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American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

    Momentum Member Spotlight – May 2016

    AIAA Congratulates Wanda Austin

    By Duane Hyland, AIAA Communications


    Wanda Austin After its short trip to North Carolina, the spotlight felt fully recharged and refreshed and pointed its beam west this month, falling on El Segundo, California, and illuminating Dr. Wanda Austin, the President and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation. Dr. Austin is this year’s winner of the AIAA Goddard Astronautics Award. She will receive the award on 15 June during the AIAA Aerospace Spotlight Awards Gala at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C. The award honors Austin’s “extraordinary leadership, vision, inspiration, and contributions to the nation’s space programs.”

    In her position at The Aerospace Corporation, Austin regularly works with the U.S. Air Force, the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), NASA, and other government agencies to ensure the viability of almost every national security space program. Austin has overseen the development and deployment of critical military communication systems, including the Air Force Satellite Communications program, the Defense Satellite Communication Systems, and the Military Satellite Communications system. Austin’s other contributions to the U.S. national security space program include: being a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST); working on the National Security Space Master Plan Task Force for the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Space; contributing to the U.S. Human Spaceflight Review Committee; leading the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board’s study on the use of small satellites; and supporting numerous Defense Science Board studies. She has also served on the NASA Advisory Council and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s MASINT Technology Advisory Panel, among numerous other boards.

    Austin has also championed science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education throughout her career. Under her leadership, The Aerospace Corporation has been an active participant in the MathCounts, US First Robotics, and Change the Equation programs. Austin was one of the first CEOs in the nation to support Change the Equation.

    Austin’s numerous other honors include the 2016 AIAA Yvonne C. Brill Lectureship in Aerospace Engineering; the 2012 Horatio Alger Award; the 2012 NDIA Peter B. Teets Industry Award; the 2010 AIAA von Braun Award for Excellence in Space Program Management; a National Reconnaissance Office Gold Medal; and the National Intelligence Medallion for Meritorious Service.

    When I asked Austin what inspired her to make aerospace a career, she replied: “I was inspired to have a career in aerospace because it leveraged my technical training and enabled me to make a difference in society. I found that the work I did really had an impact.” When it came to inspiring figures, she named one, noting: “There were several influential figures throughout my life and career, but Eb Rechtin, former president of The Aerospace Corporation, was perhaps the most influential of them all. He helped me to understand the potential I had to become a leader in this field, encouraged me to further my technical training, and offered practical advice that enabled me to prepare myself for the challenges I would face later on in my career.”

    With so many career memories, Austin picked one out as more special than rest, saying: “One that I will always cherish is attending my first launch, which was for a defense communication satellite.”

    As young professionals are the future of our community, Austin had this advice for them: “I would encourage them to be passionate about continuous learning. There are still so many things about astronautics that we still don't fully understand and it’s up to our young professionals to make the necessary innovations to propel our industry into the future.” Austin also thought that more senior members of the aerospace community have a role to play in helping young professionals with their career, but she had a slightly different take on the way they could help than previous Spotlight interviewees, stating: “I believe in reverse mentoring. Experienced members of our community should spend time with our young professionals and actively learn from them and gain inspiration from their enthusiasm and fresh perspective.” She continued: “Our experienced community members should look for teachable moments and opportunities to share their wisdom and advice, while always leaving room to receive opinions and ideas from others— regardless of their background or number of years on the job.”

    Because Austin has spent so much of her career in cementing our nation’s national security assets in space, I asked her what she felt the U.S. must do to counter growing threats from other nations. She replied: “It is important that the U.S. commits to having, without question, the strongest, most capable systems in and throughout space, and that those systems are supported by a robust ground enterprise.”

    And of course, with Dr. Austin retiring this year from The Aerospace Corporation, I was inquisitive about what she felt she would pursue in her retirement, she answered: “I look forward to continuous learning and sharing my talents and experience with the next generation of STEM leaders.”

    I ended the interview by asking Dr. Austin about her thoughts on AIAA, and she had these: “AIAA provides value to its members by shaping the future of Aerospace in many different areas, including: professional networking, leadership development, continuous education, and thought leadership. AIAA can help the aerospace community by ensuring that its members and its leadership reflect the diversity and breadth of talent represented throughout the nation.” But, she also acknowledged the role of corporate members within AIAA, stating: “The AIAA should also encourage and assist corporate members to do the same and promote diversity and inclusion within their own organizations.”

    AIAA congratulates Dr. Wanda Austin for her selection as the May 2016, Spotlight subject, for winning this year’s AIAA Goddard Astronautics Award, and wishes her the best of luck and happiness in her retirement.