Careers Advice

Women in Space

There are many incredible women who are currently working in the space industry. Find out more and get inspired!


There are many incredible women who are currently working in the space industry: from mechanical engineer Abbie Hutty who designs Mars rovers;  astrophysicist Kate Furnell who studies how galaxies are formed; ESA operations engineer Vinita Marwaha Madill who helps astronauts during spacewalks; and Sheila Kanani, the Royal Astronomical Society Education, Outreach and Diversity officer.

The space industry also has a rich history of amazing contributions from pioneering women who have helped propel the industry to where it is today.

Mary Jackson was NASA’s first black female engineer in 1958, where she made countless contributions over nearly two decades as an engineer at NASA before becoming the Federal Women’s Program Manager at Langley, working to improve the lives and careers of NASA’s next generation of female employees.

Margaret Hamilton, an American computer scientist, was a pioneer in software engineering and wrote the on-board software the was used in the Apollo Lunar Module and Command Module. The software written was so robust that that it became the basis for the software used in future Skylab and Space Shuttle missions.

In 1991, chemist Helen Sharman became the first British person in space having been  selected from over nearly 13,000 applications. She flew as part of the Juno Project, spending 8 days on board the Mir Space Station.

 

Despite the amazing contributions women have made to the industry - both past and present - women are still massively underrepresented within the industry. Women earn only 35% of degrees in STEM subjects despite earning 57% of all degrees according to the Hamilton project from the Brookings Institution.

Research from the WISE campaign shows that women in the UK make up only 14.4% of all people working in STEM, and this trend is seen globally.

Although improvements have been seen in the past few years, with an increasing numbers of campaigns to promote and celebrate women in STEM and inspire the next generation, there is still a lot of work to be done. Research from Girl Guiding UK shows that 60% of girls are put off from entering engineering due to a lack of female role models.

Luckily, there are lots of incredible initiatives available to break  barriers to entry and progression for women in STEM. One such initiative is the United Nations International Day of Women and Girls in Science that takes place on February 11th to celebrate and promote the involvement of women and girls in science.

‘For too long, discriminatory stereotypes have prevented women and girls from having equal access to education in science, technology, engineering and maths. As a trained engineer and former teacher. I know that these stereotypes are flat wrong. They deny women and girls the chance to realise their potential – and deprive the world of the ingenuity and innovation of half the population.’ 

Antonio Guterres, United Nations Secretary General


Looking for more inspiration?

Check out the places below for some more inspiring stories of women in STEM and some ideas on how to help inspire the next generation of young women in STEM:

  • WISE campaign – Aim to inspire and encourage more women to pursue careers in the STEM industry with a short term goal of 1 million women working in core STEM occupations by 2020, with a long term vision ‘for gender balance in STEM, from the classroom to the boardroom.’ – Check this campaign out for education resources, inspiring stories and much more.
  • Rocket Women – find out more about some of the amazing things women in STEM are doing here.
  • MentorSET – mentoring scheme providing support and advice for women working in STEM.
  • Robogals – run engineering and technology workshops for free in their local communities to encourage girls from primary through to secondary to explore an interest in STEM
  • ScienceGrrl – celebrating women in science and encouraging the next generation to get involved in STEM.
  • STEMettes – ‘we’re showing the next generation that girls do science, technology, engineering and maths too’.


Be inspired by those in the industry

Check out some of the organisations below that are working to connect women in STEM:


 Read about women in space

Come back down to Earth and see how science got women wrong:

  • A Galaxy of her Own - Amazing stories of women in space - Libby Jackson
  • Hidden Figures - The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Women in Science - 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World - Rachel Ignotofsky
  • Inferior - How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That's Rewriting the Story - Angela Saini
  • Almost Heaven - The stories of the remarkable women who have bravely met two challenges: the risk of space travel and the struggle to succeed in a man's world - Bettyann Kevles


Share your story

Having a diverse range of role models has been proven to encourage girls into STEM subjects. We're looking for early career women to become role models and share their journey in the space industry. Please get in touch if you would like to be a role model on SpaceCareers.uk! 


Disclaimer: The Amazon links above allow UKSEDS to earn referral fees. All money earned is put directly towards improving opportunities for underrepresented groups in the space industry.

Author

Emma Collier

Emma studies Physics with Astronomy at the University of Southampton.

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