This piece was coauthored by Stephanie Wan, Co-Chair at Space Generation Advisory.
When you think of space and astronauts, usually you would imagine NASA, Captain Kirk, and men from the Apollo or Shuttle-era programs. Gone are the days of the Cold War and the space program has evolved into an international cooperative arena, but with a bit of friendly "co-opetition." While the Kennedy days have passed and a good portion of that generation has retired, the space sector is far from gone. Instead, organizations have been fervently trying to fill the knowledge gap with mentorship programs and fresh-out engineers. As international collaboration becomes a necessity in space missions, especially in maximizing resources in an uncertain financial climate, learning to speak beyond Klingon has proven to be an asset.
The organization we co-chair, the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC), is an international network of students and young professionals that was created through a United Nations (UN) recommendation to have a voice in space policy - and it includes a permanent observer member seat at the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space in Vienna, Austria. As the organization has grown to over 4,000 members from over 100 countries (all volunteers except for one paid staff), the trouble is no longer about giving the youth a voice in the space world, but tackling different interests and technology applications in the space sector -- from Global Navigation Satellites System to being a space entrepreneur (or merging both!), it is an opportunity for professional development and fostering long lasting relationships at the global level with your peers.
The space sector needs human contributions from all countries and backgrounds to join in order to live long and prosper in space: lawyers, architects, medical doctors, biologists, publicists, materials experts -- not just engineers. Whether they help find water on Mars or utilize the Global Positioning System and mapping skills to conduct disaster management relief, every role is connected to the space sector. Therefore, at SGAC, the members are from every industry but all have one thing in common -- they are passionate about space. While many international organizations can present at the UN, few can boast also attending international conferences where a South African, a Czech, an Uruguayan and an American have dinner with heads of space agencies and astronauts chatting about fostering the next generation of space leaders.
While there are concerns about women missing in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) careers, the male to female ratio membership in our young professional network has been equal. The executive director and two elected co-chairs currently are all women under the age of 30. Their dedication and volunteer time spent with SGAC led to acquiring a job at NASA, being a co-founder of a start-up, and conquering a PhD. With experiences coming from three different continents and speaking over eight languages between the three has helped them foster global space partnerships. While mentorships are valuable and necessary, don't be quick to discredit a good professional and volunteer network to help boost your career. While some people look to the stars to make a wish, the ladies of SGAC aim to shoot for the moon and beyond.
On October 15, 2015, six Laureates, one for each region, will be awarded $20,000 in funding, a full year of coaching, a lifetime access to the Cartier Women's Initiative Awards community and unique networking and visibility opportunities. To learn more visit http://www.cartierwomensiniativeawards.com.