This summer, as blockbuster movies encourage women to be anything they choose, women leaders in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) played key roles at the 12th annual International Space Station Research and Development Conference (ISSRDC). On Women’s Equality Day, the ISS National Laboratory celebrates women who enriched ISSRDC as keynote speakers, emcees, and panelists. Here are just a few of the nearly two dozen women who took the stage as leaders in STEM at ISSRDC to discuss research and business in low Earth orbit (LEO).
NASA astronaut Megan McArthur currently serves as the astronaut representative for the space station program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and as the chief science officer at Space Center Houston. She’s also a veteran space flyer, most recently visiting the ISS in 2021 as part of the agency’s Crew-2 mission. In a welcome speech on Day 1, McArthur discussed her time in space, detailing how thrilled she was to work on the many research investigations and technology demonstrations throughout her mission.
Watch the Day 1 welcome speech on our YouTube channel.
“While in space, I was doing real research for people on the ground. The researchers put their heart and souls into this, and I got to be a part of their team by being their hands and eyes onboard the space station.”
— Megan McArthur
Assistant Director for Space Policy
White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Ezinne Uzo-Okoro kicked off Day 1 at ISSRDC by moderating the panel “Igniting Innovation to Accelerate Disease Research on the ISS.” Her policy work for the White House includes Earth observations, orbital debris, microgravity research, space weather, in-space servicing assembly and manufacturing, aeronautics, and space science. The panel session highlighted the recently released ISS National Lab solicitation focused on cancer and other disease-related studies. During the session, Uzo-Okoro discussed the importance of continuing to advance research on cancer and the role that space-based research could play.
Want to learn more about Igniting Innovation? Check out this panel on our YouTube channel.
“While cancer remains the second leading cause of death in the United States, significant progress has been made through this effort, and more needs to be done to ensure a diagnosis isn’t a death sentence, and we can prevent cancer before it starts.” — Ezinne Uzo-Okoro
Deputy Chief Scientist
ISS National Laboratory
As Deputy Chief Scientist, Donna Roberts assists developing long-term research goals for the ISS National Lab. In addition to her background as a radiology and radiological science professor, Roberts served as principal investigator for several NASA-funded studies investigating the impact of spaceflight on the human brain during long stays in microgravity. She drew on her experience to moderate the Day 1 fireside chat, “Getting to the Heart of the Matter in LEO,” This in-depth discussion focused on an ISS National Lab-sponsored investigation that used stem cell-derived heart cells to examine microgravity’s effects on the heart at the cellular level. During the discussion Roberts underscored the value of being able to perform iterative research on station to advance a line of study.
Watch the fireside chat on our YouTube.
“As investigators, that’s one thing we’re really looking for is the opportunity to fly multiple missions with rapid turnaround, and perhaps this is the way of the future.” — Donna Roberts
Directorate for Engineering
U.S. National Science Foundation
In a keynote address on Day 2 of ISSRDC, Susan Margulies, who leads the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Engineering, discussed the agency’s long history of supporting fundamental research on the space station. With an annual budget of nearly $800 million, the NSF Engineering Directorate provides more than 40 percent of federal funding for fundamental research in engineering at academic institutions. Margulies credits the ISS for a new dimension of scientific discovery.
“On Earth, we have few opportunities to relieve the phenomenon of gravity, but only for a few seconds or minutes at best. The International Space Station gives us an opportunity to remove gravity’s effects for weeks at a time, which can provide deep insight into fundamental science processes taking place—this is hugely important.”
— Susan Margulies
Director of the ISS
The future of research and technology development (R&D) in LEO is strong and full of diverse voices as well as business and research interests. Robyn Gatens joined leaders from NSF and the ISS National Lab for the panel, “The Future of R&D in Low Earth Orbit.” Gatens leads strategy, policy, integration, and stakeholder engagement for the space station program at NASA. During the panel, she emphasized that medical research on the ISS is having a real impact on the lives of patients on Earth.
Watch the panel to learn more about the future of R&D on our YouTube channel.
“Dare we hope to say, someday, that we cured cancer through research on the International Space Station. I think we can already say that lives are being saved today that would not have been saved before, if not for the research being done on station.” — Robyn Gatens
Exploration Extravehicular Activities Integration Manager
Adele Luta, the keynote speaker at the Women’s Networking Breakfast, discussed the parallels between exploring space and exploring the ocean. Trained as a physicist, Luta has an impressive career that includes working for NASA as a certified flight controller and astronaut instructor. In her address, she explained how thinking in terms of “and” instead of “or” opens the door to new opportunities that can take you places you may never have considered otherwise.
“I would encourage you to embrace ‘AND’ when you are stuck and think about all of your tools and resources. Our culture, communication, and technology are changing rapidly—from my perspective, the ‘AND’ is more important than ever, and the ‘AND’ is where we will discover solutions to those really hard problems.” — Adele Luta
The Future in Space
On Day 3, ISSRDC welcomed the next generation of space scientists, engineers, and explorers with the announcement of this year’s Genes in Space student competition winner. Isabel Jiang, a high school student from Hillsborough, CA, designed the winning project, which will investigate the mechanisms that make latent viruses reactive in space. Last year’s winner, high school student Pristine Onuoha, attended the conference to cheer on this year’s finalists. She recently watched her investigation about telomeres launch to the space station onboard SpaceX’s 28th Commercial Resupply Services mission. Congratulations to these two young women who have a stellar future!
Watch the Genes in Space Award announcement on our YouTube channel.