9 mins read 05 Sep 2022

Women of the Australian Space Community: SGT Amy Hestermann-Crane

Women play a huge role in the Australian space sector, and each week will be sharing the story of an inspiring woman who makes our community so special.

Sergeant (SGT) Amy Hestermann-Crane is an analyst in the RAAF focussing on space. Credit: Supplied.

In March each year, we not only celebrate International Women’s Day but we also enjoy learning about all the contributions women have made to society during Women’s History Month. Originally started in the US in 1987, it has in recent times, in part due to social media, become more well known across the world. 

As a celebration of all the wonderful work, inspiration and support that women across our region do in the space sector, will be speaking to a new women in the Australian space community weekly, to uncover their stories and find out who inspires them.  

Sergeant (SGT) Amy Hestermann-Crane - Analyst Royal Australian Air Force

What is your role within the Australian Defence Force?

I am Sergeant (SGT) Amy Hestermann-Crane and I am currently employed as an analyst for the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). In 2019, I was accepted into a mentorship to study space ethics under Revd. Dr Squadron Leader (SQNLDR) Nikki Coleman. This opportunity allowed me to step into the academic realm of space research, which I am passionate about continuing. 

In 2020, I was selected as one of the first RAAF Space Analysts. In this role I focus on the space environment, current and emerging technologies, and various challenges that will face the Australian Defence Force and greater Australia in the years to come. Although my analyst role has broadened to include other domains, I am still heavily focused on space and am looking forward to continuing my analyst career within the new Defence Space Command. There is always something new to learn, to discover, or challenge to ponder. You can never truly be bored with space!

How did you end up working in the space sector and what drew you to it?

I was exceptionally lucky that the world-renowned space ethicist, Revd. Dr SQNLDR Nikki Coleman is also a RAAF ethicist. In one of her many initiatives to support education, Nikki was supported by RAAF to mentor a junior enlisted member in the field of military space ethics. I won that opportunity and undertook a year of research into dual-use satellites and their ethical challenges. My relationship with Nikki continued and I’ve had the immense privilege to assist her on various space ethic presentations to Australia’s brightest children at YMCA or Scout Space Camps. These experiences are what placed me in a unique position to be one of the RAAF’s first space analysts.

I have always loved space. I was raised on Star Trek and other science fiction. I also lived on a farm where the night sky was brilliantly clear and filled with stars. These two things meant that the mystery and majesty of space has been close to my heart. To know that there are so many ways to contribute to the world’s space development now is truly thrilling – I’m still amazed I get to be a part of it.

What advice would you give to people looking to start their career in the Australian space Industry, whether they are new graduates or those looking to move their careers over?

As someone who has mild dyscalculia, (a difficulty in learning and manipulating numbers and mathematical concepts)  I thought my struggles with maths would always prevent me from having a career in space. Don’t get me wrong, maths is important and if your passion lies in a career that uses maths – go for it! We need you!

 But for those a little less math inclined, the key to space (and really any field) is passion and curiosity. If you’re curious, you’ll seek answers to questions, keep pushing for solutions, and are more likely to find novel means of thinking about the world around you. Passion will help you get through the difficult times, the boring bits in between the excitement, and keep you going long after that super genius who isn’t motivated by their work. Intelligence will always help you, but if you’re not curious and excited about your chosen field of study (from space history, space ethics, space operations, to astrophysics, satellite engineering, or rocket design), you’re not going to last when things get a little challenging. Passion and curiosity win almost every single time. 

Who have you met that has had the most impact on your career journey so far?

This is easily Revd. Dr SQNLDR Nikki Coleman. She accepted me for a mentorship in 2019 to undertake space ethics research. Not only that, but Nikki created the field of space ethics roughly eight years ago, despite it not seeming relevant within academia at the time. 

However, ever the forward thinker, it’s become increasingly evident that space ethics is a vital topic of discussion in every facet of space development from the law, technology, exploration, military use, and more. Nikki also volunteers her time teaching the next generations about space and space ethics. Seeing how she is able to inspire the talented minds of the future to think about these problems is a real privilege. Some of her work with these children has already influenced policy changes in organisations like the European Space Agency – Nikki is exceptional and a constant source of inspiration to me within space and in my greater life.

NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson is photographed at her desk at NASA Langley Research Center with a globe, or "Celestial Training Device," in 1962. Credit: NASA Langley Research Center.

Which women in the history of the Space Industry do you look up to? What was it about their achievements that resonated with you?

There are many contemporary women in space who I greatly admire. The first is Revd. Dr SQNDLR Nikki Coleman, who tirelessly works to ensure ethics is sewn into the fabric of all space endeavours to make space ethical for all of humanity. Dr Cassandra Steer is a space lawyer, who works equally hard within the legal sphere to gain national and international norms of behaviour and (hopefully) international laws to hold space nations to account for their actions. Dr Alice Gorman, space archaeologist, created a field for herself as she recognised the (often overlooked) importance of our collective space history and culture. As an avid history fan myself, I am inspired by her proactive thinking to ensure that a field that is always looking forward doesn’t neglect or damage what it has already left behind.

Looking further into history, NASA employees Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine (Goble) Johnson, and Mary Jackson. These African American women were instrumental in furthering the 1969 Apollo mission. However, during their employment, they were also leaders in progressing women’s and African American credibility in a predominantly white male environment. Doing one of these things alone is impressive, but to do everything and achieve such success displays levels of fortitude, resilience, and fierce determination that I am awed by.

There are many women, often only whispered in the halls of space history that are worth mentioning. I highly recommend going down the google ‘rabbit hole’ of women in space history. The first female astronaut, Valentina Tereshkova, for example. Your nation’s first female anything is usually a fascinating tale to uncover!  

What do you think are some of the issues faced by women in the space sector and how do you think they should be resolved?

I think many of the issues faced by women in the space sector are similar to those faced in broader STEM and industry sectors. Many of these areas are male-dominated and so women are often faced with needing to work harder to gain credibility, be seen and heard, and recognised for their efforts. There are workplace practice changes that occur, which can be seen as women being an inconvenience to the status quo instead of an evolution of the environment. These issues exist across the Australian (and global) workplace environment and as such it is not just the space sector that needs to identify the specific issues affecting women. 

However, space as a relatively new and quickly evolving industry in this country has the unique advantage of being able to identify needs, implement change, and be a leader for workplace equality. I hope that the space sector embraces this opportunity and supports all forms of diversity initiatives and egalitarian workplace designs moving forward.

What has been the highlight of your career so far or what are you looking forward to most in the future?

My greatest highlight was that my research into the ethical challenges of dual-use satellites was published in Military Space Ethics in February 2022. The chapter was the end result of my 2019 mentorship and is a tangible reminder of how far I’ve come, how much I’ve learnt, and how there are so many other avenues to a space career than just engineering or physics - two fields I’m not suited for! This work is also the very start of my space career and how I became so passionate about space ethics and its importance to current and future space endeavours.

Being published was always a dream of mine. I’ve done many things in space that I find value in. However, I think completing a childhood dream is something one doesn’t easily forget. Saying that I’m looking forward to a chapter I wrote on Australia’s space history, present, and possible future being released next year.

What are you most excited about in the coming years for the Australian Space Industry?

There is so much to be excited about! At the moment, Australia is leading the world in space ethics discussions and though – I’m very excited to see us continue this and help influence other space nations to focus on their ethical behaviours. More broadly, I’m excited to see our science and technology industries grow. Australia has many talented scientists who have had to leave home to follow their dreams. With Australia focusing on space, these people can return with their wealth of experience and help us create a world-leading space industry.