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Meet the Woman Who Could Take Us to Mars: Gwynne Shotwell

Women are taking over! Time and time again, women have proved they can make a difference just as well as (if not better than) men. Meet Gwynne Shotwell, businesswoman, ranked by Forbes as the 76th most powerful woman in the world, and the President of SpaceX. She also is the woman who could take us to Mars.

Image via Northwestern University


She first became interested in engineering when her mom planned a secret weekend activity: attending a Society of Women Engineers conference. Gwynne stated, “She didn’t tell me where we were going ahead of time because I would not have gone. I begrudgingly sat in the audience, listening to panel after panel, when a certain speaker caught my eye. Her shoes were marvelous, her bag matched, and she just made mechanical engineering accessible to me.  At the time, I didn’t have a particular career in mind, and my mom was pushing her to pick a focus. I left that event saying, ‘Okay, I’ll be a mechanical engineer,’ because I thought she was cool.”

The Illinois native graduated with honors from Northwestern University with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering and a Master of Applied Mathematics.

After college, Shotwell worked in the automotive industry, but she wanted a change. She wanted a more hands-on engineering role.

Starting in 1988, she began working at El Segundo research center of The Aerospace Corporation, and did technical work on military space research and development contracts. She worked on thermal analysis while writing “dozens of dozens of papers on a variety of subjects including conceptual small spacecraft design, infrared signature target modeling, space shuttle integration and re entry vehicle operational risks.”

After a decade, she left the Aerospace Corporation to direct the space systems division at a low-cost rocket builder called Microcosm Incorporated.

She spent two postgraduate years in Chrysler’s pre-executive leadership training program, and then took another year to obtain her masters, Shotwell moved to Los Angeles to join the Aerospace Corporation, a space system consulting firm.

In 2002, she landed a job right away and got her big break. She joined SpaceX when there was only 11 employees, and now has over 5,00 people on staff. Shotwell joined SpaceX in its founding year as the Vice President of Business Development. She built the Falcon vehicle family manifest to nearly 50 launches, representing nearly $5 billion in revenue.

Shotwell was hired to sell rockets to corporate clients interested in launching satellites, but quickly expanded her responsibilities. She managed customer and mission work, financials, legal, government affairs and sometimes found herself vacuuming SpaceX’s conference rooms before client meetings.

She is now President and COO of SpaceX and is responsible for the day-to-day operations and for managing all the customer and strategic relations to support company growth.

In early 2008, Shotwell watched the webcast of SpaceX’s Falcon 1 rocket launch from her hotel suite’s bathroom at 1 a.m. in Scotland. As she watched the Falcon 1 glide through the sky and begin to orbit Earth for the first time, she couldn’t contain her excitement. She screamed and, in her pajamas, sprinted down the hotel hallway to celebrate SpaceX’s first successful launch with her colleagues. “Totally unprofessional,” Shotwell said, laughing, as she recalled the moment. “But it was amazing!”

Shotwell was quickly named President and chief operating officer.

To date, SpaceX has secured more than $7 billion in NASA and commercial contracts, successfully executed over 35 launches, and introduced a family of reusable rockets that allow the first stage, the tall cylinder at the bottom of the rocket, to land after liftoff.

In 2012, she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.

Gywnne Shotwell’s work is nothing short of amazing. The field of aeronautics can often be pretty closed off to women, but Shotwell breaks boundaries and shoots for the stars every day.


Paige Wilson is a sophomore at Southern Methodist University majoring in Journalism and Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations. She is aiming for a career in law or broadcast journalism and plans on moving to the "Big Apple" after college. When she is not studying, she is either re-watching The Office, online shopping, or looking to try a new sushi or Italian restaurant.
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