NASA Celebrating Space Pioneers for Women’s History Month

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins
NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins is one of several trailblazing women being honored by the agency during Women’s History Month. Photo credit: NASA
NASA astronaut Kayla Barron
NASA astronaut Kayla Barron flew to the International Space Station on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission. Photo credit: NASA

March is Women’s History Month, and NASA is celebrating all of the trailblazing women making history each and every day. Among those pioneers are 16 active astronauts, including NASA’s Jessica Watkins and Kayla Barron, and ESA’s (European Space Agency)  Samantha Cristoforetti.

Watkins and Cristoforetti will fly to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew 4 mission slated to launch no earlier than April 19, 2022. This will be Watkins’ first trip to space, while Cristoforetti has 200 days of spaceflight under her belt. Barron flew to the space station as part of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 mission and is scheduled to return to Earth in late April.

These remarkable women will join the ranks of other female astronauts whose participation in scientific research on the space station have helped benefit those on Earth.

Learn more about Watkins, Cristoforetti, and many other women who have conducted scientific work on the space station.

Rocket Women: Q&A with Mechanical Interface Systems Team Lead Notlim Burgos

During Women’s History Month, we reflect on the contributions of trailblazers at NASA who inspire the next generation of women. As we continue to celebrate women’s accomplishments, meet Notlim Burgos, Mechanical Interface Systems Team Lead for NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Burgos supports NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) Mission, which is the agency’s first planetary defense mission, and Landsat 9, the ninth Earth-observing satellite mission in the Landsat series. She was inspired from a young age to pursue STEM, leading to her 15-year career at NASA. Hear Burgos’ story and her advice for future generations.

Notlim Burgos was inspired from a young age to pursue STEM, leading to her 15-year career at NASA.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love working alongside a range of amazing people who bring diverse expertise and perspectives, which provide a wide variety of solutions for the challenges that we face daily I learn something new from everybody every day. I enjoy having the opportunity to follow the spacecraft and the launch vehicles through the whole mission lifecycle.

Who inspires you most?

My family – especially my nieces and goddaughter. At a young age, they are demonstrating a special interest in STEM and space. One wants to be an astronaut and dreams of going to the Moon and to Mars. When I see their enthusiasm and think of the possibilities of what they can become, it inspires me to want to be the best role model that I can be. I want them to feel encouraged to follow their dreams and see the many career opportunities that women can pursue.

When did you first realize you had a passion for STEM?

I found my passion for STEM when I was in the ninth grade on an educational trip during which we visited Disney World and Kennedy. We got behind-the-scene tours where we met Disney “Imagineers,” the park’s engineers, who explained how they used the power of science to develop park attractions. That gave me a glance for the first time at how much you can do with STEM.

At Kennedy, I saw the Shuttle at Launch Pad 39A, and I was flabbergasted. We slept under the 363-foot Saturn V moon rocket at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Also, we met astronaut Charles Duke, the youngest person to walk on the Moon. These experiences convinced me that traveling through space was possible. At that moment, I knew that I wanted to be part of NASA’s team to see how far we can reach. When I returned from the trip, I told my parents I wanted to be a NASA engineer!

What advice would you give to young girls considering a STEM career?

Challenge yourself and don’t be afraid of failure. Always be yourself, be passionate, and always do your best. You may face challenges that seem impossible to conquer, but believe that you can do anything that you set your mind to. After failing a math course early in engineering school, I told my dad I didn’t think engineering was for me. I will never forget my dad’s words. He said, “You knew engineering wasn’t going to be easy. Remember where you want to be – NASA! I know you can do it; you just need to study harder.”

I appreciated his kind words and unconditional support. I retook and passed the course the following semester, and I graduated engineering school with honors. The easy route was giving up; the hardest was facing the challenges with conviction in pursuit of my dreams. I will forever be grateful for my father’s encouragement during those challenging times.

What advice would you give someone who wants to work at NASA?

A common misconception is that NASA only hires STEM professionals. My advice is to research the different opportunities that NASA offers. There are opportunities for professionals with various levels of expertise and experience. Become familiar with the NASA centers, the Pathways Program, and The Pathways Program offers opportunities to work at NASA while attending school, and through you can build your resume and apply for positions. Lastly, do not give up, be patient but persistent; you never know when you are going to receive that call for an interview.

What is your favorite part about working for NASA?

My favorite part is that I can leverage my experiences to mentor others. I owe part of my success to my mentors. It is important to me to share what I have learned so that others achieve their goals. There is nothing more rewarding than to see somebody succeed and see how they evolve into influential mentors for others. I also enjoy supporting educational outreach, which is a great platform to inspire others to pursue careers in STEM.

Rocket Women: Q&A with Diana Calero, Launch Vehicle Certification Manager

Diana Calero, of NASA’s Launch Services Program, works with emerging commercial space flight launch companies as they develop their launch vehicles. Photo credit: NASA

NASA’s Launch Services Program (LSP), based at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is responsible for pairing the agency’s scientific and robotic missions with launch services from commercial partners. From launching Mars rovers to Earth-observing satellites, LSP has enabled exploration since 1998. As the nation celebrates Women’s History Month, get to know one woman making LSP missions possible.

With a career spanning 30 years, Diana Calero, launch vehicle certification manager, works with emerging commercial space flight launch companies as they develop their launch vehicles, such as Blue Origin’s New Glenn, ULA’s Vulcan, and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. Her responsibility as the certification manager is to work closely with these companies to assure their launch vehicles can be certified to launch future NASA payloads.

Additionally, Calero is working on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) as the LSP mission manager. In this role, she is providing expertise to integrate and launch the telescope on a European Ariane 5 launch vehicle.

Diana Calero is working on the James Webb Space Telescope as the Launch Services Program mission manager. Photo credit: NASA/Tony Gray

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy being able to learn about the new launch vehicles that are being designed by private companies that will eventually provide NASA with more flexibility in accessing space. The highlight of my job, and what I have always enjoyed, is working with such a large group of diverse individuals from all over the world. This includes launch vehicle contractors, spacecraft customers and builders, inter-agency personnel, foreign governments and industry. I enjoy getting to know different people, their customs, and learning from them.

Who inspires you most?

I’m constantly being inspired with every mission we launch, knowing that I had a role to play with each success and, more importantly, that it helped advance technology and well-being in our world.

When did you first realize you had a passion for STEM?

As early as elementary school, science and math grasped my curiosity. I always wanted to know how and why things worked. It was not surprising that my favorite television show was Star Trek, where I envisioned myself on that spaceship exploring and learning.

What advice would you give to young girls considering a career in STEM?

Take as many challenging science and math classes as you can. Consider involvement in school clubs that work in STEM related activities, such as robotics. Be curious about everything, and ask lots of questions. Always know that you can do whatever you set your mind to, and don’t let anyone make you feel that you can’t.

What advice would you give someone who wants to work at NASA?

As early as high school, inquire within multiple technical companies about performing an internship. NASA has a great program that allows you to work for them while in school, and that can help steer you into the field you want to study.

What types of challenges have you faced in your career, and how have you overcome them?

The challenge that I enjoy over and over in my career is becoming part of a new team and helping it reach goals that were thought to be unachievable. The diverse teams that I have been fortunate to be a part of bring different personalities, backgrounds, culture, work experience, capabilities and ideas. Being able to discern these qualities and use them as strengths within the team have allowed them to be incredibly successful and bring about amazing results.

What is your favorite part about working for NASA?

Knowing that my work makes an impact in our nation’s pursuit of science exploration.