Guest Post: Women in Space, Where No Man Has Gone Before

By Ewa Zwonarz

‘What we think as impossible is something that hasn’t yet happened,’ said Loretta Whitesides, the Founding Astronaut at Virgin Galactic to an audience of over two hundred attendees who gathered at GSVLabs in Redwood City on the evening of March 29, 2016 to hear six women panelists share their perspectives.

The event was organized by DoubleX, an organization founded by Andy Cunningham of  Cunningham Collective, with the mission to make gender in technology a non-issue. The audience included business leaders as well as high school students and retired space enthusiasts, all sharing the affinity for an industry that has stimulated innovation as well as imagination.

Tamaira Ross, Configuration Design Engineer at Blue Origins said that we are at a remarkable time in space development. ‘With the increased commercialization of space exploration opening to wider number of people, the issue remains: how can we make it less expensive and more available?’

For the teams at Planet Labs, getting to orbit more cheaply, has been on the forefront of thought. Erika Reinhardt, the Director of Product Engineering at Planet shared that there are lots of exciting things in progress – from commercialization, to designing renewable systems and components.



An important theme weaving through the discussions pointed at the fact that designing systems that work in space, can help us create solutions on our home planet. ‘Space teaches us how to solve really hard problems. If we can tackle them out there and succeed, we will be successful here on earth,’ said Tamaira. She added that it is important to consider technical diversity across genders and sizes if we are to accommodate millions of people who might one day soon find themselves working in space.

Dottie Metcalf-Lindenberger, a Retired Astronaut from NASA and one of only fifty-nine women to ever enter earth’s orbit, is no stranger to the importance of design. When using a bathroom during her 2010 mission on the space shuttle, she got nervous when things did not work with the necessary precision. ‘I was worried that things would…overflow,’ she said. ‘But thankfully I was the only one concerned. The others minds were focused on the right thing – the spacewalk.’

Dottie added that thanks to more women joining the space crew, accommodations in space have improved in the recent years. In fact, the latest class of NASA astronauts is half women! The diversity is crucial when working on space related projects, and that doesn’t only include gender.

Dr. Ioana Cozmuta, PhD, Microgravity Lead, Space Portal at NASA Ames Research Center said of her department, ‘We speak so many languages! Scientists begin with data and end with conclusions. Engineers do the reverse. Businessmen think of business first trying to find the fastest and leanest way to do something.’ She added that problems get solved when there is a balance of perspectives.

For Ali Guarneros Luna, Senior Engineer at NASA Ames Research Center balance comes from her regular interactions with people at Pottery Barn Kids, where she continues to work part time. ‘After spending much time in the company of scientists and engineers, it’s nice to connect with regular people,’ she said to the roaring audience.



Ali’s story of raising four children while working to put herself through school did not pass without an applause. In order to get her degree and begin working at NASA, she needed to create a strong support system. ‘I’d bring my kids to school with me sometimes. I’d sit in the back listening to the lecture while my child was with me.’

Ali shared that NASA was supportive of her occasionally bringing her children to work. ‘It was important to show them what I do so that they knew where I was when I was not with them.’ The message she waned to pass to her children was: ‘If I could do it, so can you! Nothing is impossible. All you need is the right mindset.’

According to Dr. Ioana, having kids has been a best growth experience ever. ‘I could not get a Ph.D. in child rearing. Not even a manual. I had to figure it out myself.’ The mother of two daughters believes that being the best parent means supporting her children in becoming who they want to become. ‘They should choose what makes them happy.’

Dr. Ioana added that Bay Area could greatly benefit from creating a better support system for young mothers. ‘Back in Romania I had a whole neighborhood to ask for help. It was like having an extended family,’ she said, adding that here in the US it can be a challenge for young mothers who do not want to take the time off to raise their children in order not to be judged for not working as hard as men.

Dottie shared that if she could go back in time, she would ask for more support. ‘I got pregnant while I was in the midst of my space training. Women in the office who had been through it offered cribs, clothes and lots of advice. But the training was hard and I was hesitant to ask for help, which I should’ve done. After hours of underwater training in a spacesuit, I’d go to a meeting room to debrief. By then, I was so full of milk it was painful. I should’ve taken a break to pump, but I didn’t. I suffered through it.’

