Gwynne Shotwell, an American businesswoman and engineer, was born on November 23, 1963. She is the president and COO of SpaceX, a pioneering space transportation firm. She is in charge of day-to-day operations and company expansion.
Shotwell’s Early Years
In Evanston, Illinois, Shotwell was born to a brain surgeon and an artist. She was the middle of three daughters and was raised in Libertyville, Illinois. She graduated from Libertyville High School in 1982.
Gwynne and her family watched a television broadcast of the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. However, she recalls it being “boring” and not being interested in space. Shotwell was a standout intellectual and athletic performer in high school. She was a member of the cheering and Varsity basketball teams while also graduating at the top of her class. Shotwell’s interests shifted in high school after her mother took her to a Society of Women Engineers panel discussion at the Illinois Institute of Technology. There a mechanical engineer, in particular, pushed her to pursue a career in engineering. She then enrolled at Northwestern University, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and later a Master of Science in applied mathematics.
Gwynne Shotwell’s Career
At the beginning of her career, Shotwell gave an interview with IBM on the day of the Space Shuttle Challenger catastrophe. This resulted in her not being offered a job. Shotwell instead went to work for Chrysler Corporation’s management training program. She enjoyed it at first but eventually was tired and quit to return to Northwestern for her doctoral degree.
Shotwell started working at The Aerospace Corporation’s El Segundo research center in 1988. She was doing technical work on military space research and development contracts. STS-39 was her first project. Also, she worked in the field of thermal analysis for ten years. Shotwell held positions in both space systems engineering and project management.
She resigned from The Aerospace Corporation in 1998 to join Microcosm Inc. as director of the space systems division. She was also an executive committee member and was in charge of business development.
Shotwell departed Microcosm in 2002 to join Elon Musk’s SpaceX, a private, commercial space exploration corporation launched the same year. During a visit to SpaceX, she persuaded Musk that the company needed to recruit a full-time business development employee. Although, she had no intention of joining the company herself. Shotwell accepted the position two weeks later.
A Major Milestone
Following her role in the successful negotiation of the first Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA in December 2008, the company promoted Shotwell as a president, making a possible first successful launch of the Falcon 1 by SpaceX’s first on its fourth try earlier that year. She was in charge of growing the Falcon Vehicle manifest to over 50 launches, resulting in a $5 billion income stream. It featured a commercial resupply connection to the International Space Station, allowing them to send goods and supplies to the astronauts. Shotwell is presently the President and COO of SpaceX, where he is in charge of the company’s day-to-day operations and all customer and strategic relationships.
She directed the first relaunch and landing of a used orbital rocket. As well as the first controlled fly-back. Also the recovery of a payload fairing and the first re-flight of a commercial cargo spaceship.
NASA has given SpaceX a multibillion-dollar contract to transport humans and scientific instruments to the International Space Station.
SpaceX became the first commercial firm to carry two humans into Earth orbit on May 30, 2020.
On February 6, 2019, Polaris Industries announced that Shotwell would join their board of directors on March 1, 2019.
After electing her in 2004, Shotwell served on the California Space Authority’s Board of Directors and executive committee. She served on the AIAA Space Systems Technical Committee as an officer and is involved in several STEM-related activities. Over six years, she led a committee that raised over $350,000 in scholarships for the Frank J. Redd Student Competition.
Gwynne Shotwell gave a TEDx Talk about the importance of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics at TEDxChapmanU in June 2013. She speaks to corporate audiences regularly. In June 2014, she discussed personal entrepreneurial accomplishments in improving spaceflight technology as part of the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security’s “Captains of Industry” series.
Chris Anderson interviewed Shotwell about SpaceX’s future goals at the 2018 TED conference.
Shotwell gave a keynote titled “Launching Our Future” at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing on September 28, 2018. She described her vision and accomplishments in aerospace technology and why women’s diversity and inclusion are vital to growing as a society.
Shotwell’s Personal Life
Gwynne Shotwell is married to Robert Shotwell, a Jet Propulsion Laboratory engineer. Her first marriage to Leon Gurevich resulted in the birth of two children.
Awards and Honors
Women in Technology in 2012
Satellite Executive of the Year in 2017
Forbes’ America’s Top 50 Women in Tech for 2018
The 100 most influential persons in the world in 2020, according to the New York Times Satellite Executive of the Year in 2020
The National Academy of Engineering elected her in 2020 for providing NASA and the US National Security Space Launch Program cheap, commercially competitive space transportation.
Authored by Afifa Maryam Siddiqui
Edited by Yara Fakhoury
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