by Christine Brinkman
There are times as adults we think back and think ‘Oh, my Mom was right again,’ when we realize we benefited from their advice. In the case of Dr. Christianna Taylor, this is true but, in this case the entire world benefits from her mom, literally. When she was 3 ½ Christianna’s mom made her come outside to watch Haley’s comet. Just like that it was over. Christianna’s life goal was set. She wanted to become an astronaut. Instead she is one of the leading experts on how to inspect and remove orbital debris. AKA space trash. Dr. Taylor is breaking all types of stereotypes along the way.
Growing up in Illinois, Dr. Taylor acknowledges she has been extremely fortunate. Make no mistake, Dr. Taylor worked hard to get where she is and nothing was handed to her. She attended Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, where she was able to attend High School level classes on a college schedule. During the summers Dr. Taylor was able to work in research labs to gain even more experience. It was during a trip to Harvard for Model Congress, she realized she wanted to attend college in Boston. This is about the same time when she concluded that she would not become an astronaut, but she would still work in space.
She attended Boston University and graduated with a degree is aerospace engineering. She specifically focused on aircraft design. She pursued higher education without taking any breaks from school, getting both a master’s and PhD in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. “I went straight through. I knew once I left I wouldn’t come back,” Dr. Taylor said.
Like all good ideas, Dr. Taylor was sitting around with friends one night, talking about space trash and thought “What if we gathered dust from satellites orbiting the earth and studied it.” She was quick to pivot and figure out that studying the satellites would be the way to clean up space trash. There were great ideas streaming from Dr. Taylor’s head . “I could build an aircraft but I had no business acumen.” She became a global scholar at Kauffman Foundation and continued to have experiences at NASA and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory).
It was at Microcosm, Inc. where Dr. Taylor worked as a Systems Engineer that she began to work on low cost methods for space craft and launch vehicles. In recent years she has focused on how to collect the orbital debris, while being conscious of launch costs. “There are three sectors involved in space: Commerce, military and government. We need to focus on space as a whole, how much we utilize and track logistics.” There is a lot more to space than meets the eye. “If you work in space you get it but if you don’t it’s hard.” A key characteristic that separates Dr. Taylor from her colleagues is the fact that she takes hyper complex concepts and breaks them down to a level so most people can understand.
SpaceX, Boeing, Virgin Galactic, Orbital Science: The list of non-military and non-governmental funded space companies continues to grow. As technology continues to improve and becomes more affordable smaller players will get into the game. Space used to be the cosmic playground for China, Russia and the USA. Today roughly 90 countries are developing their own space programs. This means more launches, more technology and more orbital debris.
Think about all the satellites from various countries, businesses, military outfits, etc. floating around. Who owns those? Making it even more complicated in the blame game, parts of these satellites are made by different companies. Who takes ownership for the satellite when one specific piece stops working? “There is a lot of movement. There is no controller for all of these items in orbit. It’s messy but, it’s good,” she said with excitement in her voice.
Dr. Taylor knows it is more cost effective to go to space, recycle the debris by repurposing materials or fixing the broken item, than it is to bring the debris back to earth, creating a new use or fixing it and launching it back into space. She spends much of her time explaining just that-how to leverage autonomous robotics for inspecting and removing orbital debris. She is the CEO and Founder of Mountain View based, Intelligent Space. This makes her a real-life defender of space.
Basically, she is a rocket scientist. She is a female. “It can be a weird place but, I have great mentors and I talk to other women. Things are changing, you learn what you can and cannot handle,” when talking about male colleagues. She is black and a member of the National Society of Black Engineers. Specifically, she works with the organization’s special interest group; Space. “There are times when it can be very isolating. It’s heavy,” when asked how being a black female engineer affects her. NSBE offers a great network of peers and friends who are supportive and send her the votes of yes she does belong in space, when times are heavy. She brunches on Sundays. She travels and is a belly dancer. Take the image you have when you think of an engineer; Dr. Taylor smashes the image. She is bringing the cool to space.
A believer in self-expression and self-reflection made evident by her personal hashtag. #whatalovelythought. “I find myself saying that a lot. ‘What a lovely thought.’ I am multifaceted and will not fit into a box. I love makeup and don’t wear a white lab coat.” Dr. Taylor believes in thinking about all her blessings and doing something nice for someone else. In a few years, we will be able to say that Dr. Taylor did something for millions-she cleaned up space.
You can learn more about her at www.aerospacesocialite.com and follow her on Twitter @Dr_C_Taylor.