From designers to mathematicians to educators to communicators to program managers, the talented women of NASA come from diverse career paths and backgrounds to put their talents to work and make history. In honor of Women’s History Month, we have a panel of women at NASA here to chat about space exploration, what it's like to work on cutting edge NASA missions & how to turn dreams into reality! We're here from 2:30 - 4pm ET - ask us anything!

Participants include:

Sarah Adewumi - 4 time NASA Intern, currently working in NASA HQ’s Information Technology and Communications Division

Dr. Erica J. Alston - NASA STEM Deputy Space Grant Manager

Cathy Bahm - Deputy Project Manager for Low Boom Flight Demonstrator Project (AKA X-59) at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center

Kelly Fast - Near-Earth Object Observations Program Manager in NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office

Lori Glaze - Director, NASA Planetary Science Division, Science Mission Directorate

Zaida Hernandez - Thermal Engineer for NASA’s Artemis Mission at Johnson Space Center

Kat Park - Designer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory


UPDATE - That's all the time we have for today. Thank you so much for joining us today and for all your questions. Happy #WomensHistoryMonth!

Comments: 88 • Responses: 38  • Date: 

PalmTreeDeprived14 karma

Did you ever experience imposter syndrome, and if so, how did you get through it?

nasa12 karma

YES! I have experienced Imposter Syndrome scholastically AND professionally! One of the most important things to remember is that everyone experiences Imposter Syndrome in some way. I had a conversation with a high-level official that basically summed up the answer to this; at entry-level or even an executive level, Imposter Syndrome impacts everyone! At my very first internship with NASA, I was so scared that I wasn't qualified to be working with literally some of the smartest people in the world - and on my fourth internship, I still combat these same feelings. One way to combat this is to understand that we are continuously growing and learning each day, and development is truly a work in progress that never ends. - SA

nasa9 karma

Great question! I’ve definitely felt nervous about being a designer without a STEM or technical background while working with some really brilliant scientists and engineers. One of the first things I learned is to try to be open about it with people who may be facing similar challenges; having a trusted community where you can exchange questions and work through some of your thoughts is so valuable in navigating tough terrain and knowing you’re not alone. -KP

nasa9 karma

I think this is a great question. I experience imposter syndrome all the time! From the time I went to graduate school through to my current job, I have always been scared that one day the people I work with will wake up and realize I don't know what I'm doing :). The way I get through it is to recognize that I'm not alone in these feelings, remember that I work with an amazing team of professionals, and to remind myself that I have been successful in the past and I know I can do it again. - LG

suckit_-10 karma

What's your advice to a 16 year old interested in science?

nasa8 karma

Being interested in science at a young age is awesome! I would suggest to look into extracurricular activities that you could get involved in to channel your science interest. NASA offers internships to high school students, and I would definitely advise to apply for any project that is of interest to you! Internships have been one of the key factors for me falling in love with STEM! - SA

EveningAccident83198 karma

Realistically when do you expect to see any other planet colonized?

nasa5 karma

It will certainly be a challenge, but in the meantime the first step is to send robotic spacecraft, which is what we do in the Planetary Science Division. We send robotic spacecraft to Mars, to asteroids, and more. Those missions result in lots of cool science about those places, but they also help us to better understand those places, which is critical reconnaissance for future missions, whether crewed or uncrewed. - KF

nasa6 karma

Time for a quick roll call! Meet our experts:

nasa7 karma

Hi! I’m a designer at NASA with a background in design and illustration. I help scientists and engineers unpack and articulate complex systems for early mission formulation and communication! My NASA journey started with a whiteboard drawing at Caltech for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and has taken me to Johnson Space Center and Kennedy Space Center. Ask me about how designers support space exploration! - KP

nasa6 karma

Hi! I'm Cathy Bahm. I started with NASA as an intern while a junior in college. I started as a flight controls engineer working with our flight simulations. I've worked F-18 High Angle of Attack Research Vehicle, X-33, X-38, X-43A Hyper-X, Orion Pad Abort and now X-59 QueSST Low Boom Flight Demonstrator Project. I transitioned from engineering to project management after 15 years. One favorite fact is that X-43A has Guinness Book World Record for fasted air breathing aircraft (10 times speed of sound). - CMB

