Vinita Marwaha Madill
Vinita is a Space Operations Engineer at ESA, and focuses on future human spaceflight operations. She founded Rocket Women, a website inspiring young women to study STEM.
My name is Vinita Marwaha Madill and I’m based at the European Space Agency (ESA) (via Terma B.V.) as a Space Operations Engineer where I’m focused on future human spaceflight operations. I previously worked at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) to guide astronauts through experiments onboard the International Space Station (ISS). At ESA's European Astronaut Centre, I helped design the SkinSuit and conducted a study on future lunar spacesuit design, operations and EVA training.
I studied Mathematics and Physics with Astrophysics at King’s College London followed by the International Space University’s (ISU) Space Studies Program in Barcelona, Spain. I went on to gain master’s degrees in Astronautics and Space Engineering from Cranfield University and in Space Management from the International Space University (ISU). I’m an advocate for STEM outreach, founding the platform Rocket Women that aims to inspire young women to study STEM. Based in Canada, I was fortunate to take part in an intimate round table discussion with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, highlighting the importance of education and feature in an Instagram campaign of the same cause. Through Rocket Women, I work closely with the Royal Academy of Engineering, supporting school teachers and students to learn about space research and careers.
What does your role involve?
I’m a Space Operations Engineer at the European Space Agency (ESA) working on future human spaceflight projects, including the European Robotic Arm (ERA). The European Robotic Arm has been developed by ESA and is soon be launched to the International Space Station (ISS). The European Robotic Arm will help astronauts and cosmonauts carry out spacewalks (or EVAs) and install new parts of the space station. As an Operations Engineer I work on developing the operations for the project, including preparing a smaller version of Mission Control at ESA’s technology centre ESTEC in the Netherlands, and astronaut training. My typical day could vary from developing astronaut/cosmonaut (Russian astronaut) spacewalk (or EVA) training with colleagues in Russia, to creating and testing missions for the astronauts to control the robotic arm at ESA. Once the robotic arm is launched I’ll be working on-console at ESTEC and from Mission Control in Moscow on robotic arm operations and supporting the spacewalks conducted by the astronauts and cosmonauts onboard the ISS.
Having wanted to work in the space industry since I was young, working at the European Space Agency is a dream come true. The environment at ESA is extremely international and I enjoy being able to work with colleagues from all around the world to design future human spaceflight projects.
When did you become interested in space/the space industry?
I’m fortunate to have realized my passion at a young age and told my physics teacher in Year 7 that I wanted to work in NASA’s Mission Control. Throughout my education this drive was supported and 12 years later led me to fulfilling my dream, working on International Space Station (ISS) operations at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Germany’s answer to NASA’s Mission Control and now at ESA.
Knowing I wanted to work in the space industry, I learned about UKSEDS whilst at university studying Physics, through which I met space professionals for the first time, some of whom I actually went on to work with. I also completed a 9-week course called the Space Studies Program at the International Space University (ISU), which gave me an overall view of the international space industry and was where I decided that I wanted to work on human spaceflight operations, specifically related to spacewalks (EVAs), and spacesuit design.
Prior to my current role in the Netherlands, I enjoyed being based at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre focused on spacesuit design and spacewalk training and later operating experiment payloads onboard the ISS at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Cologne, Germany.
How did you get your job? Was it easy?
The experience that I gained through gaining a comprehensive view of the space industry at the International Space University and through focused internships/volunteering helped to forge the path to where I am now. I think almost everyone that I know working in the space industry and otherwise has felt like their future career was unknown at times, but pursuing your passion and persevering is important, whether you’re able to do that in you main job or even as a side hustle or volunteering role.
It’s important to enjoy the subjects that you study and the work that you’re doing. So I’d recommend graduates to really pay attention to what their passion is for. Because as NASA Astronaut Zena Cardman brilliantly said:
“If you wake up curious and excited every morning, you’re going to be really happy no matter what the end result is, whatever career you wind up in. Just pursue whatever interests you. I sit here in this blue flight suit, and I have to say it’s possible. So you just have to go for it.”
What decisions or opportunities you took do you think significantly influenced the fact you got that job?
As a child I was an avid reader and read every space book I could get my hands on. I’ve always being inquisitive about space and I remember being an enthralled six-year-old when I learned that the first British astronaut, chemist Helen Sharman flew to the Mir space station. In that moment looking at the image of Helen Sharman in her Sokol spacesuit, I realised that that woman could be me. Being a girl born at the end of the 80s in the UK I realised right then that maybe, just maybe, I could be an astronaut too. That changed something inside me. Here was a woman in front of me born in Sheffield, who had studied chemistry, replied to a radio advert calling for UK astronauts, beat 13,000 applicants and had recently gone to space. She was, although I didn’t know it yet, a role model to me. She showed me at a young age that my dreams were possible. I’m also lucky to have had adults, both parents and great teachers, around me at that age who cultivated that interest and encouraged me to study space. My parents helped me greatly, taking me to the National Space Centre in Leicester, UK on the weekends to experience space hardware first hand and thankfully let me spend hours reading about space.
What advice would you give to people looking for a job in your industry?
My advice to those considering their career path is that it’s possible to achieve your goal, whether it’s to work in the space industry or otherwise. It takes hard work and dedication, but it’s absolutely worth it.
How did being a member of UKSEDS benefit your career?
Being a member of UKSEDS and the UKSEDS committee hugely benefitted my career. I heard of UKSEDS whilst I was studying Physics at King’s College London and affiliated the King’s College London Physics Society (Maxwell Society) with UKSEDS. In fact it was at a UKSEDS conference in Milton Keynes, where I met space operations engineers for the first time, including somebody I would end up working with 5 years later in Germany. Being a member of UKSEDS allowed me to interact with professionals from space agencies, the space industry and to learn about the International Space University for the first time (I applied to attend immediately after the conference). Rather than a career in space being a dream and something I read about, by being a member of UKSEDS it felt attainable.