“To work in this tech industry as a woman you have to be just a little better”

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Dr Sandra Cauffman, Deputy Director of the Division of Earth Sciences at NASA, speaking to a panel of women space experts as part of World Space Week in which Israel actively participated to the first time last week.

Yafit Ovadia 10:1411.10.21

World Space Week has been celebrated throughout the past week in more than 95 countries around the world, including Israel. World Space Week is seen as an international celebration of science and technology, and their contribution to the betterment of humanity. Israel, which is hosting its own week-long event to commemorate Israel’s first fallen astronaut, Ilan Ramon, actively participated in the event for the first time, hosting a week of lectures and activities, bringing together experts civil and government aerospace industry.

During an exclusive panel, several women space experts from Brunei, Australia, Singapore, Israel and the United States discussed their challenges and achievements in the space technology sector, as well as the future of the booming industry.

More and more women are looking to join the space technology industry (illustration). Photo: Shutterstock

“The Australian space agency is quite new and was only founded in 2018. I had no background in rocket science – only software, and I almost accidentally joined Amazon Web Services. The low percentage of women pursuing STEM fields is widespread, and I think women are still underrepresented in all parts of the space industry, which only includes a fifth of women, ”said Mani Thuri, head of development. aerospace and satellite solutions for AWS. . “Women couldn’t do the moonwalk because the wetsuits weren’t designed for women. When we are not present, we are not creating a future environment that is good for us. We have to make sure that we create an environment in which it is possible for us to engage. You don’t want to walk into a conference where you’re just one of the few women. Right off the bat you want to get involved, ”she explained. Space technology has dual capabilities, she added, saying “people don’t understand how remote sensing and space technologies really help us. We use GPS maps to help us navigate while driving, remote sensing to detect forest fires, storms and weather over the next few hours. Space technology isn’t just about launching rockets – there are a ton of other things that help us in our day-to-day lives. ”

Dr Sandra Cauffman, originally from Costa Rica and now deputy director of the Earth Sciences division at NASA, detailed her difficult journey. She wanted to study electrical engineering in her home country, but there were no women in these programs. She applied for U.S. citizenship and rose through the ranks. Currently, she oversees the entire Earth Science Operations portfolio. “People don’t understand that the real reason we go to space is to benefit humanity and to be able to observe the earth from the point of view of space,” she explained. “To work in this industry as a woman, you just have to be a little better. Telling women in college that they can study STEM is not helpful, they have to start in elementary school. When I see a new woman on my team or see her struggling in a meeting, I stop and say: can we listen to what she has to say? We need to keep these doors open to the women who follow us and help them in any way we can. ”

Lynette Tan, Managing Director of Singapore Space & Technology Ltd, added: “You really have to stick to your dreams and keep trying. Working as a woman in an Asian environment is also difficult, ”she said, noting that women are often uncomfortable expressing themselves due to the cultural habits of acting reserved, but it is important to try. Loh Sook Yee, Senior Director of Asia Pacific Customer Success in Singapore, detailed her journey, which began with a university course in geospatial technologies that landed her a job at the Singapore Land Authority. There she was exposed to remote sensing technologies and mapping. In her female leadership role, she noted, it is crucial to demonstrate empathy, logic and authenticity. “Learning to build trust is crucial: being comfortable talking about issues and being a stimulating coach, not a micromanager. It is important to try to express yourself: have courage, do your homework. Then once you have that confidence and speak up, people will listen. ”

Inbal Kreiss, head of innovation at the Systems Missiles & Space Group of Israel Aerospace Industries, who oversaw the Beresheet mission and now works closely with the upcoming Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe for the Rakia mission to the International Space Station in 2022, said that “building the first Israeli spacecraft to the moon was one of the most difficult programs I have led. She was the head of the team that participated in the assembly of the spacecraft and managed the space division in command and control. “This mission was daring and required a lot of bravery,” she noted. Regarding encouraging young women to pursue these fields, she mentioned that the IAI runs a special program for high school girls, who partner with young women engineers for a six-week program and work together on a project.

Inbal Kreiss, who will oversee the experiments the next Israeli astronaut will take with him to the ISS, speaks at a conference.  Photo: Ramon Foundation Inbal Kreiss, who will oversee the experiments the next Israeli astronaut will take with him to the ISS, speaks at a conference. Photo: Ramon Foundation

Finally, Siti Nur Aazzah Abdul-Aziz, Deputy Managing Director of Network Integrity Assurance Technology, from the small Asian-Muslim country of Brunei, recalled how the European Space Agency established a branch in his small country, helping it build its the first remote sensing satellite, the data of which will be of great value to many. “We are also trying to stimulate the education sector, especially by encouraging young girls to pursue these fields. In Brunei, there are only a handful of women in the tech industry. We want to stimulate startups and private sector industries to create more technology in areas like climate change, and convince policy makers to use this for important reasons like security and more. We are also looking for investors and VCs who are interested in the global market. Our ecosystem is teeming with partnerships and collaborations – that’s the essence of space, ”she said, ending on a positive note,“ If you’re a woman in tech, you need to let the world know there’s only one you, and you’re gonna rock it.

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