nasa5 karma

Hi, my name is Zaida Hernandez and I and so excited to be here! I work on the Artemis program - NASA's newest mission to send the first woman and next man to the Moon - as a thermal engineer so that includes working on the Orion heatshield, Launch Abort System and more recently on the VIPER lunar rover! My journey with NASA started as an intern so feel free to ask me any questions about that process too! – ZH

nasa5 karma

Hi, I'm Kelly Fast! My background is astronomy and I currently manage the part of NASA's Planetary Defense Program involved in finding asteroids before they find us! That means I work with amazing astronomers and other planetary defenders! - KF

nasa4 karma

Hi, I'm Erica Alston. I am a native of NC, and currently work at NASA Langley Research Center. I have been with NASA almost 17 years, but I will readily admit that NASA was not on my radar as a college student. I have two degrees in Mathematical Science and my graduate degree in Earth and Atmospheric Science, where I have focused upon the intersection of aerosols, climate change and air quality. I now help manage the National Space Grant College and Fellowship Program for the NASA Office of STEM Engagement. - EA

nasa4 karma

Hi, I'm Lori Glaze and I'm really happy to talk with you today on AMA! I am the Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division, which means I oversee all the science and flight missions that are focused on exploring our Solar System (except for the Sun and Earth). Before I had this job, I studied volcanoes on Earth and other planets, where I did research to understand how lava flows and explosive ash columns behave on planets with different gravity or atmospheres. - LG

nasa3 karma

Hi! I'm Sarah Adewumi, a 4x NASA Intern. I have contributed to projects at NASA's Glenn Research Center, Langley Research Center, Ames Research Center, and Headquarters. I love to combat the misconception that you have to be in STEM to work at NASA. I have worked on both non-STEM and STEM projects from Communications to Information Technology! - SA

Sensitive-Bear4 karma

What project are you most excited about right now?

nasa7 karma

I am very excited about the DART mission (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) that will test the simplest method for deflecting an asteroid... hitting it with something! The first business of planetary defense is finding the asteroids, and NASA is working on that too, but the second business is being ready to respond to an impact threat. More on DART here - KF

nasa6 karma

I am most excited for the launch of Orion on the Artemis mission, which is schedule for the end of this year and then Artemis II, which will be the first crewed mission. Artemis will use the SLS rocket and that just completed a successful hot fire test about a week ago! I am also excited about the James Webb Space Telescope because I cannot wait to see images from that! That will launch later this year. It is such an amazing year for space. - ZH

nasa3 karma

We have so many exciting planetary science projects going on right now and I love them all! One project that is particularly cool is a mission called Dragonfly. This amazing mission will send an octocopter (helicopter with 8 rotors) to the surface of Titan, a moon of Saturn. The octocopter drone will operate autonomously to fly between multiple locations to explore the surface and to look for clues as to whether Titan has all the right ingredients for life (in the past or present). Aside from the inspirational science and technology of this mission, the mission lead is Dr. Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle - another amazing female NASA scientist! - LG

woodbine10313 karma

  1. Why are you so cool?

  2. Can I be like you when I grow up? (I’m 34 lol)

  3. Serious question: do you ladies have kids and if so, do they express an interest in what you do, or in space / mathematics?

nasa5 karma

No, YOU are cool! You're on a Reddit AMA with us! And I went back to grad school when I was 32, and I'm still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up :) I do have two grown kids. I thought that neither of my children had an interest in what I did, but then one ended up studying chemistry (and later dentistry) and the other has an engineering mind, so I guess a little bit wore off! But I've always encouraged them to follow their own paths, and I so proud of them! - KF

nasa2 karma

Hah!!! Thanks so much for your questions! Of course you can be like us when you grow up - just don't grow up!! Stay curious and enthusiastic :). So, in answer to your serious question: YES! I have two daughters (ages 25 and 28). My two girls are so different from each other and both so awesome at what they do. My oldest has interests in science, art and music. After getting a Master's degree in Anthropology, she now teaches STEAM classes for a non-profit organization. My younger daughter got a degree in visual arts and is a hair stylist. While we all have completely different careers, we all share an incredible passion and enjoyment for what we do. I am so happy that they both were able to find careers that suit their skills and interests. - LG

nasa2 karma

Because cool people like you think I'm cool! I'm 33 and am going back to school for a Master's degree; this will be my 3rd time "shifting" my focus :) I agree with Lori, just don't grow up! - KP