Loretta offered another perspective on motherhood while working in space. Admitting to having type-A overachiever personality, she said her identity crashed when after taking time off to raise her two children, ‘mommy brain’ took over her normally sharp acumen. ‘My self-confidence really suffered. But I learned something really important as a result – that I am not my job title, I am not what I do, I am so much more than that!’



‘Our world is not perfect, which is great because there are so many opportunities for everyone to step in and improve it,’ said Dr. Ioana when asked about what advice she’d give her 22-year-old self. ‘I’d tell myself to take life one day at a time, because a succession of happy days leads to a happy life.’

Dottie would encourage herself to re-read Dr. Seuss’ Oh, the Places You’ll Go and know that amongst the adventures and thrill, there will be moment of slump and waiting. ‘And those are ok! Because they are places we all must know before up, up again we go.’

Erika, the youngest of the panelists, said that ‘a whopping two years ago,’ she’d tell herself that we are where we are for a good reason. ‘If you find yourself doubting, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. We all have these moments. It’s what makes us normal.’

Ali would tell herself to be patient and enjoy life’s moments to the fullest. ‘I would tell myself not be so afraid and to learn from my mistakes. They made me who I am.’

Tamaira would save herself many frustrations having known that she can’t always control other people’s behavior or decisions. ‘Sometimes a dream we have has to wait because we lack the support. But we are always free to choose how we respond to a situation.’

Quoting Sting, Loretta’s advice is to always ‘be yourself no matter what they say.’ Looking back, she said, at all the moments of personal achievement, she finally realized that success is not something to be attained. Once a goal is attained, a mountain climbed, there is nothing to be found on top. ‘I’d be back to my normal self in a few days. True success is having no distance between who I am inside and who I am known for in the world,’ she said to the cheering audience.

Another thing working in space has taught Loretta more about living on earth. Knowing that somewhere out there we might not see a cloud spontaneously form or breathe the way we do here, this awareness makes her more present and grateful. ‘There are over 1,800 planets discovered. But not one is are like ours. This one is pretty awesome.’

To read the panelist’s full bios, click here.

For more about Ewa, click here.

DoubleX Presents Where No Man Has Gone Before: Women in Space: Meet the Panelists


On Tuesday, March 29th, Cunningham Collective, GSVlabs and First Republic Bank will host a panel discussion that brings together six female leaders in the space industry: "Where No Man Has Gone Before: Women in Space," at GSVlabs in Redwood City, CA from 6:00 to 8:30pm. You can learn more about the panel and RSVP here:

With so much exciting activity going on in the space industry – from technological advancements like reusable rockets and commercial opportunities to travel to space – to a surge in public interest (and tech investment!), space exploration is once again at the forefront of our minds and imaginations.  
And with all of these new developments, more women than ever are playing crucial roles in the advancement of the space industry. In fact, the latest class of NASA astronauts is half women! At this event, we’ll hear from some successful women – including a former astronaut and leaders from Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin, Planet Blue and NASA Ames Research Center who have helped to break new ground in the industry. Below are the stories behind each of the talented women who will be sharing their perspectives with us on Tuesday: 

Dr. Ioana Cozmuta, PhD


Dr. Ioana Cozmuta is the Industry Innovation and Microgravity Lead at the Space Portal, NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. Through her skill set she provides fair broker vetting of a wide portfolio of technologies. She informs, connects and advocates in support of the commercial success of space technologies to help build a robust economy in Earth’s orbits and create meaningful partnerships for success of NASA missions. Some say that Ioana is one of the most knowledgeable experts on microgravity research and applications in the world today. Ioana grew up in Communist Romania, an upbringing that has led her to be an intrinsically curious person; she always wondered what was happening on the other side of the curtain. This curiosity ultimately led her to leave Romania, earn a PhD in Physics at Groningen University, the Netherlands and eventually move to the United States to study Computational Chemistry at California Institute of Technology turning from an experimentalist into a “computationalist”. Through her work at Stanford Genome Technology Center she joined NASA Ames Research Center for Nanotechnology entering, without realizing, the aerospace industry. She was the first to bring computational chemistry methods in the field of Reentry Systems (first chair of the prestigious Gordon Research Conferences on Atmospheric Reentry Physics), developed and implemented fundamental models for gas-surface interactions and material response providing technical leadership to missions such as Stardust and Mars Science Laboratory. Ioana is a featured TedEx "Future Spoiler” speaker (Our Kind Future Through the Eyes of Space), has over 70 publications and numerous talks in the US and abroad. She enjoys mentoring students, writing poetry and raising her two daughters, Amelia (11 yr) and Alexandra (8 yr). 

