More than 120 women representing the professional space community – and a handful brave males – attended the Women in Aerospace (WIA) breakfast at the 65th IAC in Toronto, Canada, co-organised by WIA-Europe and WIA-Canada and moderated by Andrea Boese, WIA-Europe Director of International Relations and IAF Vice-President. Also WIA and WIA-South Africa executives and representatives were present, as well as 3 Heads of Space Agencies.
The growing status of this traditional WIA-Europe breakfast event at IAC was reflected by the attendance of IAF President Mr Kiyoshi Higuchi who welcomed everyone present and, in a reference to the Congress theme ‘Our World Needs Space’, quipped that “space also needs women” – to much amusement and applause.
Susan Chodakewitz, President of Tetra Tech AMT and Chair of the WIA board, said the organisation had been dedicated to expanding the leadership opportunities for women in the aerospace industry for almost three decades. She said the organisation provided a broad range of events and programmes for its 1500 worldwide members representing 250 companies.
Valerie Wilson, President of WIA-Canada, welcomed the audience to Toronto, the host city of the 65th IAC and underlined the “hospitality and cultural diversity that makes the fabric of our country”.
Claudia Kessler, CEO of HE Space Holding and Chair of the WIA-Europe Board, explained that WIA-Europe was passionate about expanding women’s opportunities for leadership and increasing their visibility and influence in the aerospace sector. “Being a part of our ever-growing network means benefiting from our programmes and special member offers, as well as connecting with like-minded professionals through our local communities,” she added.
Simonetta Di Pippo, Director of the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs and President of WIA-Europe, drew the attention of the audience to a photo of the January 2014 Heads of Agency Summit in Washington, gathering 32 male Agency Heads without a single female amongst them. She further underlined the importance of networking to share experience and to learn from each other. She also introduced Elena Feichtinger, the recently appointed and first Executive Director of WIA-Europe.
Keynote speaker for the breakfast was Sandy Magnus, a former NASA astronaut and now Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, who spoke about the “trajectory” of her career and many of the life lessons she had learnt along the way. “I have had a lot of very unique experiences and it is sometimes hard to put into words the passion that we have for space,” she said. “We all share a similar passion for putting things into space – it is about the idea of being on the edge of technology and challenging new frontiers.” She recalled that one of the “fun things” of training to be an astronaut was that there was always new things to learn, from how to handle a camera or taking blood samples to operating equipment on board the space shuttle. “As well as flying in space I am fortunate to have had a lot of very different experiences and each one has given me a different view of the world and challenged the way I see things. For example, when we see the world from space it appears as an enclosed system without political boundaries – and that is sometime hard to explain to people,” she added. Sandy told those present that shifts in perspective were possible for everyone as they went about their daily lives providing they retained an open attitude. “As human beings we are very adaptable and when you get to orbit as an astronaut it is surprising how quickly the body adjusts. After just a day or so it appears very normal to be floating around,” she added. “Humans are explorers by nature but we also have fears and sometime this can stifle the exploration instinct and limit us.” Before answering questions from the audience she urged everyone to embrace the challenges that lay ahead in every aspect of their lives.
The motto of the breakfast was formulated by Simonetta Di Pippo saying “We should stop thinking about diversity as an issue, diversity is an asset.”