The Big Bang Theory: 5 Lessons From a Rocket Scientist

Natalie Panek is a rocket scientist at MDA’s Robotics and Automotive division in Toronto, Ontario where she worksnp2 on a team building the ExoMars 2020 rover. An aspiring astronaut, Natalie earned her undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering and her master’s degree in aerospace engineering. Check out Natalie’s 5 tips for how you can make a difference that is out of this world:

#1 Embrace Uncertainty

“When you work in a dynamic environment, every day is different and you never know what problems you are going to have to solve. When you are working on space projects, things don’t always go as planned, so you have to be creative and brainstorm. A little bit of optimism goes a long way too.”

#2 Practice! Practice! Practice!

“Hands on experience is a must for anyone who is interested in working in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. You can join a robotics team, take classes, or design your own experiments. In high school I joined our solar powered car team and we raced it from Austin to Calgary. It is important to surround yourself with people who want to help you learn.”

np3#3 Create Your Own Path

Natalie explains that there are several ways that people can prepare to become astronauts: “Future astronauts may go the academic route (PhD) or work in a scientific field for at least three years before they apply to space agencies. The selection committee looks for people who have developed transferrable skills that will be valuable at the space station, such as a pilot’s license, SCUBA license, or an engineering background.”

#4 Take a Trip

“I grew up in the Canadian Rockies with a very adventurous family; I like to say that I started hiking with my family before I could walk. I think that traveling builds fortitude and resilience because it provides you with a new horizon to look at the world. I love adventure and one of my favorite places to visit is Patagonia. A crossover concept between my work as a rocket scientist and an adventurer is mission planning, which is the process of evaluating where I am going and what I will need to get there.”

#5 Work Outside of Your Comfort Zone

“I am fascinated with the unknown and seeing Earth from a different perspective. My personal mantra, based on an Amelia Earhart quote, is ‘Never do things others can do and will do if there are things others cannot do or will not do.’”

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