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Women in Space network takes off

Peter Griffin, Editor. 06 October 2021, 10:07 pm

A new group aspiring to help women who want to get involved in the fast-growing space industry has launched as World Space Week is celebrated around the globe.

New Zealand's space industry, with Nasdaq-listed Rocket Lab at its centre, was estimated to be worth $.169 billion in 2019 and support 12,000 jobs. Space-related careers span everything from research and development and components manufacturing, to the applications that drive rockets and draw on satellite data to tell us more about our planet.

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Women have traditionally been underrepresented in tech-related fields and engineering, which could see them miss out on opportunities in one of the most dynamic industries to have emerged here in decades.

Now a group of space industry employees have established Women in Space Aotearoa New Zealand (WISANZ) as a "professional network and inclusive community" for those women working in the space sector as well as those aspiring for a career in it.

Membership is open to all women and gender minorities who are interested in any aspect of the space industry, from science, engineering and business to medical, policy, and legal fields.

A key stated aim of WISANZ is to encourage the next generation of women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. 

According to the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs, women represent only about 20% of the global space industry workforce, a proportion unchanged in the last thirty years. 

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"It's really exciting to see Aotearoa's space sector beginning to diversify in a variety of ways, going far beyond the realm of launch vehicles, satellites, and data collection to long-term, collaborative exploration missions with big visions for humanity," says Dr Sarah Kessans, a University of Canterbury biochemist and previous NASA astronaut candidate.

"The wider participation of a diverse community - including more women! - will allow for these future innovations, and I see WISANZ playing a big role in this," she adds.

Sarah Blyde, a project engineer at Rocket Lab and WISANZ member, says the space industry was an exciting place to work, but the low representation of women was hard to look past.

"For me, this network will provide an opportunity to learn from experienced women working in the sector, support other women on their own journey, and inspire the next generation who will come after us," says Blyde.

WISANZ is free to join and already features some of the country's most successful women working in the space industry.


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