By THOMAS HUKAHU
I WAS watching 60 Minutes on TV in the previous week and was quite interested in a segment where two different people were interviewed.
Actually, both of them had something to do with space science – one was an American pioneer and another was a young female engineer from a smaller state in Australia.
The first person was Michael Collins, the US astronaut who flew the Apollo 11 command module Columbia around the moon, while his team members, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Eugene “Buzz” Aldrin, landed and walked on the moon on July 21, 1969.
The second person to be interviewed was Andrea Boyd, an Australian, who works for the International Space Station (ISS) in Cologne, Germany.
It was more than just interesting for me was because I was in a suburb, outside Adelaide, in Australia, while watching that 60 Minutes programme and later learned that Boyd was actually a local from here in Adelaide.
What does she do?
Space.com states that the International Space Station (ISS) is a multi-nation construction project that is the largest single structure humans ever put into space. Its main construction was completed between 1998 and 2011, although the station continually evolves to include new missions and experiments. It has been continuously occupied since Nov 2, 2000.
Boyd, the Australian, serves as a mission controller at the ISS.
That means, though she does not actually get into space, she gets to work with astronauts and other professionals who help the astronauts get settled and work on the ISS.
“So, the best bit about my job is being in the space station control room is being able to see from the external cameras the earth from space – and being able to see 16 different sunrises and sunsets, and they look incredible.”
Boyd said everyday she has to ensure that the payloads on the space vehicles are correct and she gets to speak with the astronauts in outer space who call earth.
She said they have a different group of astronauts to work with every three months and they run hundreds of different space experiments on the space station.
“You always have new challenges and you are looking at new science and engineering at work,” Boyd said.
“Yes, it is constantly evolving and it is amazing …”
How it all started for Boyd
Boyd, who is in her 30s, said in her video on Australia’s Science Channel in 2018: “I had a love of space when I was very young growing up in country Australia and looking up at the stars and getting the most epic view of the Milky Way, and the two galaxies that you can see from the Southern Hemisphere.”
She said at the age of 10 she watched an episode of Star Trek and learned the word “engineer” and told herself she would become an engineer later in life.
Later she met space scientists and engineers in real life and realised that what she knew in science fiction could be a reality if she studied one of such subjects that those professionals mastered.
She said for her it was like “looking at Star Trek and sci-fi and turning it into a career.”
She needed experience
Boyd attended the University of Adelaide and knew that her big goal was to work in the European Space Agency.
She said she went there while at university and enquired if she could join them after she completed her degree but she was advised to gain a few years of experience.
She took up a job in Adelaide where she was involved in control systems engineering where she did automation for many different industries and sites in Australia and later worked as a mining systems engineer.
More than 10 years of experience in space-related tasks and other years as an engineer prepared her well for the job, to be a mission controller of the ISS.
Boyd is a success story but is known to have said: “Engineers are good at what they do but we are not good in communicating our success.”
She also said: “In engineering, no-one cares whether you’re a man or woman, young or old – as long as you get the job done.”
Boyd spends a lot of time working with school children and encourages them to pursue careers in engineering and related fields.
Bidding for astronautical congress
In The Advertiser in 2017, it was stated that: Ms Boyd was part of the team which successfully bid for Adelaide to host the International Astronautical Congress in 2017.
“We were up against very, very, tough competition from Germany, who are a powerhouse,” Boyd said.
“It’s the biggest conference ever secured by South Australia and will create 150 jobs, bringing 3,000 professionals and astronauts from every space agency and all companies from industry in the world to Adelaide in 2017. That’s about $18 million in direct revenue for our state not to mention the follow on tourism.’’
(Boyd was part of a team that included an Australian astronaut. I will write about this astronaut in another article in a few weeks.)
Boyd’s tips for others
On Australia’s Science Channel in 2018, she said her top three tips to get a job like hers would include:
Tip 1: Find something that you are passionate about
You can do anything which maybe science or engineering related and go for that one. You can turn that into a career in space.
And it does not have to be in science and engineering only, one can study medicine and become a surgeon for astronauts, or you can be a fitness specialists and do the exercises for the astronauts.
Or, you can be a lawyer and do space law.
Tip 2: Learn outside of school
What else do you have apart from your education from your university?
Do sports so you can prove that you are a team player.
Do extracurricular things like travelling and languages and be involved in networks outside of school.
Tip 3: Build networks
Engage with other people. Engage with your peers and people who are doing what you would like to do in the future.
Network to your heart’s content and do not be afraid to go up to someone and say: “Hey, I want to be you in the future.
Use your networks and be polite and respectful to everybody and they can be your colleagues in the future.
Next week: The City of Churches
- Thomas Hukahu is a freelance writer.