SunLive – Women in Space on a mission to reach for the stars

Is your future in the stars? If you work in the space sector in New Zealand or someone who wants to, there is a network of Kiwi women committed to achieving stellar goals

Women in Space Aotearoa New Zealand is a new organization dedicated to expanding opportunities for women and other gender minorities to work in space fields and pursuing gender equality in the space sector so that we can all reach for the stars.

Its aim is to provide a professional network and an inclusive community that supports women working in the space sector in New Zealand, offers mentorship to women wishing to enter the sector and encourages the next generation of New Zealand women to pursue careers. in space, especially in STEM fields.

The members of Women in Space Aotearoa New Zealand represent a wide variety of fields in the space sector, including science, engineering, business, medicine, politics and law. It includes many women working in the New Zealand space sector, including in universities and research institutes, in government positions and in the New Zealand space industry.

Its founding members – who share a common passion for space and support New Zealand women working in the space sector – include these stellar women from the University of Canterbury:

Dr Michele Bannister, UC graduate and Senior Lecturer, School of Physical and Chemical Sciences, University of Canterbury:

What is your current role and what does it consist of?
I am a planetary scientist at Te Kura Matū, the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences in the Faculty of Science at the University of Canterbury. As a scientist with interests ranging from geology to astronomy, my role is incredibly varied. Every day I can work on newly arrived images from one of the world’s largest telescopes, participate in a collaborative discussion of space mission details with colleagues overseas, help students understand the latest discoveries in planetary geology, solving a data visualization problem with Python programming, or arranging a field trip to our observatory in Takapō — and that’s just one day of the week.

How did you get there?
I grew up in the small coastal and rural community of Waitara, Taranaki, and came to the University of Canterbury for my undergraduate; I liked both astronomy and geology, and I did both in my baccalaureate. Then a visiting professor explained that there was this area called “planetary science” where you have to do both! So I followed both during honors, which was difficult but doable, and then I focused more on astronomy for my PhD, where I searched for new worlds like Pluto in the sky of the hemisphere South. This took me to Australia, and after that I worked as a post-doc in planetary astronomy in Canada and Northern Ireland, before returning to New Zealand in early 2020.

What advice do you have for young New Zealand women interested in the space industry?
There are really fun problems to solve and fantastic colleagues all over the world to work with. You will need good skills. Be ready to put the mahi to get good at whatever it is you love to do – and you never know where you’ll end up applying it. Chat with people: let them know what you find interesting. One opportunity leads to another and people will help you make them happen.

Dr Sarah Kessans, Senior Lecturer, School of Product Design, University of Canterbury

What is your current role and what does it consist of?
I am a lecturer in the School of Product Design at the University of Canterbury. The majority of my teaching and research focuses on the use of plants, fungi and bacteria to produce chemicals ranging from pharmaceuticals to agrochemicals. My research is divided between two main axes: fungal synthetic biology and technological development for research in microgravity. Although these two topics may seem completely separate, we are working to develop food and pharmaceutical production strategies for future space exploration, and by combining my two areas of research, we will be able to develop organisms and facilities capable of provide this output. in the space.

How did you get there?
I have always loved science and was blessed with amazing teachers and mentors who encouraged me to pursue a career in scientific research from an early age. Plant biology research in high school and undergraduate college led me to plant-based vaccine research during my PhD, which led to several post-docs in biochemistry and my current position as lecturer. In 2017, I had the honor of participating in NASA’s astronaut candidate selection process, which broadened my perspectives related to scientific research opportunities on the International Space Station and in microgravity. It has been really exciting to translate these new perspectives and passions into helping to diversify Aotearoa’s growing space industry.

What advice do you have for young New Zealand women interested in the space industry?
Find someone in the industry who is doing something you are passionate about and contact them to find out how you could get involved. Don’t be afraid to try new things that might be outside of your comfort zone or level of expertise!

Kate Breach – UC Graduate and Aerospace Technical Specialist, New Zealand Space Agency

Kate Breche

What is your current role and what does it consist of?
I’m an aerospace technical specialist with the New Zealand Space Agency. I work with New Zealand space companies, universities, international space companies and other national space agencies to help further develop the New Zealand space sector, as well as providing technical advice to the New Zealand Space Agency. Zealand for the development of space policy.

How did you get there?
I am an Aerospace Engineer, with a Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical) with Honors from the University of Canterbury. I was an engineering officer in both the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Royal Air Force in the UK, where I led a team of engineers working on Eurofighter fighter jets. I also hold a Masters in International Relations and have worked in corporate project management and foreign policy roles, representing New Zealand at international space meetings including the United Nations Committee on peaceful uses of outer space, before joining the New Zealand Space Agency.

What advice do you have for young New Zealand women interested in the space industry?
If you can dream it, keep chasing it! When I was in high school I wanted to be an astronaut – I wrote to NASA asking how and they told me! Although there was no way for a New Zealander to become an astronaut, I didn’t let that stop my dreams, which led to me becoming an engineer working on fighter jets. And now New Zealand has a space sector and a space agency, where I work on space every day. If the space job you’re looking for doesn’t exist yet, don’t stop working there – the space sector is growing rapidly and your dream space job could one day exist in New Zealand!

For more information on Women in Space Aotearoa New Zealand, visit the website:

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