Women’s Equality Day: Meet the Women of Space Comm and Nav
By Kendall Murphy
August 26, 2022
In 1973, the U.S. Congress declared August 26 as Women’s Equality Day to commemorate the certification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which took place in 1920 and granted women the right to vote.
Today, the Exploration and Space Communications (ESC) projects division celebrates the important contributions of the women in NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center’s Communications and Navigation Community. The path toward equality has been long, but NASA and Goddard remain steadfast in their commitment to the continued journey.
ESC appreciates their contributions to the agency’s mission and acknowledge the tenacity and passion of all women of NASA. Learn more below about some of the women propelling NASA forward through visionary work!
As the Launch Vehicles and Robotics Network Director within ESC’s Near Space Network and the Human Space Flight Mission Manager for the upcoming Artemis I mission, Rosa Avalos-Warren provides continuous communications services to ensure mission success.
Launching at the end of August, Artemis I will be the first uncrewed flight test of the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft. During launch, Avalos-Warren will provide on-console support, ensuring the mission is communicating critical data to Earth. Throughout her 13-year career with NASA, Avalos-Warren has led over 30 human spaceflight, robotics, and launch vehicle missions. Whether leading her team toward its goal or on-console, she is humbled to represent women, Latinas, and Peruvians in the workplace.
“NASA supports diversity and being one of the many women that work here is such an honor, especially in my leadership role,” said Avalos-Warren. “I am proud of my team and how equally important our voices are to others.”
Outside of her network role, Avalos-Warren takes part in outreach activities with both national and international students. She enjoys helping future explorers and the Artemis generation achieve their wildest dreams —a cherry on top of the work that she does with NASA. Avalos-Warren believes that working hard, searching for opportunities, and reaching out to potential mentors will lead the women of NASA to success.
“My favorite part about working for NASA is that there is never a dull moment,” said Avalos-Warren. “It’s rewarding to work with missions that are helping uncover the unknown and the discoveries that will benefit humanity.”
Nylsevalis “Nylse” Ortiz-Collazo started her 20-year career with NASA as an intern for the Explorers and Heliophysics projects division, before joining the agency full-time. Now, Ortiz-Collazo is the deputy program manager for resources for the Integrated Laser Communications Relay Demonstration (LCRD) Low Earth Orbit User Modem and Amplifier Terminal (ILLUMA-T). Ortiz-Collazo supports the project by conducting day-to-day operations, configuration and risk management, and resource management. Launching in early 2023, ILLUMA-T will use laser communications and provide enhanced data rates to the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. Ortiz-Collazo is an essential part of the team making this possible.
“When I started my career as a Hispanic woman in a male-driven workplace, I modeled myself after people who were just like me,” said Ortiz-Collazo. “Being able to accomplish what I have as a non-technical person in a technical field allows me to be that role model for others now.”
As a child, Ortiz-Collazo loved dancing, planets, aliens, and learning more about space, leading to her aspiration to become an astronaut. With years of hard work and drive, she found herself in the place she always wanted to be – NASA. Although her background is in business, Ortiz-Collazo often is at the forefront of technical meetings, providing insight and project management to to ILLUMA-T team. She loves being a woman in technical conversations and knowing her voice matters. She enjoys talking about what she does with others and knowing that NASA inspires people every day.
“My advice to women new to the workplace is don’t limit yourself. There have been times when I wanted to change who I was to fit in, but I stayed strong and true to myself and believed that I could accomplish anything,” said Ortiz-Collazo. “Be mindful and help others - we need to continue building our network of women to achieve our goals.”
Korine Powers, an education and outreach coordinator for ESC, started her career with NASA as an intern in the summer of 2020. For two summers, she spent her internship developing professional and educational offerings for the Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) Internship Project (SIP). In January 2022, she began working for NASA full-time in education and outreach. In her current role, Powers helps manage Goddard’s SIP cohort, develops outreach events and activities for upcoming SCaN missions, and increases excitement about NASA and SIP with educators and learners of all ages.
“I am fortunate enough to work in a team where I see tons of women like me,” said Powers. “But I think being a woman in the workplace also means wanting women and people of marginalized races and genders who aren’t like me to be a part of teams that look like them, too. We should campaign for other identities to climb the ladder with us.”
Powers is ecstatic that she can share what the Communications and Navigation Community is doing with younger generations in ways that excite their curiosity and imagination, and that she is a part of bringing brilliant minds from high school to graduate school into the NASA workforce. In Powers’ eyes, seeing SIP interns become full-time members of the NASA family is exhilarating.
“For women new to the workplace: say what you want and what you need directly, and make sure you are compensated for your time — even fun work is work. Find role models who remind you that you belong in your industry and remember, you will someday be that role model for someone else,” said Powers. “Your voice matters, even on day one.”
Starting off her NASA career in procurement, Camille Thurston now serves as the ESC agreements manager and the Near Space Network provider integration manager. NASA’s Near Space Network is a single, end-to-end network that coordinates communications and navigation services for missions in space. Additionally, the network connects users with government or commercial service providers. Thurston helps onboard new providers to the Near Space Network, bringing commercial industry and NASA together.
Challenges caused by the pandemic led to women leaving the workforce, and Thurston believes that this should be a learning opportunity to ensure workplace structure, policies, and culture are adjusted to support the needs of all employees.
“With more and more women comprising the workforce in positions traditionally held by men, it has created a number of workplace policies that better serve families of all types,” said Thurston. “This includes flexible work schedules, work-life integration policies, and the increased need for diversity and inclusion efforts — all positive changes that allow people to fully participate in an organization as well as in their families.”
Thurston works with a diverse group of intelligent and talented people and learns from them every day. She enjoys being a part of an agency that serves humanity through its work — going above and beyond, doing the impossible, and exploring new frontiers for the betterment of humankind.
“Just this morning, I was in a meeting with 10 other people, and I was the only woman present,” Thurston said. “Know that in those situations, you offer a unique and important perspective that is valued by others and should be leveraged. Use your voice and speak up!”
As we work toward equality for all women, representation and empowerment is crucial. Whether it’s young girls seeing women in impactful roles at NASA or women in the workplace seeing colleagues like them, representation can encourage people to reach for their goals. Not only are these women role models for others, but they are also accomplishing important work that drives NASA forward.
We celebrate you!