Laura Suarez Henderson, Aerospace Engineering Ph.D. Candidate
You have received some prestigious honors for your research—two Amelia Earhart Fellowships and one from the National Science Foundation.
The Amelia Earhart Fellowship was an incredible privilege. The fellowship is very special for me because of Amelia’s legacy. She was so brave, an incredible role model, and a true pioneer. And being awarded the National Science Foundation fellowship still doesn’t feel real to me. It has been an amazing honor and given me a greater opportunity to focus on research and classes.
Tell us about your work to develop technology to locate and avoid space debris.
Space debris is a growing problem and quickly becoming a critical one. What I’ve done is simulate an object orbiting Earth and take measurements as it moves and spins. These measurements allow us to determine the size and shape of the object as well as identify its path. With this, we can tell if it’s an active object or if it’s debris and whether it poses a threat to other objects. The hope is that these findings will improve the technology used to track objects.
How did you get interested in aerospace engineering?
Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be an astronaut—and still do. That passion was instilled in me by my dad. He grew up watching the Mercury and Apollo missions and fell in love with space exploration. I, too, love everything about space. I also love math and physics, so aerospace engineering was a great combination.
How do you think space exploration has impacted society?
It has made us more aware of how incredibly special, unique, and fragile humanity and our planet are. I think generations that have grown up with space are less enchanted by it, unfortunately. But I believe people can fall in love with space once again. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to continue to learn and grow in space exploration.
Is it difficult being a woman in the male-dominated engineering field?
Being a woman definitely makes you stand out. One thing I hope I can accomplish during my career is to inspire young women to find interests in the areas of science, math, and engineering.
What’s next for you?
After graduation I hope to join the efforts to further human space exploration by working for NASA or SpaceX and continuing my work on space object identification. Down the road I hope to apply for an astronaut position, and eventually I would like to go back to my native Colombia and develop the space industry.
What is the single coolest thing about space?
There are so many cool things! But I think the coolest is that we know so little about it. It’s the best toy you can give any scientist: a never-ending place for discovery.