Gwynne Shotwell is an American businesswoman in charge of operations at SpaceX. She’s been revolutionizing space technology since before 2002 and is now the president of Elon Musk’s space company. Under her leadership, SpaceX has achieved historic milestones, like being the first privately funded spacecraft to reach the International Space Station. Gwynne Shotwell was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame and made it on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women. She continues to break down barriers every day for women in tech!

How Things Started

Gwynne grew up in Illinois with very supportive parents who worked as an artist and a brain surgeon. In an interview, she confessed that she hadn’t been interested in space tech when she was younger, but rather fell in love with it as she started working in the field. She did, however, develop an interest in the way that machines worked from a young age. In high school, she was a very well-rounded student and excelled in both academics and athletics. She recalls a pivotal moment in her teenage years that led her down the path to engineering. It all started when her mother brought her to a panel discussion done by the Society of Women Engineers. Nothing drew her eye, but she felt a connection to the mechanical engineering section, and one of the Engineers’ pitches won her over. Shotwell attended Northwestern University, where she received her Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and a Master of Science in applied mathematics. 

Gwynne’s career in space tech started in 1988 when she moved to LA to work at the Aerospace Corporation. She was able to work on the STS-39 space shuttle mission and was a part of the thermal analysis team. After her time at the Aerospace Corporation, she joined Microcosm and worked on contracts for bigger space tech companies. Although Shotwell enjoyed her job, she felt a calling to make a bigger impact on the world. 

Changing the Game at SpaceX

In 2002, Gwynne Shotwell had a friend who worked for SpaceX under the founder, Elon Musk. He encouraged Gwynne to take a chance on the small company and come meet Elon Musk. Elon shared his visions for the future of SpaceX with Gwynne and encouraged her to apply for a job working as the Vice President of SpaceX sales. Although it was a very generous offer, Gwynne had numerous other factors to consider. She would have to balance being a mother, going through a divorce, and a renovation project on top of her job. Gwynne realized it would be a huge risk to join this new company, but after long consideration, she called Elon up and took the job.

Taking the job at SpaceX would be the best decision both Gwynne and Elon would make. She negotiated powerful contracts with NASA, which jumpstarted the success of SpaceX. She pioneered the efforts on the Falcon 1, which was previously unsuccessful and created more than five billion dollars in revenue. Furthermore, she oversaw many firsts for the company, including orbital rocket landings on land and in the ocean, controlled flybacks, and even reusable orbital rockets. Shotwell was taking the world by storm and became a well-known power in the industry. She is proving to the world that women are powerful in space tech, and in doing so, she has become a role model for young women in STEM. 

Changing the Story for Women in Tech

Gwynne’s journey in engineering, however, wasn’t always the easiest. She recalls applying for a job at an HVAC company during the summer in high school. The boss of the company called Gwynne, but he was shocked when he learned that she was a woman. He refused to give her a position at the company because he claimed she wouldn’t be able to keep up with the heavy lifting. Gwynne had been an athlete her whole life, and she told him she would kick the butts of the other guys. Even after her compelling argument, he refused to give her a job. Unfortunately, this was extremely common in the engineering industry, but Gwynne Shotwell is living proof that you can do anything you put your mind to. 

Gwynne is a role model not just for women in STEM, but for anyone aspiring to push boundaries. Her advice to the next generation of engineers is that you don’t have to be the smartest person in the room, just the hardest worker. Her impact at SpaceX has shown that, with a clear vision and relentless drive, it’s possible to revolutionize industries and make what once seemed like science fiction, a reality. Not only that, but her work continues to inspire new generations to look up at the stars and dream big.

Listen to Gwynne Shotwell Dive Deeper into Her Story and the Future of SpaceX

Food for Thought

Why is gender equality essential in the workplace? How do stories like Gwynne’s inspire you? What do you think the future of space tech will look like?

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