PigCopsFatTits3 karma

Zaida, can your tell us some cool materials science behind the heat shields you've mentioned? Specifically regarding structure or composition?

nasa5 karma

Sure! So the material selected for the Orion heatshield is called Avcoat and it is an ablative material that undergoes decomposition and chars. It protects the heat shield during reentry and we test different configurations at the Arc Jet facility at NASA Ames Research Center. Avcoat has old origins as it was used in Apollo but using a different method. Before the Avcoat was injected into a honeycomb and now we have a molded (pre fabricated) Avcoat block design. Another top contender for Orion was PICA (phenolic impregnated carbon ablator). - ZH

OverTheMoonPlaySpace3 karma

Thanks for doing this!

We just recently opened a space-themed indoor play space for kids in Raleigh/Durham, NC.

What are the best ways we can inspire children (and especially girls) to get and stay interested in STEM and space exploration?

Edit: We're focused on kids up to age 10 or so.

nasa4 karma

Hi! I'm Erica Alston, and I too am from North Carolina. There are a couple of ways I'd recommend to get students tied into STEM and space exploration. First, NASA Langley is a short (3 hr) drive from NC, and NASA Langley has a visitor's center that is open to the public with COVID-19 regulations in place. Second, the North Carolina Space Grant Program is a great resource for North Carolinians to access NASA content. Here's the link to the NC Space Grant website: Lastly, each NASA center has a Speaker's Bureau where you can request a subject matter expert to speak to your group about a particular topic. You can also see more STEM activities and resources for current NASA missions here:

In terms of reaching traditionally under-represented students, I believe one of best way is to show them practitioners that look like them. - EA

nasa3 karma

I would suggest books about space, photos and illustrations, films; anything that gets questions flowing and elicits curiosity/imagination. I loved studying images and finding the answers to my own questions through research. It's also been really helpful to find mentors in the field who can encourage you through some of the unique challenges and offer support to keep going! Also, NASA has unique resources to bring the love of learning outside the school walls. Check out their K-12 activities, challenges, and resources at - KP

The-Plauge-Doctor3 karma

What is your favorite quote?

nasa5 karma

"I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night." -Sarah Williams, The Old Astronomer - KP

Sea_Introduction52542 karma

What advice do you have for older females who would love to be a part of a NASA team but have been out of the workforce for a while? Internships seem like they are for younger applicants..

nasa3 karma

Internships are for full-time students (and for educators) but they are not limited to younger applicants! Also, there a job opportunities at NASA I never left the workforce but I did ramp down to part-time teleworking to be a stay-at-home mom (back when teleworking wasn't a thing!) and I went back to school when my kids were in school and ramped up my career at NASA. It seemed strange to be back in school with people younger than me, but one thing I found is that I brought valuable life experience, so you're never too old to contribute! And if you are just wanting to be involved with NASA, there are other activities such as Solar System Ambassadors and citizen science - KF

AstroGal792 karma

Are there any age limits on internships? I am a non-traditional full-time student returning to college to change careers (graphic designer --> engineer!) after rediscovering my passion for space exploration and launch operations! Do you have any advice for scoring an internship as an older student?

nasa5 karma

There are no age limits for internships! I have collaborated with interns that were 60 years old and 17. I find it so inspiring to see people of all ages rediscovering their passions at any age! I would suggest for interested applicants to make sure their resumes highlight their collaborative skills and tangible work experience, but believe me, age is not an inhibitor! - SA

OutcomeWestern52642 karma

What are the full-time opportunities I can apply for at NASA as an international student? I am a final year Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering.

nasa4 karma

Most of NASA's programs have U.S. citizenship requirements but the agency does contract with companies who hire internationally. There is also the NASA Postdoctoral Program (NPP) that international students can apply to. Here's the link to NPP: Good luck! - EA

Greenthund3r2 karma

I have a few questions.

