networking. The key is to form mutually beneficial relationships with people over time.

How can networking with students be beneficial for professionals? I get inspired by the students I interact with. I see their potential and in some cases are able to follow their progress as they explore opportunities and achieve successes. I admire much of the work they do and can learn from them. I'm thankful for their energy and enthusiasm. I see how they are changing the space sector and, in their own way, changing the world for the better. They give me hope. And I'm so proud they become my peers.

Although I do not have the time I wish I had to mentor every student who reaches out to me, I gladly give the time I'm able to answering emails or having informational interview phone calls. As the summer semester winds down and my maternity slow-down period approaches, I'll have even less time in the coming months. Mentoring doesn't need to take a lot of time. It could be as simple as a few quick messages exchanged over the weeks, months, or years or having a catch-up call every now and again.

I was asked by a student today about finding mentors. Many colleges/universities and professional organizations have formal mentoring programs that pair students with professionals. But mentoring doesn't need to be formal or structured. Informal mentors could be people who you admire and wish to emulate, whether in a career you want or not. They could be people you ask to mentor you or people who have no idea you see them as a mentor.

Every step of my career journey to this day, I've had mentors, mostly informal. It truly helps to find people who inspire you along your career, who can guide you or answer your questions, who can introduce you to others and perhaps even champion you, who you know support you and your dreams. Find these people wherever they are. They are everywhere.

If at any point you want formal space career coaching, I'm here for you, whether through a self-paced coaching course or one-on-one email or phone coaching. If coaching is too much for you, reach out to me anyway and I'll try to help in any way I can.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Goodbye Space Shuttles, You Will Be Missed

Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex Atlantis Exhibit, June 22, 2013

Originally posted on July 8, 2011 in my personal journal, with minor edits.

On Tuesday morning, I was phone interviewed by a reporter from Florida Today (same parent company as USA Today) doing a story on young people who have been inspired and influenced by the space shuttle program. I've gotten two other similar requests for interviews, but I had to turn them down because they're TV and sadly, I am not in Florida this week. At age 27, the Space Transportation System (STS, the space shuttle program) is all I've ever known of NASA human spaceflight. I've admired the Apollo V rocket, but I've never seen it in action with my own eyes, nor have I seen a Russian Soyuz rocket. My fondest memories of my first Space Camp days in the middle school Space Academy program were of participating in mock space shuttle missions to the International Space Station. Our camp teams were gather under Huntsville's test simulator the Space Shuttle Pathfinder and I would stare up at it in awe, wishing I could climb inside.

My parents took me to see the a space shuttle launch at some point in the 80s. We were on a trip to Disney World and drove to the Cape to see the launch, but it was scrubbed. I don't remember this at all, but had it launched, it probably would have made a lasting impression with me. It was around that same time, third grade, when I wrote a short story for school about being an astronaut and going to the Moon.

My first space shuttle launch experience didn't occur until my freshman year of college when I moved to the Space Coast. My first one was STS-112 Atlantis in October 2002, seen with a classmate along the side of a highway somewhere near Kennedy Space Center. I joined the student newspaper that semester and got the amazing opportunity to see STS-113 Endeavour from the KSC press site in November. That was a night launch, scrubbed the first night, but so worth returning! Night launches, appearing as artificial sunrise, are my favorite. Even better, I could share the experience with friends.

STS-112 launch, October 7, 2002. Credit: me
STS-113 launch, November 24, 2002. Credit: me

The launch of STS-107 Columbia I saw from my car near campus in January 2003. I don't know why I didn't take the time to see it closer. I think that I took launches for granted at that point. This attitude was corrected on the morning of February 1, 2003, when I got the terrible news. My undergrad alma mater is very close to Kennedy Space Center, so the university as a whole was affected greatly. I was honored to meet some of the late astronauts' families during a dedication ceremony of the brand new Columbia Village dorms, seven buildings named for the seven astronauts, where I lived my sophomore year.

