Miranda Satterthwaite 1983-1987
Miranda Satterthwaite 1983-1987
Miranda’s journey through life has been nothing short of extraordinary. Her love for the outdoors and astronomy led her to explore the realms of alpine skiing, education, space exploration, and everything in between. Miranda’s endeavours have taken her to some of the most extreme environments on earth and her mission is to prepare the next generation for a future that is still unfolding. Miranda’s story is a testament to the power of passion, resilience, and the pursuit of knowledge in a world on the brink of new frontiers.
Tell us about your school days, what you enjoyed both academically and culturally at Rangi Ruru.
Much to my excitement, I was awarded the Prize for the Best All Round Girl in my final year of school. Looking back this may have been because I had the resilience to participate both in sport including the alpine ski, cross-country and athletics teams at representative level, and in cultural groups including the debating team as well as excelling in public speaking and music. I was also proud to be awarded the German Embassy Prize for German in my final year which had an impact on my future as I went on to train as a ski instructor in Austria and studied German and European Politics at Canterbury University. Academically I enjoyed human sciences, which led me to complete my Bachelor of Science at Otago University.
What is your most memorable moment from school?
My most memorable moment at school was going up into the Craigieburn Range for outdoor education and biology. I loved experiential learning, being together with friends in the mountains, solving problems in an extreme environment and exploring the native beech forests.
What did you do after leaving school?
I studied at the University of Otago majoring in physiology, anatomy, and psychology and graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the University of Canterbury. I had a passion for physics and astronomy, which I went on to teach at Christchurch Boys’ High School, where I also managed alpine sports and robotics, whilst completing a Master of Educational Leadership. I also qualified both in Austria and New Zealand as an ISIA ski Instructor, specialising in survival in extreme alpine environments.
Once qualified, what did you do?
My father was a director for Porter Heights Ski Area so we grew up alpine ski racing, constructing huts and ensuring survival of our family and friends up remote mountains. In summer we would holiday at Lake Tekapo in the Dark Sky Reserve, so I became captivated by stars and astronomy. After ski coaching and teaching English in Japan I came back to New Zealand to study international law at master’s level. These passions were drawn together when during my role as STEM Coordinator at the Ara Institute of Canterbury I was given the opportunity to not only direct the first Mission to Mars programme in New Zealand but experienced STEM education across a range of NASA Centres in the US. I trained in rocketry at the NASA Marshall Flight Centre USA with Space Camp, undertook the Mission to Mars at the Kennedy Space Centre, trained in fixed wing including the NASA SOFIA Mission at Armstrong Flight Centre, and learned about Astrobiology in NASA Ames. I then went on to work at the Ara Institute of Engineering, as well as the University of Canterbury Faculty of Engineering – inspiring students into STEM tertiary pathways. After that, I held the role of Antarctic Academy Director at the International Antarctic Centre and am currently the Academy Manager for the Aotearoa Aerospace Academy as well as tutoring at Lincoln University.
Please tell us a little more about your journey so far.
I took the skills learned in the USA back to New Zealand. Space and Antarctica are both extreme environments and this is where I could immerse myself in my ‘art’. As the Academy Director for the Antarctic Academy at the International Antarctic Centre, I undertook two NASA SOFIA Missions across the southern oceans looking for water on the Moon and Pluto. I also guided two Aurora Missions with Viva Tours where I led clients through stunning space weather over the southern oceans. To spread knowledge to today’s youth and improve pathways into Aerospace I also established the Mission to Space programmes for students, including astronaut training, Mission to the Moon, Mission to Mars and astronomy at the International Antarctic Centre. Last year I was trained by Rocket Lab to be a Rocket Lab Educator. This year Aerospace New Zealand invited me to bring the programmes across to the Aerospace sector so now I am managing these programmes as the Manager for the Aotearoa Aerospace Academy. I also hold an academic position at Lincoln University where I support future international bachelors, master’s and PhD students with their academic writing. University work provides me with the flexibility to focus on areas of interest for me, for example, this week I taught robotics and rocketry. I also work closely with the New Zealand Airforce in my projects, aiming to exemplify their values to respond with courage and integrity to ethically challenging environments. Through this I can support pathways into STEM to grow the potential for New Zealand’s aerospace sector.
How does the work you do benefit our society?
Our globe is under pressure not only from overpopulation, food security and climate change, but from political insecurity. Our planet is rapidly becoming an extreme environment so much so that we must innovate to live on it or find a new place to live. Political agreements like the Antarctic Treaty and the Artemis Accord provide a promise that countries can work together to cross new frontiers of exploration to Antarctica, the Moon and eventually Mars. This is important because we need options to innovatively live in extreme environments, mine other planets and live on other planets. The Aerospace sector provides New Zealand with many niche opportunities to contribute to the space economy, from robotics and programming, to wearables, food technology, composites, and advanced aviation to name a few. The main constraint for New Zealand companies to grow however is a productive skilled labour force, which my current work focuses on providing.
What motivates you to get out of bed every morning?
I love aerospace and the incredible group of international people I meet each day through operating in this sector. It takes only 90 minutes for a satellite launched by Rocket Lab to orbit the planet, so my work makes the world smaller. Much of my family live overseas – I have one sister Juliet in Spain and the other Gabriel in USA, so my work provides me with the opportunity to be close to them even though they may be geographically far away. WhatsApp, LinkedIn and Facebook have been made possible by aerospace technologies so I can communicate with a range of international professionals and friends in a way you could not have dreamed of when we were back at school. I also love to know that I am preparing students for a future that they cannot see yet but for which they must be prepared.
What advice would you give school leavers who are seeking a rewarding career?
The most important thing to consider is that the job you will be doing in 20 years’ time and the tools and technologies that you will be dealing with have not been invented yet. That means that your most important skill is to not just to understand the fundamentals of mathematics, science and communication, but to be collaborative and resilient enough to adapt to a changing world of work. University is only one pathway; trade institutes and working straight from school also provide important learning. Your ability to problem solve and test out solutions, as well as accept and learn from failure is more important than perfection. As a woman you also need to expand and shrink and expand your career during different stages of your life. This is where careers in programming and engineering are fantastic for women. Finally artificial intelligence and robotics will change the job landscape so get used to working with them and being able to provide the humane team skills that a robot cannot in a future that may lead us to be a multi planetary species. Most of all have fun – the friends you make now you will need for life, so enjoy and store up all that love and care now for the challenges you will face later.