Natalie Panek has her sights set on being an astronaut, and while she works on building a skill set that would make an excellent candidate for space exploration she is also a champion for women working in technology fields.
Growing up in the Canadian Rockies, where she backpacked and camped, Panek honed a sense of adventure and exploration. Working on her bachelor of science in mechanical engineering at the University of Calgary, she was selected to lead the aeronautics team, co-manage the mechanical team, and was selected as one of four drivers for the school’s entry in the 2005 North America Solar Challenge a ten day race from Texas to Calgary.
Working as an intern at NASA’s Goddard Space Center while pursuing her master’s degree, Panek investigated transformer wire failure, which evaluated the risk of an electrically open circuit condition in an essential transformer. Completing her degree, with a thesis focused on how flames burn in microgravity, she was selected for the Space Studies Program at the International Space University held at NASA’s Ames Research Center. At Ames she worked with the ACCESS Mars project that looked at the future of the exploration of Mars by both humans and robots.
This work would carry over as she became a member of the technical staff at MDA Robotics and Automation where her first project was working on the Next Generation Canadarm. With a goal of researching and developing technologies and techniques for the on-orbit servicing of satellites using robotic systems in order to help maintain, enhance and extend the life of commercial spacecraft in an effort to making a sustainable and affordable space infrastructure.
Panek has also worked on the DARPA Phoenix Program, a lunar dust mitigation study, and is currently part of the team working on the chassis location system, BEMA, that provides drive, rover steering, and wheel deployment functionality to the ExoMars rover that is under development.
An advocate for women in STEM fields, Panek is a program advisor and mentor for Cybermentor, an online mentoring program for girls in grades 6 to 12 in Alberta, Canada.
Suggested by Daniel Gow.
Written by Angela Goad