Diversifying the Space Frontier With Kim Macharia


Kim Macharia will be the first to tell you she’s not a scientist. She’s not an astronaut, either—although she’s dying to go to space. But she may be the most important new voice in the U.S. space … well … space!

Kim is the executive director of the Space Prize Foundation and also serves as the chair of the Space Frontier Foundation, two organizations whose aim is to make careers in space exploration more accessible to women, girls and people from diverse backgrounds.

Consider, for a second, these numbers Space Prize lists on its website:

  • Of the 600 people who have traveled to space, only 12% were women
  • Less than 25% of all aerospace employees are women
  • Only 20% of senior roles within the space industry are held by women
  • At NASA, only ⅓ of its employees are women and hold just 28% of its senior roles and only 16% of its science-related positions
  • As of 2020, there had only been 18 Black astronauts in the history of NASA and even fewer Hispanic astronauts

So, in other words, you might say Kim’s mission is to diversify space itself.

“There are so many people who can and should be working in the space field,” she told me. “But because of the lack of representation, they feel like there's no place for them or that they wouldn't be comfortable or thrive in this industry. And we’re trying to shift that narrative. What’s encouraging is that so many people are actively trying to solve this problem. We realize that we've been keeping women and other underrepresented groups out of this field for too long and we're stifling innovation because of it.”

Kim’s journey to her role as a leading advocate for diversifying the space industry began in the least likely of places: a screenplay she wrote. As part of a fellowship program during her senior year at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, Kim, a theater lover and performer, wrote a script inspired by a thrift-store NASA Space Camp jacket that she stumbled across one day. The jacket triggered an idea that she poured into her script and the project turned into a truly life-changing experience.

“During my research, I came to find out just how difficult it really was for women, minorities and especially people from non-spacefaring nations to get engaged in the world of space. There are so many systemic barriers that prevented them from participating in this beautiful industry. So I wrote my senior thesis as a philosophy student in college about democratizing space.”

That same year, Kim rode that wave of inspiration and convinced her school to give her a grant to attend South by Southwest, where she attended as many space-related talks and keynotes as she could and built up a network by introducing herself to startup founders, NASA employees and other industry leaders. She started volunteering at the Space Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the exploration and development of space. In just three years, she went from volunteer to chairwoman of the organization’s board of directors. And in 2021, she helped launch the Space Prize Foundation, which encourages young women to explore STEAM careers. In 2022, the group will launch a global contest to send two young women into space. The winners each year between now and 2024 will also receive a subsidy to start a STEM or STEAM initiative in their communities.

“I think if you actually look at the number of women who are studying the subjects necessary to get more technical jobs in the space industry, there is great representation in those classroom settings,” Kim says. “But what we’re trying to do is help connect the dots for women to see that this field is worth fully immersing themselves in professionally. And the intention is not just to create future astronauts or future engineers with this. We really want to transform the way these girls think about what's possible for their lives and for their futures.”

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