Space Generation Gets a Boost

Mentoring brings people closer to their dreams – Shayna HUME, co-lead for SGAC’s new Mentorship Initiative, shares her view on how we can help each other strive for success

Every year, new university students arrive with a passion for Space. But, between the rigor of the engineering degrees most of them are pursuing and the restrictions between nations due to the modern-day military space complex, only a portion emerge with their dreams intact. For young people, finding a foothold to enter the space industry is confusing and hard.
However, in recent years, there has been an incredible upwelling against this problem. Just as technology has revolutionised the spaceships we work on, it has also played host to new ways of bringing together students and young professionals across the globe. There is a certain unfortunate picture I have of the past, one in which engineers worked in separated and insulated silos to protect corporate and national interests. In that vision, space wasn’t for everyone, and both demographic minorities and non-engineers were most definitely left behind.
That picture is proved by facts.
According to updates on Deloitte’s Data USA as recent as 2019, the average wage gap between men and women in aerospace is almost $20,000. This may be indicative of equally-ranked employees being paid differently – but it’s often more the case of women not as often being promoted to executive level jobs. Moreover, men make up 85% of aerospace engineers, and caucasians 75%. These diversity statistics, along with more culturally anecdotal evidence, lend to the idea that somewhere along the way, a barrier is still being enacted that makes it hard for people to “make it” in space.

Person-to-Person mentoring
But today, even though the statistics haven’t caught up yet, something is changing in the diversity of people and career in space. Artists were given a resounding role in space when the Dear Moon project was announced and across multiple continents, and programs in space law and policy are emerging in academic institutions. Similarly, a multitude of programs and fellowships have championed gender and ethnic minorities. Ultimately though, the emerging space generation is succeeding in all of its variety, not because of any ceiling being lifted for them, but because of direct, person-to-person mentoring.

SGAC – mentoring scheme workshop discussion

This mentoring occurs in every possible non-traditional way. Students take connections from conferences and rocket competitions and create virtual relationships, helping each other to build hybrid motor rockets over video chat and making cross-institutional teams for experiences from the Mars Desert Research Station to NASA’s Lunabotics competition. Through LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and university websites, young people reach out to each other and begin dialogues about each other’s work, purposefully ignoring barriers in search of others with the same intellectual passions.
Moreover, in hubs of concentrated space, social events run by companies like Advanced Space and community organizers like Spaceport LA bring together these newcomers, experienced folks, and hobbyists from outside the industry and start organic dialogues that would be impossible to artificially stimulate. These dialogues often propel newcomers forward, in a form of networking not unlike friendship.

Today’s Leaders – Tomorrow’s Hope
Best of all, though, organizations like SGAC and SEDS-USA put these young scientists, engineers, entrepreneurs and creators face to face with something even more radical: leaders. Leaders their own age, of their own nationality, and with resumes not so different from their own. Leaders, whose voices travel somewhere, and who actually get a say in this often-hierarchical industry. And, best of all, leaders who want to reach a hand across, and help the newcomers to find their footing.

You see, the magic of the new space generation is that rather than waiting for anyone else’s help, this generation realized that they could successfully help each other, and have since leveraged every possible avenue of the modern world to do so.

It’s exciting, inclusive, and – frankly – heartwarming. In space, it feels very easy to get left behind, especially if you don’t know anyone. Today’s students and young professionals understand that, and have seem to have decided that with them, enough is enough. In today’s space generation, there is no passing the buck – no one is too young to be a mentor to their peers, and through the medium of the internet, no one is too remote to make a difference.

In the path to the stars, there are few wrong ways. But, it’s hard to argue that any way can be more right than helping each other. This Space Generation gets this, and I can’t wait to see where in the universe it will take us.

The 4th European Space Generation Workshop held in the UK in 2019
welcomed almost 100 university students and young professionals.

Shayna Hume is a Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado, Boulder studying entry, descent, and landing technology for use on Mars and other planets. Her passion is diverse human expansion into the solar system. She is part of the Space Exploration Project Group and recently became co-lead for SGAC’s new Mentorship Initiative.