“Women Leading The Space Industry” With Tyler Gallagher & Sabrina Kerber

There have been many incidents where things have not worked out the way I planned them, but ultimately, letting myself in with these changes opened up opportunities that brought me to the place that I am at today — and it’s a good place to be, I am very happy with how everything worked out. […]

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There have been many incidents where things have not worked out the way I planned them, but ultimately, letting myself in with these changes opened up opportunities that brought me to the place that I am at today — and it’s a good place to be, I am very happy with how everything worked out. However, this does not mean to lean back and wait for life to happen. Working hard to make things go the way you want them to is still the most important factor in pushing ahead.

As a part of my series about “Women Leading The Space Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sabrina Kerber.

Sabrina Kerber is a space architect and analog astronaut from Austria. Sabrina has collected valuable experience in the space sector at the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) and with the European Space Agency’s EuroMoonMars (EMM) Team and International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILWEG). In 2019, Sabrina was part of a lunar simulation at the renowned HI-SEAS habitat, where she acted as crew engineer. As founder and CEO of Explaneta Space Solutions, Sabrina has been working on leveraging the benefits of additive manufacturing for extra-terrestrial habitation.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Sabrina! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Igrew up in Vorarlberg, a region in the Austrian Alps that is both heavily influenced by nature and a hotspot for innovation and technology. From a young age, I learned to place a special emphasis on sustainable solutions for the future. Thus, one of the main reasons I am excited about working in the space sector is the potential of leveraging the benefits of space for a more sustainable life on Earth, while also ensuring the conscious handling of new environments on other planetary bodies. Approaches such as additive manufacturing or the re-utilization of materials and resources are first steps in a direction that I learned to pursue from an early age.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

One of my favourite books is “Diary of a Cosmonaut: 211 Days in Space”, which records Valentin Vitalyevich Lebedev’s stay on the Salyut 7 in 1982. This recount of early space exploration is an inspiring read — I was fascinated to learn about the similarities and differences to present day stays on the International Space Station. However, reading the book also made it very clear about the small role women played in the space sector back then. While some big steps towards more inclusivity have been made in recent years, it’s still important to keep an eye on both the past and the future.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them.”

There have been many incidents where things have not worked out the way I planned them, but ultimately, letting myself in with these changes opened up opportunities that brought me to the place that I am at today — and it’s a good place to be, I am very happy with how everything worked out. However, this does not mean to lean back and wait for life to happen. Working hard to make things go the way you want them to is still the most important factor in pushing ahead.

Is there a particular story that inspired you to pursue a career in the space industry? We’d love to hear it.

Growing up, I regularly watched science fiction movies together with my Dad and always wondered where the science stopped and where the fiction begun in these tales of traveling amongst the stars, and whether it would be possible to one day achieve such scenarios. Ultimately, this is what made me want to pursue a career in the space industry — the opportunity to be part of making something reality that humanity has dreamed of for centuries.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this fascinating career?

The most fascinating moment in my career so far has definitely been entering the HI-SEAS habitat at the start of my very first analog astronaut mission. I had been working very hard to make this moment happen but not until I finally arrived at the habitat did it hit me that I was really going to live there for the next weeks, just like an astronaut on the Moon. It was at the same time absolutely surreal and incredibly thrilling.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

For one of my first space architecture designs, I misread the scale and ended up with a model four times the size it should have been. It took my team and me the whole night to make, but I kept assuring everyone that this was the required size. I only realized my mistake when we were finally done. In the end, the incident showed me how important it is to work within a good team — while I was mortified that we had to start all over again, everyone in my team managed to laugh it off and pitch in to fix the mistake in time.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m incredibly grateful to my business partner, Clemens Felder, who keeps pushing me to go farther and encourages me to face new challenges. It’s very important to have someone in your life — and career! — that knows when to encourage you and when to tell you to slow down and look at things from some distance.

Furthermore, I have been supported by a variety of sponsors and collaborators. The International Lunar Exploration Working Group and the International Moonbase Alliance, MakerBot, Ruag Space, Capable BV, Tridonic, Db-matik and Kurz Ersa fall played important roles in enabling my mission at HI-SEAS.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Currently, I am working on a project called GREEN//CASE with my start-up Explaneta Space Solutions. At Explaneta, we focus on using additive manufacturing to increase habitability on lunar and Martian bases. GREEN//CASE is a 3D-printed portable greenhouse that will help bring a liveable atmosphere to the Moon or Mars.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The space industry, as it is today, is such an exciting arena. What are the 3 things that most excite you about the space industry? Can you explain?

I’m absolutely amazed at how fast the space sector is evolving, how many new opportunities and ideas are emerging constantly, and how these can affect all of our lives on a daily basis. Technology has made so much possible in the space sector. For example, during my mission at HI-SEAS, I had the opportunity to use a MakerBot 3D printer to research the effectiveness of 3D printing in space. The results were promising, with clear benefits using the printer for on-demand technical applications. In my opinion, one of the most promising features of the space sector is not only the possibility to achieve long-term extra-terrestrial habitation, but to improve life on Earth with the countless innovations reaching from medicine over material technology to sustainability, which are either the result of space exploration or specifically designed for outer space and repurposed for terrestrial application.

What are the 3 things that concern you about the space industry? Can you explain? What can be done to address those concerns?

My main concern about the current state of the space industry is how divided the sector is. While a certain amount of healthy competition is crucial to push innovation, a really successful space sector needs us to work together instead of against each other. Space exploration is an endeavour that requires incredible amounts of resources, knowledge and experience. It is inevitable that we pool our resources to achieve goals like a sustainable long-term presence on another planetary body.

Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

No, there is still a long way to go. A satisfactory status quo will be reached only when there are equal opportunities for men and women. This can only be achieved if we manage to eradicate the prejudice that the space sector is male domain.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in the space industry that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

The main challenge for us is still that anything to do with technology, science or physics is instinctively seen as something that should be done by a man; something that women can’t succeed at. However, there have been countless inspiring women throughout the history of space exploration. We need to raise awareness of their stories to show to the next generation of women that the space sector is a place where women and their careers can thrive.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech, or the space industry. Can you explain what you mean?

I’m quite concerned about the opinion that as Women in STEM or Tech, we have to rival with each other for the few available opportunities, or even pre-empt each other to be successful. Of course, there will be situations, such as job applications, where we will face each other in a competitive manner, but at large we need to stand together in this male-dominated field. Having a good network of other women in STEM can help a lot, through exchanging experience, sharing opportunities or even just boosting each other’s morale.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

As a woman in STEM, I aim to act as a role model for other young women who strive for a career in this field. A significant part of this is to show motivation and passion for what I do. While it is important to not withhold the difficult parts and challenges that working in this sector as women includes, it is just as important to make young women aware of the amazing possibilities that await. There is so much to be gained from working in STEM and our industry leaders should not forget to show their excitement about where they are, tell their stories with honesty, and be approachable, as well as communicative.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to inspire more young women to dare to take the step towards an education and career in STEM. I myself almost missed out on the amazing opportunity of studying space architecture by thinking that it was “too technical” for a girl. Enabling young women to see their future selves in a STEM career is an important step toward opening up the sector to women. A great movement like this is the Space4Women Program by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), which connects female mentors and mentees from the space sector.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would be thrilled to get to know in private Ms. Pascale Ehrenfreund, an incredibly inspiring woman from the space sector. She has worked in leading positions in international environments and is currently the CEO of the German Aerospace Centre. I am sure Ms. Ehrenfreund would have many inspiring stories and tips to share.

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