Christine Bland: Lift-off
Christine Bland is an aerospace electrical engineer, artist, and photographer. For over 30 years she’s worked for Lockheed Martin, designing electronics for NASA spacecraft including the Spitzer telescope, Phoenix Mars lander, Mars rovers (Spirit and Opportunity), Mars orbiters (Grail, Juno, Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter), and deep space probes (Stardust and Genesis). Since 2009, Christine has led the development of electronic hardware for NASA’s Orion spacecraft, designed to take humans farther into space than ever before. Christine is also a keen advocate for diversity and inclusion in education and STEM for trans people, with the National Organization of Gay and Lesbian Scientists and Technical Professionals naming her the LGBTQ Engineer of the Year in 2014.
In this episode of the Create the Future podcast, we speak with Christine about her incredible journey from Apollo 11-inspired child to launching her own work into space. We hear how an inclusive workplace culture and pride group helped her come out as trans in 2011, how she now champions LGBTQ equality in STEM, and discuss the importance of mentoring to ensure diversity in engineering. We talk all things problem solving, collaboration, and find out what it meant to be awarded NASA's prestigious Silver Snoopy Award.
- "We worked for years to build the complex electronics on the Orion spacecraft. The 2014 launch just puts tears in your eyes. To see your efforts being paid off so successfully is just beyond words.”
- “The Apollo capsules were built with transistors which were bulky and very power-consuming. Today's spacecraft are built with small state-of-the-art electronics that are radiation hardened to withstand deep-space particle bombardments.”
- “I’m responsible for all the complex electronics, or integrated circuits, on the Orion spacecraft. To make sure they are basically bulletproof from any issues occurring.”
- On coming out: “My personal experience was very positive, for other folks it isn't. It's the fear that they won't be accepted by their friends and family and co workers that keep people in the in the closet. It takes time, visibility and exposure.”
- On advice to her younger self: “I would say have courage and have faith that you will get there, not only as a successful engineer, but your true authentic self. I knew I was trans aged five, and I hid it all the way until my early 50s until I realised I couldn't live that life anymore. It took me a long time to get to the point where I had the courage to come out. So I would have told myself as an engineer, ‘have the courage to be who you are and you would succeed. Have faith in yourself’.”
- “Mentors would have helped me solve a lot of the issues I suffered through my life as a result of being in the closet. A mentor would would have gave me the courage and the tools I needed to overcome my fears and succeed whenever I came out.”
- “At the time I came out […] a lot of engineers would change careers, locations, they disappear from their old gender and reappear somewhere else as their new gender. But I wanted to keep doing what I did. I love it so much.”