Danielle Richey: Exploring the Moon and Beyond

Danielle Richey is a project manager, systems engineer, and architect at Lockheed Martin, where she focuses on defining and enabling the future path of human exploration to the moon, Mars, and beyond. Since joining Lockheed Martin in 2008, she has worked on multiple defense-related projects as well as the Orion spacecraft and the NextSTEP Habitat program. Richey has undergraduate and graduate degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado, with an emphasis in bioastronautics. An obsessive list-maker, when not working on space projects, she likes backpacking, diving, and cooking. She is also the keynote speaker at ASME’s E-Fest West to be held in held in Pomona, California.

Q: Tell us about your current position and what do you do?
D.R: I work in a group called Advanced Programs, where I focus on the future of human space exploration. We are designing a habitat that will orbit the Moon and support astronauts exploring the lunar surface.

Q: What drove you to choose your career in aerospace?
D.R: This goes back to when I was a senior in high school. My dad took me for a campus tour at the University of Colorado, Boulder where I saw their aerospace engineering facility. My dad understood I had an aptitude for math and science and suggested engineering as an option. In my head it was a really theoretical study. But when I toured the campus and saw students working in bunny suits on a space-bound CubeSat, that was the moment I realized that engineering wasn’t just theory. That was an eye-opening moment and set my career in motion.

Q: Is there any project at Lockheed Martin that you are particularly proud of?
D.R: I am really proud of the small amount of work I have done on NASA’s Orion spacecraft. I am particularly proud of the work I have done on the lunar orbiting Gateway and trying to shape the future of human space exploration at the moon, Mars, and beyond. I want to see people land on the moon, and I also want to see a woman land on the moon.

Q: What are some of the current challenges the space industry is facing?
D.R: The industry is facing a huge retirement wave. NASA has a statistic where they have talked about how almost 44 percent of their workforce will be eligible to retire in 2023. Lockheed Martin has similar concerns in all their engineering disciplines. That’s one of the major things in the space industry—to make sure we have that knowledge transfer from all of the people who are going to retire.

Q: Do you think space is the place for mechanical engineers? What skills do MEs need for space jobs?
D.R: The space sector is a very rich place for mechanical engineers to grow, especially now with additive manufacturing being used extensively in the aerospace field. Whatever your major is in college, especially if you are an engineer, you can deviate based on your skillset and interest. Among the aerospace engineers who are hired, for example, many take on programming and are very successful software engineers. Having someone who understands software and hardware systems and is able to integrate them is invaluable.
ME: What career advice would you give to young women aspiring to join your profession?
D.R: My main piece of advice for young women is to believe in yourself. There are so many things young women are told they cannot do, so having the confidence in their skill and knowledge to be able to voice their opinion is very important. Having the confidence that you are equal to your peers is really important. Another bit of advice is to build a network of people and collaborate on projects, and have those bonds to allow you to move forward in your career.

Chitra Sethi is the managing editor of Mechanical Engineering magazine.

Reprinted from Mechanical Engineering magazine. 

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