December 15, 2019 • Evelyn J. Arevalo
Gwynne Shotwell is an admirable woman, she is an Engineer, President and Chief operating officer of SpaceX, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk. She may well be, one of the best stories of success for women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields over the last decade. These fields have a long history of lack of diversity and inclusion, even to this day. Determined against all odds she gained the opportunity to lead in the most innovative industry that will forever change humanity's future.
"You can’t be on the cusp of innovation and at the forefront of technology if you’re wearing blinders. If you don’t have an exploration programme where you’re exploring your world here on Earth, underwater, and in space, then you’re wearing blinders and handicapping yourself."
Shotwell's leadership has earned her a place in Forbes 2019's list of '100 Most Powerful Women,' she is listed as the 55th most powerful woman in the world. With great power comes even greater responsibility, she has worked at SpaceX since the early days in 2002, is responsible for day-to-day operations, and has a vital role in company growth. Under her leadership, SpaceX has grown from a rocket that almost didn't make it to orbit to developing the most technologically advanced orbital-class rockets that have lifted off and returned from space 46 times –a first in the history of space travel! The company's Falcon 9 rocket boosters are capable of being launched into space and returning to land vertically on autonomous drone ships at sea, in order to be reused again. No other rocket company has achieved that level of reusability. [Read: SpaceX's Greatest Achievements.]
Shotwell's leadership has also earned the company many contracts to further develop their space program. The company has grown to have a valuation of $33.4 billion, with over 6,000 employees working collectively to take humans back to the Moon and Mars one day.
Despite the level of success Shotwell has experienced at SpaceX, she says it's actually been the times she's failed that have taught her the most:
"You don't learn anything from success, but you learn a lot from your failures."
Most companies can get trapped in the typical hierarchical set-up, but Shotwell's passion and leadership has helped make SpaceX a company that is more about innovative ideas instead of sticking to only designations.
"SpaceX is a flat organisation. Anyone gets to talk to anyone, and the best idea wins –even if it comes from an intern."
She stated that the company’s employees are encouraged to "focus on simplifying their jobs and making the task easier instead of putting their heads down and being a hero."
Regarding working alongside the CEO Elon Musk, Shotwell said in a TED Talk last year that she loves working with him, even after 16 years, "I don't think I'm dumb enough to do something for 16 years that I don't like doing. He's funny and fundamentally, without him saying anything, he drives you to do your best work. He doesn't have to say a word. You just want to do great work."
SpaceX has many ambitious plans. Next year, they aim to send astronauts to the International Space Station for the first time on their Crew Dragon spacecraft, as part of a contract with NASA. They also have plans to fund their future space program by offering high-speed satellite internet all over the planet, they are actively working on deploying a megaconstellation named Starlink.
Their space program involves building Moon Base Alpha and a sustainable city on Mars before the year 2050. SpaceX is currently developing the world's most powerful rocket to achieve these missions, a two stage stainless-steel Starship that will enable life on the Moon, Mars and beyond. [Read: SpaceX Is Building The World's Most Powerful Rocket: Starship Technical Details]
A powerful rocket for a powerful woman.
Shotwell is truly pushing the boundaries of what is possible and will be remembered as the woman who led SpaceX teams towards enabling humans to become a multi-planet species.
Congratulations to Gwynne Shotwell!