Space Manager Claudia Kessler
„I would abandon everything to explore a new planet“
Having been a student of Mechanical Engineering at TUM, Claudia Kessler enthusiastically gets involved in any discussion about women in aerospace. Even though she never went to space herself, she is now one of the central figures in astronautics. Now she intends to send the first female German astronaut into space.
When four-year-old Claudia Kessler watched the first moon landing on TV with her parents, she knew for certain: one day she will be an astronaut herself. But life has different plans for her. After finishing school she enrols at TUM in Mechanical Engineering and studies Aerospace. Being the only woman amongst one thousand men, she learns early on to stand her ground. Her application as an astronaut on the second German Spacelab Mission with the spaceship Columbia however fails due to timing, because she is not yet able to present a degree at this point. Even today Claudia Kessler still regrets having missed this chance a little. She has a clear idea of how fascinating earth looks from space: “You recognize how fragile our atmosphere is and that we are travelling through space on this blue planet ‘completely by ourselves’.
I usually do not let setbacks stop me.
Astronautics as a Profession
Even though it has not worked out with a trip into space, Claudia Kessler made Astronautics her profession. “I usually do not let setbacks stop me. I am more the ‘now more than ever’ type”, she says today. Straight after finishing her studies Claudia Kessler joins an Astronautics company in Munich. Today she is managing the European branch of Hernandez Engineering Space, one of the leading recruiters for highly qualified personnel in the space sector. Since more than 20 years she is a member of several committees, takes part in panel discussions and is trying to get women excited about rockets and satellites. Because the low percentage of women in this industry continues to upset her, together with a colleague she is organising the European-wide network Women in Aerospace, which improves the visibility of women in Astronautics and their leadership opportunities. Here, the just 1,61 tall woman knows how to draw attention: “I am naturally loud and noticeable and like to take centre stage. And if nobody sees me, I will get up on a chair.”
The Dream Remains
In 2016 Claudia Kessler has decided that, after 11 German men in space it is finally the women’s turn. She started a private initiative to help cast and train the first German female astronaut and to send her into space. The response was overwhelming: they received numerous applications of young women. In cooperation with the German Aerospace Centre and Airbus two female astronauts have been selected in April, who have meanwhile started their training for flying into space. For Claudia Kessler this initiative is not just a matter of principle. From a science perspective, it is important to gather data on how female bodies react in space: “I am thinking about the hormonal changes, how the skin sweats, and also changes in the eyes and the circulatory system and of course psychological factors.”
With her campaign Claudia Kessler is on a road to success and has received significant support, amongst others, from the Federal Minister of Economics Brigitte Zypries. She has also promoted women in her own company and filled half of the management positions with females. But the dream of flying into space herself remains. If there was a mission to explore another planet – with no possibility to return – would she join? “Yes! Even though it would be hard for me to leave my friends and family, the curiosity and sense of adventure to explore an unknown planet would be stronger.”
Diplom Aerospace Engineering 1990
Claudia Kessler has studied Mechanical Engineering at TUM and specialised in Aerospace Engineering. Since 2008 she is managing the European branch of Hernandez Engineering Space, in short HE Space, one of the leading recruiters for highly qualified personnel in Aeronautics. Claudia Kessler is the founder of the initiative Die Astronautin (www.dieastronautin.de) and volunteers as a mentor in the programme TUM Mentoring for Students by Alumni. She is married and mother of a daughter.