FUN FACT: Dr. Cozmuta’s describes her path to a career in space as serendipitous. She realized she wanted to be in the aerospace industry after taking her first plane flight. She thought that the flight attendant’s job was too difficult and became a physicist instead.



Ali Guarneros Luna

Ali Guarneros Luna is an Aerospace and Systems Engineer at NASA Ames Research Center. Ali’s fascination with space began early on. As a young girl growing up in Mexico City, Ali read about the space shuttle missions in her mother’s encyclopedias and knew she wanted to study Aerospace Engineering. At the age of 14, Ali and her family immigrated to California. After graduating from high school still mastering the English language, she attended San Jose City College where she obtained an A.S. degree and then transferred to San Jose State University (SJSU), Department of Engineering. Throughout this time, Ali worked two jobs to support her family (including her four children and two younger brothers and one sister) and her tuition. Ali graduated from SJSU with a B.S. and M.S. in Aerospace Engineering, and began her career as an intern with NASA with the Center's Chief of Technology. Now, six years after joining NASA as an intern, Ali is one of the few engineers to be considered an expert on the International Space Station (ISS) and is working to develop hardware for a mission to Mars. Ali admires Jodie Foster’s character in Contact for her fearlessness breaking through gender barriers and considers the women in her family and her professors to be her role models.  

FUN FACT: In addition to her full-time role at NASA Ames Research Center, Ali retains a part-time position at Pottery Barn Kids because she enjoys the balance of perspectives it brings to her life.



Dottie Metcalf-Lindenberger

Dottie Metcalf-Lindenberger is a retired space shuttle astronaut for NASA. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Geology from Whitman College, Dottie received her teaching certification from Central Washington University and went on to teach for five years at Hudson’s Bay High School in Vancouver, WA. Her dreams of going to space began in 1990 at Space Camp and were activated one afternoon in the classroom when one of her students asked how astronauts use the bathroom in space. While researching the answer, Dottie discovered there was a program at NASA for teachers who want to become astronauts. She was selected by NASA as a mission specialist in May 2004 and underwent astronaut training while pregnant, finishing the program as a new mother. After completing this initial training, Dottie qualified for technical assignments within the Astronaut Office and future flight assignment. After several years of training, she was assigned to the STS-131 crew, an International Space Station (ISS) resupply mission, and flew as Mission Specialist 2 (also known as the flight engineer). She also served as a robotic arm operator, the Intra-vehicular crew member (the inside coordinator of the spacewalks), and a transfer crew member (helping move six tons of hardware and equipment). The mission lasted fifteen days. After her space flight, Dottie commanded the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operation (NEEMO) in the Aquarius Reef Habitat off the Florida coast. The underwater mission sought to develop techniques for working at an asteroid, while working under a 100-second time delay. Today, Dottie is pursuing her Master’s degree in Geology from the University of Washington and lives in the Seattle area with her family.  

FUN FACT: Dottie has logged more than 362 hours in space and in April 2010, Dottie made history for being part of a crew with the most female astronauts ever to fly into space at the same time.



Erika Reinhardt

Erika Reinhardt is the Director of Product Engineering at Planet Labs, where she leads the data pipeline and platform teams. Erika is a self-described “engineering and data nerd.” The daughter of an astrophysicist and an architect, she grew up moving between college towns and having scientists over for dinner. While she enjoyed learning physics and other sciences, she felt she could have a more immediate impact in the engineering world. She found that projects that combined software and hardware — from medical devices to robots — were particularly engaging, and that satellites and space-related systems fit right in. Erika joined Planet Labs in 2012 and was one of the first 15 employees at the company. Today the company is made up of more than 330 people and of these, Erika oversees a team of 40. Prior to taking on her role as Director of Product Engineering, Erika worked on the mission control, manufacturing tools, data processing, and platform teams at Planet. Erika earned her undergraduate degree from MIT in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Mechanical Engineering.

FUN FACT: Erika's husband is the one in the family who studied aerospace in school, and is a huge space geek, but is not currently working in the space industry. 



