Working in the space industry is not easy. It seems to be even more difficult when you are a woman.
Melissa Thorpe, Head of Spaceport Cornwall in southern England, spoke to Insider about reaching the top of the industry.
Her success led her to oversee Richard Branson’s “Start Me Up” satellite mission along with launching his own company, Virgin Orbit. It was supposed to be the first space flight from the UK, but unfortunately failed due to a technical fault.
Thorpe said she didn’t get into the aerospace industry the traditional way. Studying STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) is the usual route, but instead she studied economics in London. She then moved into business development and eventually became an investment consultant in Cornwall. From there, she joined the spaceport and finally made it to the helm two years ago.
Thorpe said she loves her job, but it hasn’t come without its challenges. “I don’t look like your average spaceport manager,” she said.
Throughout her career, she was left out of discussions and never asked for her opinion on issues, according to Thorpe.
She also said she received backlash from trolls online.
“I was even questioned as a mother.” “It’s bad enough,” she said.
Every fifth space worker is a woman.
Thorpe’s seven-day job involves not only managing the spaceport but also attending conferences, traveling, and meeting clients in different time zones. She said it was important to fit family life into his schedule, especially after the Jan. 9 test launch.
“I think when I started, I almost wanted to match what was already there,” she said. “But I realise the reason I’ve been successful is because I am who I am and bring a different way of thinking to things.”
Thorpe said women are “really good at doing it in rooms full of men,” and the only way the space industry will improve is if it becomes more diverse.
Space is ruled by men.
The United Nations reported in October 2021 that approximately one in five workers in the space industry is a woman. The report says it was about the same as 30 years ago.
“I’m trying to start questioning how we do things because, you know, it’s not where we need to be yet,” Thorpe said