-How do you feel about the budget of the military vs the budget of NASA?

-What’s the best way to get involved with NASA and Space at a young age.

-What project do you think will affect the future of the space industry most?

-What’s your favorite thing about NASA?

nasa3 karma

To answer your third question - Small spacecraft and CubeSats are already changing the way we do Earth and space science! There are many small satellites that are already doing great science to study the Sun and Earth. There are even three small satellite missions that will do science at asteroids, the Moon, and Mars. The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative is another innovative new approach that NASA is using to buy services from commercial companies to deliver science and technology instruments to the surface of the moon. This new approach to exploration is building new capabilities to increase access to the Moon, Mars, and beyond! Once these companies have demonstrated they can successfully land on the moon, this will open the door for more commercial space exploration. - LG

nasa2 karma

My favorite thing about NASA is being able to work on really cool and inspiring projects with all of the amazing team members. When the project you are working on is a kids meal toy or on TV, it's so exciting. I've wanted to work for NASA since I was in 2nd grade so to be able to actually fulfill that dream is awesome. - CMB

Simon_Pule2 karma

If the studies with the X-59 go well and they successfully create a ‘quiet’ sonic boom, how do you scale this up? Potentially to airliners and transport aircraft?

nasa5 karma

The X-59 is being designed to have similar noise characteristics to future supersonic commercial aircraft. This will help the regulators set rules that allow those future aircraft to fly supersonic overland. The tools that NASA has used for the design validation of X-59 are available to commercial companies. Those tools can be used for larger scale aircraft design. - CMB

eeslim2 karma

What does a designer do at JPL and how does one get there?

What’re some of the cool projects at JPL that you were involved in?

What’s it like to work there ?

What is it like to work there as a woman, particularly?

What do you think is the role of a designer in the space of science ?

nasa6 karma

There are many different types of designers at JPL with many different tasks and roles! I would encourage you to do some research into the various groups (from Human Centered Design, to Communication and Outreach Design, etc.) and see if any align to your skillsets and go for some internships!

I’m involved in a few different early concept teams for ground operations, small spacecraft for Mars, as well as the A-Team for mission formulation, so I have the opportunity to see a lot of projects at their earliest stages when they’re figuring things out. I always love being involved when engineers and scientists are problem solving and storytelling. I also had the opportunity to work on the VITAL Ventilator team, which was an experience I won’t forget.

It's pretty amazing working at JPL. It seems cliché, but I never imagined I would get to work on some of the things I’ve worked on. There will always be challenges in any work environment, and any kind of pursuit of excellence or passion, but part of the process for me developing as a professional is navigating those things and knowing that I’m learning more everyday. - KP

Simon_Pule2 karma

What characteristics of the X-59 give it the ability to create ‘quiet’ sonic booms? Will this technology allow supersonic flights over the continental U.S? Do you think there will have to be policy changes before things like supersonic flights become the new normal?

nasa4 karma

The shape of the aircraft generates the quieter sonic booms. The specific design characteristics that contribute to the quieter boom are the long nose (approximately 30 feet long), the placement of the engine above the wing, the wing shape, the t-tail at the top of the vertical tail and the aft deck that shields the engine exhaust. Commercial supersonic flights overland are prohibited by regulations. That regulation has to be changed before supersonic flights overland can occur. There maybe commercial supersonic flights over water (like Concord) prior to those regulations being changed. - CMB

unknown_citizen082 karma

What's NASA plan on inhibiting other planet? Is it any viable? How long will a mission like this take?

nasa2 karma

Thanks for your question! You can see our expert's answer to a similar one here.

aviationgeek772 karma

How will X-59 be different from the Concord? & when can we expect to start being able to travel at supersonic speeds?

