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- Melissa Thorpe, a Spaceport boss, spoke about the criticism she gets as a woman in the space sector.
- She said people have left her out of discussions and avoided asking her opinion at times.
- The space industry is male-dominated, but Thorpe said she’s questioning how things are done.
Working in the space industry is no easy business. It seems it’s even harder if you’re a woman.
Melissa Thorpe, head of Spaceport Cornwall in southern England, spoke to Insider about reaching the industry’s top ranks.
Her successes have led her to oversee Richard Branson’s “Start Me Up” satellite mission by his company Virgin Orbit launch. It was due to be the first orbital space mission to launch from the UK but unfortunately failed due to a technical anomaly.
Thorpe said she didn’t get into the space industry in the traditional way. Studying STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects is a common route but instead, she studied economics in London. She then went into business development, and later became a consultant for investment in Cornwall. From there, she got involved with the spaceport and eventually ended up taking the helm two years ago.
Thorpe said she loves her job, but it hasn’t come without its difficulties. “I don’t look like the average spaceport director,” she said.
During her career, she’s been left out of conversations and not asked opinions on things as much as others, Thorpe said. On top of this, she said she’d had backlash online from trolls.
“I’ve been questioned even as mother. It’s pretty bad,” she said.
One out of 5 space industry workers are women
Thorpe’s seven-day job not only involves running the spaceport, but also going to conferences, traveling, and meeting with clients in different time zones. She said it was important for family life to fit into her schedule, especially after the launch attempt on January 9.
“I think when I started out I kind of almost wanted to just conform to what’s out there already,” she said. “But I realize actually the reason I’ve been successful is by being who I am and to bring a different way of thinking into things.”
Thorpe said women were “really good at doing that in rooms full of men” and the only way the space industry was going to improve was if it became more diverse.
Space is a male-dominated industry. The United Nations reported in October 2021 that around one in five workers in the space industry are women. That was roughly the same amount as 30 years ago, the report said.
“What I’m trying to do is start to question the way things are being done because, you know, it hasn’t really got us where we need to be yet,” Thorpe said.