Meet Flora Quinby -- 25-year-old SpaceX Manufacturing Engineer, founder of the STEM education non-profit Thinking STEM, fitness coach, and future astronaut. Sounds like a lot? We thought so. But Flora’s story is not one full of sacrifices and life-sucking grunt work. It’s a fluid and passionate journey, powered by a real love for science, and a dream of going to space.
Flora works at SpaceX on the sub-assemblies of the Merlin engine that’s used in their Falcon rockets. The Falcon 9 is the world's first orbital class reusable rocket. She is the sole engineer on her team working on improving the critical engine components to make them safer, better, and cheaper.
Each day Flora works about 10-15 hours at SpaceX, finds time to exercise as a way to improve her mental focus, and runs her nonprofit. She is also planning to go to night school to earn her Masters that will allow her to apply to the 2024 Astronaut Class. To most, that sounds overwhelming, but Flora is a goal setter with a drive. Her daily, weekly, monthly, and long-term goals keep her on track toward achieving a lifelong dream.
This type of dedication is definitely rare. Unfortunately, many women are discouraged from pursuing their dreams. Societal pressures can push women away from technical jobs in science and engineering. Flora thinks that we can help to change that by igniting sparks that can unlock powerful inner drives. Her spark came from an inspirational and relatable speech.
In 8th grade, Flora attended a presentation from Joe Tanner, an experienced astronaut whose captivating story moved her. She was so inspired that on that day she told her parents she was going to be an astronaut. Years later, Joe is still her mentor. This experience led Flora to becoming a passionate mentor herself and to starting her non-profit Thinking STEM.
Thinking STEM is focused on introducing young members of society to the wonders of STEM by creating relatable content. They host conferences, write blog posts, produce YouTube videos, and host podcasts with influential guest like Joe Tanner to inspire the next generation of female leaders. Flora wants to highlight stories in non-traditional ways that will get her audience to ask questions, because that’s what science is all about. She shares this real-world advice for anyone who wants to pursue their ambitious dreams:
1. Don’t Give Up
“Society tends to exaggerate how hard it is. There’s a lot of people who think they don’t have the drive, and the biggest thing I would say is don’t give up. Ignore the rumors, ignore what they’re saying. It’s doable. Anyone can do it.”
2. Build your professional network
“Utilize LinkedIn and social media. Anyone can follow me, message me, ask for a conversation. I do Zoom and Instagram calls with girls and people all over the world who are interested in working at SpaceX. Having a referral from inside the country is huge, if I didn’t have a referral I wouldn’t have this job.”
3. Find something you’re passionate about and be the best at it
“This is advice that I’ve gotten from pretty much every astronaut I’ve ever met. Don’t do something because someone says that’s what you should be doing, do it because you’re passionate about it. The reason you will succeed in these hard fields is because it’s something you want to be doing.”
4. Use the Shotgun Approach
“When you’re applying to jobs, apply to all positions, any positions. Even if it’s not the job you really want, but it’s in the company you want, apply to it anyways, and vice versa. Having the practice of interviews and building your network through those recruiters really helps. I applied to over 200 jobs before I got this job.”
5. Get as much experience as possible
“Even if it’s not perfectly in your field, it’s still worthwhile. I used to work as a drone pilot-- we built atmospheric drones. We were traveling in storm prone areas such as tornadic supercells and collecting atmospheric data for NOAA/NCAR research. It was the coolest experience and I talked about it in my SpaceX interview. Having tons of skills and experience really serves you well.”
Technological advancements in the aerospace industry are fueling exciting innovations. Starlink worldwide internet, space tourism, interplanetary travel, Lunar / Marian bases, and hypersonic travel to name a few. Flora feels confident that opportunities for future space travel are growing exponentially, increasing both her own and other women’s chances of going interstellar. You can follow Flora’s journey to becoming an astronaut on her Instagram page @astronautflora.