This past weekend, the United States made history when Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the Dragon Crew capsule into space, the first U.S. mission from U.S. soil since 2011. SpaceX is primarily associated with Musk, as he was the founder of the company, but many people don’t know about the company’s president and chief operating officer, Gwynne Shotwell.
Now responsible for SpaceX’s operations and growth, Shotwell has been working with SpaceX since the company was founded in 2002 and was immediately put on the board of directors. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mathematics from Northwestern University and previously worked with The Aerospace Corporation and Microcosm Inc. in El Segundo, California. Wanting to apply her skills in engineering in a hands-on environment, Shotwell worked with The Aerospace Corporation in military space research, technical work, spacecraft design and thermal analysis. She spent much of her time specifically studying small spacecraft design and how to navigate such a spacecraft in and out of the cosmos. She later went on to work Microcosm Inc, a rocket building company, where she oversaw business development.
Having both the skills and knowing the ins and outs of spacecraft and business, Shotwell’s expertise at SpaceX still stands. Under her supervision, SpaceX has launched five billion dollars’ worth of crafts with the Falcon vehicle family and has now become the first privately owned business to send astronauts into space. Additionally, Shotwell recently became a member on the board of directors for Polaris, an automotive vehicle manufacturing company, and serves in many STEM-related programs. Her work in these areas have earned her several awards, including a spot in the 2012 Women in Technology Hall of Fame and as one of Forbes’ Magazine’s Top 50 Women in Tech.
Through all of her successes, it seems as if Shotwell has more large-scale accomplishments to come. As part of a multi-billion dollar deal with NASA, SpaceX will continue to work on a transportation system to take the first humans to Mars.