nasa3 karma

The Concord had a very loud sonic boom which was determined to be unacceptable for the public. The X-59 is being design to be much quieter when traveling supersonic. It is designed to have a "sonic thump" and will sound more like distant thunder or a car door closing. The Low Boom Flight Demonstration Mission's goal is to use X-59 to gather public response to the quieter sonic "thump" and help change the regulations to allow overland supersonic commercial travel. This is the first barrier to overcome to open up supersonic flight. - CMB

kidlit2 karma

Does the ecological damage on earth worry you? If it does, what is in your power to help change things?

nasa5 karma

Yes, I worry both as a professional and personally. Professionally, I know that the various ecosystems are finely tuned living systems that are niche for their specific environment and purpose. As things shift climatically, these ecosystems will try to evolve and adapt, but there will be a number that will not survive. In these cases, a new ecosystem could form, but it would be inherently different. None of us know for sure how the biosphere will evolve to keep up with the external forces upon it.

On a personal note, I do what is within my power to change. I reduce my consumption of plastics, increase reusable/compostable/recyclable materials use. I change my light bulbs to more energy efficient models, and reduce my water consumption. It feels slightly less overwhelming by taking these small steps that I can control. Another important thing is that I model this behavior for my daughter in an effort to normalize these my eco-conscious behaviors. - EA

unknown_citizen082 karma

How has women inspired in the light of recent success in space and technology at NASA?

nasa2 karma

I have been so inspired by all the amazing women that have been highlighted recently who work on the Mars Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter. If you haven't seen, checkout Jennifer Trosper (Perseverance Project Manger for surface operations) or MiMi Aung (Ingenuity Project Manager). These women, and many others on the Perseverance team, such as Swati Mohan (voice of landing) and Farah Alibay (rover operations to support Ingenuity) are inspiring the next generation of women. - LG

APupNamedScooby-Doo2 karma

How do you stop yourself from diving to far deep into the rabbit hole about all of the “what ifs” and possibilities of y’all’s work?

nasa3 karma

At the end of the day, we need to remind ourselves that we work for the American taxpayers! We are so honored to get to work in jobs where we CAN look at the "what ifs," but we are very mindful of our responsibility to do it in a reasonable way in order to return the most science, do the best engineering, pull off the best day-to-day operations, for the public we serve. - KF

tonoocala1 karma

Did NASA really have a 4.0 GPA requirement? I don't think thats the best policy

nasa3 karma

NASA does not have a 4.0 GPA requirement. I did not have a 4.0 GPA when I was hired by NASA as an intern or as a permanent employee. GPA is just one factor that goes into employment decisions. Things like experiences, teamwork, attitude, talents, problem solving, out of the box thinking, outside class activities and other factors are included in decisions. - CMB

Boxenkin1 karma

I have a cousin who is absolutely obsessed with NASA and space. She's still really young, 7 years old. How should I support her to follow this dream that doesn't include buying her toys and watching space documentaries with her?

I have a meteorite stone I plan to pass to her at her upcoming birthday, and she has so many NASA stickers, hats, clothes, etc. She's wicked smart, and I want her to have the best chance to getting to wherever she wants to go as more doors start to open up to her. I worry though, because she has bad anxiety at school, and I don't want that to stop her.

I know that perhaps she'll move on to something else as she gets older, but she certainly does have a love for science that I believe won't ever go away.

nasa5 karma

That's wonderful! And I understand wanting to inspire while not adding more screen and TV time. I would suggest books with lots of pictures of space and spaceflight... even when I was older than her, I just loved browsing through pictures in space-related books. Another easy thing is going out and looking at the stars, and there are sky charts in books and online. Although many of us have city lights, it is still possible to see the brighter stars and THE PLANETS! I grew up in Hollywood but I could still see the planets! Your meteorite gift will be a fantastic inspiration, and you could also add a book that explains more. This does involve screen time, but there are "NASA at Home" videos here, including my asteroid close approach demo you can do at home: As for the anxiety, I have both colleagues and family who deal with that also, and just cheering her on in her own interests can only help! Yes, she may move on to something else for a career, and that's totally fine! Everyone should enjoy STEM and they don't need to work in STEM to do it, so she'll always have the inspiration that you've been fostering. You're a fantastic cousin! - KF