Chronicles of a Female Rocket Scientist

Posted by Natalie Panek

I am an Aerospace Engineer. A Rocket Scientist. My days start early and end late, constantly creating, learning, and developing. Searching for interactions to spark my imagination and fuel my inspiration.

I spend my days working on 3D computer models or using hardware and operating robots. My language is trajectory analysis, data trending, and risk assessment. Learning trade-offs between, cost, safety, and reliability is my game. If asked last minute to head to the clean room, I need extra time to change out of my ballet flats and into safety shoes. I won’t apologize for that.

My staple pieces of jewellery are the helicopter, airplane, and robot necklaces given to me by those who know me best. I love to dress up or wear high heels, but I am just as happy to dash out the door with my wet hair wrestled into a ponytail. But most comfortable of all sans make-up, a day or two in need of a shower, and gazing dreamily at the stars from the vestibule of my tent.

 

Natalie's recent TEDx Youth@Toronto talk, called "Revolutionizing Female Empowerment."

 

I can always be found in the “What Every Man Should Have” section of the bookstore, flipping through pages of epic stores of adventure, mountaineering, and space exploration like Failure is Not an Option and Eiger Dreams. I have subscriptions to Popular Science, Wired, and Backpacker Magazines, loving learning about the latest gadgets and planning my next adventure.

I strive to reach professional excellence, like those of Gene Kranz’s Foundations of Mission Control: teamwork, competence, toughness, discipline, responsibility, and most importantly as a woman in engineering, confidence. But I am also not afraid to admit when I need a break, when I need help, and when I need advice.

I want to live a life full of peak moments; constantly challenged and always learning. But I only need to prove to myself of these things. I use my past experiences to feed forward into future goals and growth. We cannot change the past, but we can shape the future. Identifying our goals and the resources we need to achieve them, recognizing opportunities when presented to us, and seizing them.

Interning at NASA, standing in front of the world’s largest wind tunnel, or driving a solar powered car feels like winning the lottery to me. Because I am in awe of technology and the positive impacts it can have on society.

This has led me to live each day embracing every moment, while tackling audacious goals. You only live once, so you might as well do it right. Sometimes that means I must constantly multi-task to fit in all of my pursuits. You can call, e-mail, text, or tweet me and I’ll respond almost instantly because that is how I have learned to manage my schedule. But if I am not available, as Amy Farrah Fowler from The Big Bang Theory says, it is: "cause [I’m] out dropping science, son!"

I have been fortunate enough to realize the impact of a positive attitude and the importance of appreciating the little things. To me, this attitude is natural and a state I am most at ease; simply because I have no reason to be otherwise.

And this is what has gotten me through the sometimes difficulties of working in a male-dominated industry. Specifically in Space, where strict regulations make pursuing this career sometimes feel cumbersome. Beyond this, engineering has taught me the incredible value that insight and perspective can bring, because perspective fosters objectivity, which ultimately gives way to progress.

I believe in a vision for a different kind of future and have a vast desire to surround myself with dynamic and outgoing peers. I want to change the face of space and foster the international relationships that will make future space exploration successful.

I am always reminded of the true meaning of courage: believing in myself, mastering both hesitation and self-doubt to succeed. I am a woman. I am an engineer. I am proud of the person I have become and the room I have left to grow.

But more important, I have learned the power of mentoring at all stages of our careers. We have an opportunity to encourage women to dive head-on into challenging professions.

Believing that we are catalysts for change, with the drive to inspire the next generation of women to influence, change, and revolutionize our world.

Related Articles


blog comments powered by Disqus

Natalie Panek

Natalie Panek

Natalie is a robotic operator and aerospace engineer at MDA Space Missions, previously interning at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center and NASA Ames Research Center. She’s driven a solar-powered car across North America, has a pilot’s license, and skydived with Korea’s first Astronaut. With degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Natalie has co-authored papers on Microgravity Combustion... more



Who's Hiring



Recent Comments

Powered by Disqus