Tamaira Ross


Growing up, Tamaira Ross loved playing with Legos; she was always building things. She never paid attention to the picture on the package and everything she developed inevitably became a spaceship. Today, she designs and configures real-life spaceships. She is a configuration design engineer at Blue Origin, a commercial launch company dedicated to opening human access to space. Prior to joining Blue Origin, she was a Technical Fellow in Boeing Defense, Space & Security where she led the preliminary vehicle design and rapid development of several aircraft and spacecraft programs. Tamaira holds a B.S. and a M.S. in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue University. She also attended the University of Washington where she obtained a M.S. in Mechanical Engineering and a Technology Management MBA. She has ten patents, two of which have been built and tested as working prototypes. Tamaira has taught classes on multi-disciplinary design, wireless power transmission, and engineering design methodology. She is also an affiliate instructor in the Industrial & Systems Engineering department at the University of Washington where she teaches graduate classes in technical leadership. She is the recipient of the Purdue University Outstanding Aerospace Engineer award, the Purdue Alumnus 2010 "40 under 40" award, and the Society of Women Engineers 2010 Emerging Leader in Product Research, Design & Engineering award.

FUN FACT: Tamaira says one of the things she loves about working with people in the space industry is that they are really aspirational. She and her colleagues are able to look at the big picture, which is good because putting people in space is not a small undertaking. 


Loretta Whitesides


Loretta Whitesides is a Founder Astronaut and Consultant at Virgin Galactic. As a child, Loretta always dreamed of being Princess Leia when she grew up. Today, she has more than five hours of weightless time in a 727 aircraft as a Flight Director for Zero-G Corporation and she and her husband George T. Whitesides are slated to be among the first to take a sub-orbital spaceflight on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Loretta was trained as an astrobiologist at Stanford and Caltech and she has journeyed to the Canadian Arctic to study plant life in extreme environments and to the hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean with “Titanic” director James Cameron to film a 3D IMAX documentary, “Aliens of the Deep.” Loretta loves connecting people, translating between scientists, engineers and non-technical people, and reminding people that the impossible is just something that hasn't happened yet. She has two children (aged 3 and 5) and continues her work in the space community training the next generation of leaders, blogging and speaking about space, and working on her book on the impact of human space exploration on societal evolution.

FUN FACT: Loretta decided to pursue a career in space because she wanted to make the Earth better. Her dream is to make a model city in space that the whole world could look to it to see what was possible for humanity.



Andy Cunningham gives commencement speech at Menlo College

Andy Cunningham gives commencement speech at Menlo College

Most of you see this moment of graduation as the completion of what's expected of you. A right of passage. The ticket to your future. You've spent a lot of effort trying to fit in, to be the same as your peers. And that served you well. You made friends, you complied with the rules, you have your degree.  But you are also anxious, undecided, still trying to find your passion and your purpose—your contribution to moving the human race forward.  As you begin the Great Adventure of Life as a fully formed adult with an education and a degree to prove it, consider that now may be the time to think different.


DoubleX is a new initiative led by Cunningham Collective to eliminate gender as an issue in the technology industry and just make it a fact. Innovation requires diverse perspectives and the female perspective adds value to product development.

Cunningham Collective held the first Double X panel on November 2, 2015.

Cunningham Collective's First DoubleX: Women of Influence Panel

On November 2, 2015 Cunningham Collective hosted its first DoubleX: Women of Influence panel discussion: “Limitless Leadership: The Powerful Women Who Worked with Steve Jobs.”  The event brought together 300 Bay Area leaders at SAP Labs in Palo Alto to hear the insights of five influential women who worked alongside Steve in the early years at Apple, NeXT and Pixar.   

 Executives who helped make Apple's first major computer gather in Palo Alto, California, to talk about their experiences.   Photo by  James Martin/CNET

Executives who helped make Apple's first major computer gather in Palo Alto, California, to talk about their experiences. Photo by James Martin/CNET

The new Steve Jobs movie by Aaron Sorkin and Danny Boyle featured only a handful of the people behind the genius that was Steve Jobs. There were many others, and in fact quite a few women, who helped to bring Steve’s vision to the world. A great example of this is the lead influencer in the movie, Joanna Hoffman, as played by Kate Winslet. The panel explored what it was like to work with Steve, what made him great, and how the tech world can make strides to encourage future women leaders.

