One small step for womankind

Vinita Marwaha MadillVinita working on space station operations

The first British astronaut in space was a female chemist called Helen Sharman in 1991, at the age of 27, but since then the space industry has been somewhat lacking in gender diversity. With less than 10% of employees in the space industry being female, alumna Vinita Marwaha Madill (Mathematics and Physics with Astrophysics, 2008) is a rocket scientist, and therefore very much in the minority – something she hopes to change.

To reach as many women as possible, she maintains a strong online presence – including running her own website, Rocket Women, where she regularly posts about women and space. This led to her being contacted by the magazine Elle India, and subsequently featured in their recent ‘Geek’ issue, alongside a variety of other inspiring female role models. Elle’s readership has helped Vinita spread her message to even more teenage girls and young women.

Vinita comes from a space family. Her sister teaches at the International Space University in Montreal, and her father, who works in engineering, influenced them both a lot. Born and raised in London, Vinita has lived in countries all over the world, from the UK, to Germany, the US, Spain and Canada. She also spends time in India, where many of her family members live.

Designing space suits and smart roads

When not globe-trotting, Vinita works at the forefront of science and technology. In the past, Vinita has designed a space suit which helps to prevent the bone and muscle loss that affects astronauts when they are in space, caused by the zero-gravity conditions. This environment also causes eyesight deterioration, which is usually irreversible.

To counteract these adverse effects, Vinita helped create a Gravity-Loading Countermeasure Skinsuit when she was working at the European Space Agency.

'It's basically a skinsuit,' Vinita says. 'It replicates gravitational loading – essentially, the effects of gravity on your body.’

She is currently on the leadership team for the Space Generation Advisory Council, and has consulted for the European Space Agency.

Vinita is putting her skills to use right here on earth by helping to implement smart road technology in Canada.

Her job involves improving the road network by developing an intelligent traffic light system that knows where all the vehicles are in the city, can predict the route that they are likely to take, and also detect other road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. This will benefit people by saving time and fuel.

Elle India Vinita MarwahaImage: Vinita featured in Elle India's Geek issue

A global education

Vinita is happy to be using all of her degrees – of which there are an impressive number – on a daily basis. She studied Mathematics and Physics with Astrophysics at King’s, and gained a diploma in Space Studies from the International Space University in Barcelona while still an undergraduate. She then went on to earn her master’s in Astronautics and Space Engineering at Cranfield University in the UK, and a second master’s in Space Management from the International Space University in Strasbourg.

Consequently, she is an now expert in both the theoretical and practical aspects of space design - and she feels King's has played a large part in this. 

‘I got to understand everything in depth by doing that degree at King’s, so that’s been one of the biggest factors behind my career choice.’

Hers may seem like an intimidating resumé, but Vinita is one of the rare few who have always understood their calling.

‘I’ve always been interested in space, and I think it’s been a passion of mine from a young age. I told my physics teacher when I started secondary school in Year 7 that I wanted to do physics at university.’

She attributes her confidence and success to the support she has received - as a child, as a student at King’s, and as a post-graduate – especially from her professors, many of whom she still keeps in touch with.

‘I don’t think I would have reached where I am now without their support at King’s,’ says Vinita.

Inspiring the next generation of women in space

Her mission now is to inspire other women to become involved in the space industry, while at the same time making positive role models more visible to girls from a young age.

‘During my time at King’s and the rest of my education, then working at the European Space Agency and the German agency, I met some amazing people – especially other positive female role models,’ says Vinita. ‘I think you really need those role models out there and visible to be able to inspire the next generation of young girls to become an astronaut, or be whatever they want to be.’

Vinita also takes pleasure in returning to King’s to give talks to a more specialist audience – the current faculty and students in the Department of Physics.

‘I was lucky enough to go back to Cumberland Lodge [the location of the annual mentoring event for the Department of Physics] a year and a bit ago, and actually got to teach the physics department about space exploration and the space station. It was a great opportunity to go back to the old department and inspire them.’

The secret ingredient to success

The wheel has spun full circle, and Vinita has now become one of those people she was originally so encouraged by. She maintains that the key to achieving your dream is time-management and organisation – along with a hefty dose of passion.

‘I think you can always make time for anything you need to do, as long as you really want to do it and you have that drive behind you.’

Although a trip to space is not part of Vinita’s current role, a commercial space flight could be on the cards for the future. Though they currently cost upwards of £250,000, as their popularity grows, who knows what will happen? For now, she’s keeping her feet on the ground and inspiring fellow women to follow in her footsteps, with no limit to how far they can go.

Read more about some of our other alumnae, Maia and Jazzmine, who have published a book together

Image: The cover of Elle India's Geek issue

Elle India geek issue

 Article posted: September, 2014




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