Caeley Looney is working to send a lunar lander to the moon as a Missions Operations Engineer at Firefly Aerospace. Yes ... she is one of the rockstars you see in the mission control center during a rocket launch. She is also a founder of Reinvented Magazine, a nonprofit focused on changing the perception of women in STEM while supporting and inspiring young girls to reach for the moon!
Robots in space
As engineers employed by the navy, Caeley's parents had aircraft carrier schematics laying around the house. They soon discovered that young Caeley had a love for math and science.
Initially, Caeley wanted to be a fashion designer until her mother took her to a robotics meeting in sixth grade. That's where Caeley saw how math and science could be applied in a hands-on way to build robots ... she was instantly hooked.
Her parents encouraged Caeley's interest in STEM every step of the way. Through high school, she participated in robotics competitions, and after learning that it was possible to send robots into space, she officially decided to pursue a degree in aerospace engineering.
Rocky road ahead
During her freshman year of college, Caeley started to experience prejudice and negative comments that told her she couldn’t make it as a woman in engineering. When she went to her professor during office hours for a difficult coding class, she remembers him saying that the only way she would survive school was to put a ring on her finger.
"That first blow hit me the hardest. I failed exams and even a class afterwards."
She went to the dean to ask for his approval to retake the class she was failing and he told her with disdain that she wouldn’t be able to get her engineering degree if she couldn’t pass a simple physics class.
The blows kept on coming throughout college and into her career. Caeley thought she had to hide her identity, work extra hard, and prove something to be accepted by the male-dominated world she was a part of.
It took many years for Caeley to realize that she had lost many parts of herself trying to not to be noticed as the only girl in the room. She doesn’t want other women to make the same mistake.
“These blows took a toll. From sadness, to the complete lack of self-worth, to anger – my feelings fueled the idea for the nonprofit.”
Helping women be heard
Caeley never wanted others to feel the way she did. It was personal. She founded Reinvented Magazine to build a support system for women and girls in STEM, who may not even be lucky enough to have the support of their parents.
“I want to lift the voices of women and make sure their voices are heard.”
To push innovation in aerospace and other STEM fields, all voices need to be heard. Caeley stresses the importance of making sure everyone feels welcome in their learning environments and workplaces so they can focus and succeed.
“I know how hard it is and how much women go through just to put their foot in the door. We can’t stop there. We would not have gotten to the moon or space, if Katherine Johnson hadn’t decided to sit in a room full of men and do the impossible. Women have different ideas that are going to get us to the next level – not just in space, but across every industry.”
Advice for young STEMinists
"First and foremost, it’s going to be hard. Math classes without the prejudice are not easy. Finding the right support groups are crucial to navigating your journey. Find women’s clubs, Facebook groups, online influencers, or a group of friends who will be there to support you. We are here waiting to fight for you.”
"Secondly, always be yourself. Once you start an engineering degree, you’ll quickly realize how much you stand out. There’s this feeling that you need to fit in, but you’ll never be as passionate or excited about what you’re doing if you’re not doing it as you.”
"Finally – it's all worth it! I get to work on something that’s going to the moon! Imagine where you can be. You can do it!"
Outside of work, Caeley has a shop where she works on random and weird ideas she envisions (her words). Before winning a pair of Xena Workwear boots at her Space Gala she put on last year, she never owned a pair of safety boots, and had to be extra cautious while using sharp tools.
“I couldn’t do my projects without feeling confident and safe at the same time, but now my Xena boots are the only thing I wear in my shop. I don’t have that sense of fear or worry anymore. And they are so comfy!”
Check-out Caeley’s various projects on her Instagram – some of her recent inventions include a Ferris wheel for her plants and an origami kayak!
We couldn't be more proud to write this feature on Caeley Looney. Please consider supporting her Reinvented Magazine nonprofit and next time you witness a rocket launch, picture Caeley sitting in the mission control center to help propel lunar lander to its destination.