Moderated by Katie Hafner, a journalist who covered Apple and NeXT in the 1980s and 1990s, for BusinessWeek, Newsweek and The New York Times, the panel included:

  • Joanna Hoffman, a marketing leader and one of the original members of both the Apple Macintosh team and the NeXT team.
  • Susan Barnes, an alumna of Apple Inc, she was Controller of the Macintosh Division at Apple and later cofounded NeXT.
  • Barbara Koalkin Barza, the former product marketing manager for the Macintosh computer and later director of marketing at Pixar.
  • Debi Coleman, the second woman to join the original Macintosh team and the finance and operations chief at Macintosh and Apple for over a decade.
  • Andy Cunningham, founder of the marketing innovation consultancy Cunningham Collective and former publicist for Steve Jobs at Apple, NeXT and Pixar.

Some of the best quotes of the night included:

Working with Steve:

  • “So often Steve was so enthusiastic and so brilliant and visionary, and not necessarily reasonable. I found myself being the party pooper.”- Joanna Hoffman

  • “He was so focused on his agenda. He didn’t let anything get in the way.” - Andy Cunningham

Steve on Diversity

  • “We traveled with Steve, we spent a lot of hours with him, we never felt he treated women differently. When you are in a startup, there is so much work to be done, you are quickly looking at a meritocracy.”- Susan Barnes


  • “It’s very important [to have conflict]. You have to always foster an environment where people can stand up against the orthodoxy, otherwise you will never create anything new.” – Joanna Hoffman

Women in Technology

  • “I was working at Intuitive Surgical and walked by someone who had a big poster of Wondergirl, I said that makes women uncomfortable, take it out. If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.”- Susan Barnes

If Steve Jobs Were Here Today

  • “I can’t pretend to think about what he would think or be doing. Part of being a visionary is that you are unpredictable. This is a man that was one in a billion and touched the lives of billions.”- Joanna Hoffman

Changing the World

  • “We have the power to change more things than user interfaces and grid computing.”- Debi Coleman


Watch videos from the event:

Guy Kawasaki interviews Andy Cunningham

Guy Kawasaki interviews Joanna Hoffman

Panel Discussion: Leadership, Diversity, Steve Jobs

Quick Snapshot of the Event


Check out some of the press coverage and tweets from the event:

Macworld: What Joanna Hoffman told Kate Winslet while shooting the 'Steve Jobs' movie

Apple Insider: Steve Jobs promoted opportunities for women at Apple, NeXT

IEEE: Steve Jobs’ Real-World Leading Ladies Gather

PR Week: Cunningham organizes Steve Jobs panel

Re/Code: Women From Apple’s Early Days Recall Working With Steve Jobs

Silicon Beat: Female colleagues competed over standing up to Steve Jobs

CNET: Steve Jobs' legacy includes the women he inspired

Menlo College: Menlo College Trustee Andy Cunningham Portrayed in "Steve Jobs" Film

CNBC: Andy Talking About Apple's Success & Her Upcoming Panel of The Women Leaders Who Worked with Steve Jobs

Andy On CNBC Talking About Apple's Success & Her Upcoming Panel of The Women Leaders Who Worked with Steve Jobs

 Andy Cunningham on CNBC's Squawk Alley

Andy Cunningham on CNBC's Squawk Alley

Our founder Andy Cunningham appeared on CNBC's Squawk Alley to talk about Apple's earnings homerun, the allure of their products, and supporting women leaders in technology. To watch her interview click on the image above or follow this link:


Andy in the News: USA Today, CNBC, Bloomberg, & Mashable

In case you missed it check out our founder Andy Cunningham in this past news this week talking about her experiences working with Steve Jobs and her thoughts on the upcoming film.

Andy's review of the film in Mashable

Andy on CNBC talking about the film and what the script gets right

Andy in USA Today separating truth from fiction on the film

Andy gives her take of the film on Bloomberg West (Andy appears at 13:45 of the video)

Andy also visited with Cult of Mac to talk about her character and the film

  Sarah Snook, left, who is playing Andy Cunningham, right, in "Steve Jobs."

Sarah Snook, left, who is playing Andy Cunningham, right, in "Steve Jobs."