As the new editor-in-chief of the student newspaper, I had the privilege of attending a press tour of the Orbital Processing Facility 1 where I got to stand very close to and under Atlantis. I've since had a number of these kinds of tours through NASA Academy and KSC Family Days, but the first one will always have a special place in my heart. Especially because on that tour I was “banned from NASA for life,” but that's a different story.

Me under Atlantis at KSC, September 2003

The Columbia accident delayed the return of space shuttle launches for years, but thanks to NASA Academy, I was able to visit Florida to see the return-to-flight STS-114 Discovery launch from the KSC Banana Creek VIP bleachers in July 2005. That was memorable especially because of the location, sitting in bleachers not far from First Lady Laura Bush with several secret service agents around.

NASA Academy at MSFC cohort in front of Discovery, July 2005. I'm in the red shirt.
STS-114 launch, July 26, 2005. Credit: me
Again because of foam problems, launches were long delayed after that, but again because of NASA Academy I was able to see the second Discovery return-to-flight on July 4, 2006. In my limited experience, the top of a mobile launch platform set up next to the Vehicle Assembly Building was the best place I've ever seen a launch from, very close to the pad and eyesight over the tree-line.

STS-121 launch, July 4, 2006. Credit: me
Living in Alabama for three and a half years put a damper on my in-person space shuttle viewing. It wasn't until I moved back to central Florida a year and a half ago that I was able to experience the wonder with my own eyes again. The first launch I saw after moving back was STS-130 Endeavour in February 2010. Unfortunately, my camera was locked in my car and I did not feel like fetching it, so all I have is the memory. I did get to see Endeavour close up before launch, which was cool. For STS-132 Atlantis in May, I spent hours waiting at Space View Park to catch a glimpse; not the best spot, but still beautiful.

Me in front of Endeavour, January 23, 2010
STS-132 launch, May 14, 2010. Credit: me
Thanks to a friend, I saw STS-133 Discovery launch from the Astronaut Hall of Fame in February of this year. Electrical lines got in the way of a perfect view, but it was still neat to see it from a different location.

Discovery on the pad, September 25, 2010. Credit: me
STS-133 launch, February 24, 2011. Credit: me
I don't know how many people have seen a space shuttle cake launch, but thanks to a friend, I got an excellent view of the one and only Cake Boss space shuttle cake fire up and ascend (with the help of pyrotechnics and a mechanical structure) at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in April.

Space Shuttle Program 30th Anniversary Celebration, April 12, 2011. Credit: me
May's STS-134 Endeavour launch I attempted to see from Orlando so I wouldn't risk missing my flight later that day. Unfortunately, cloud cover made that impossible, but I tried. An unfortunate conflict in scheduling holds me here in Pennsylvania visiting family while the very last space shuttle launch, STS-135 Atlantis, lifted off beautifully this morning. I cried, of course. I pray and cry watching every space shuttle launch. It's so beautiful, so powerful, so emotional. Godspeed, Atlantis, and please come home safely.

News coverage has been fantastic. I love the positive attention that NASA is getting, and I'm pleased that the news media is trying to educated the general public about the space industry. However, I'm dismayed by all of the remarks about "the end of NASA" or "the end of the space program." Neither is true. NASA will go on, the space program will go on, human space exploration will go on.

Poor leadership has caused a gap in NASA human space transportation. This will be a very hard transition over the next few years, especially hard for those who will lose or have lost their jobs. But NASA's next space vehicle is in the works, and in the meantime, private space companies are developing their own rockets and spaceplanes to take crew and cargo into suborbital and orbital space.

As much as I love the space shuttle program, I agree with the decision to retire it and move on. I want humankind to return to exploring the solar system. I want us to eventually get to the point where we can live, work, and make money in space and on other planetary bodies. I believe that this is essential, and I will do everything in my power to do my part to make that happen.

Pursuing my astronaut dreams at KSC, September 25, 2010