Growing up in a more urban setting, Marlene Escobedo often couldn’t see the stars at night, so she didn’t think about what existed beyond our atmosphere.
“It wasn’t until I was 16, after landing an internship with Lockheed Martin, that I first got the spark,” she said. “My mentor at the time was walking me through the Conceptual Design department, explaining what a ‘day in the life’ looked like for the aerospace engineers that were there, when the lightning struck. And I thought to myself ‘This is what I want for my career.’”
Escobedo’s pursuit of that career received a boost recently when she was selected for a Brooke Owens Fellowship. Created in 2016, the nonprofit recognizes exceptional undergraduate women and other gender minorities with space and aviation internships, senior mentorship and a lifelong professional network. Escobedo, an aerospace engineering student from Palmdale, was one of 44 fellows chosen from more than 800 applicants.
We asked Escobedo, who has worked at Lockheed Martin as an intern through college, about the fellowship, space and beyond.
What aspect of aerospace interests you most?
The challenges that surround supporting human life on other planets fascinate me — figuring out what materials to use, what structures, and finding that balance between the ability of the habitat to survive the harsh conditions it will face while maintaining some semblance of creature comforts for the humans that will be living in it.
For example: Suppose you needed to create the next Martian habitat. You would need a structure capable of surviving the harsh wastelands of Mars, along with the intense sandstorms that come with that, but also provide enough protection from radiation and other elemental factors for the humans within — all while trying to make sure it’s not just a lead-lined box with no windows.
As the ISS has been finding, prolonged living amongst the stars means more than just having air to breathe. You need a place to call “home,” with as many of the things that have come to mean “home” for us here on Earth. That includes mental health. So interior decoration/design, windows, every little thing starts to count a lot more when you consider the habitat as more than just a box to check for “will you survive.”
What part of the fellowship are you most looking forward to?
I am looking forward to the mentorship aspect of it. I love learning about other people in the aerospace community and how they got to certain points in their careers. I hope to be able to apply some of those lessons along my career in this industry.
Why do you think the fellowship is a good thing?
I think it’s great. There has been a long-standing issue in STEM careers where under-represented groups of people have not had a place to feel encouraged and/or get help. The reality is that it’s not common to find a person like me working in this industry, so the fact that there are people actively trying to fix that is really encouraging.
When you look up at the stars at night, what do you think about?
I think about how even if I were to spend a lifetime trying to count and learn about every star I see, I still wouldn’t come close to understanding all there is to learn about the universe we live in. I think about how so many generations of greats have already come and gone, each contributing their share of discoveries, and yet all it seems to have proven is how little we actually know. Lastly, I think about how exciting it would be to be one of those greats, contributing some great feat of discovery of the final frontier, and I get excited and impatient to hurry up and start exploring.
What is your aerospace dream job?
In a nutshell? Captain Kirk exploring the great unknowns of space. In a more realistic realm: the chance to be a pioneer braving the unknowns in one of the first manned missions to Mars has been a long-standing dream of mine. In lieu of not making it in time for Mars, I’d honestly be happy for any chance to get my footprints on some distant planet never before explored by mankind.