Exclusive Interview with Ms. Mishaal Ashemimry: Reaching Up to the Star Dreams

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Aerospace Engineer and Founder of MISHAAL Aerospace, Ms. Mishaal Ashemimry is the first woman to work for NASA from the entire GCC. Her success is a proof of sheer dedication to reach up to the stars that she had dreamt off.

Ms. Mishaal Ashemimry is nominated as one of the top 10 influential women from the Arab World. Bahrain This Week presents Ms. Mishaal Ashemimry to our readers.

You are an inspiration for many women in GCC. What was your inspiration behind this success?

The stars in the Unayzah desert in Saudi Arabia inspired me for the first time at the age of six. To feed my curiosity, I decided to learn how to build space vehicles that will enable me to explore space and one day take me there.

You are the first woman to join NASA from Saudi Arabia. What do you
consider as your major responsibilities for the country?

To clarify, I did not work for NASA I did research for them during my Master’s degree. NASA paid the tuition for my Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering and paid me a stipend.

As a graduate research assistant I worked on a NASA Marshall Space Flight Center project on nuclear thermal propulsion. I analyzed and designed a new thermal nuclear rocket engine for Mars Missions for NASA.  I analyzed and modeled the thermo-fluid behavior inside the nuclear core of the 1960s NERVA-Type reactors to better understand the issue of large wall thermal gradients and to benchmark codes to design our new nuclear thermal rocket engine. The objective of my work was to design a nuclear thermal rocket that minimizes or eliminates the thermal issues experienced by the 1960s NERVA-Type reactors. This new design was called the Grooved-Ring reactor. My research involved analyzing, modeling, optimizing and redesigning the grooved-ring reactor to minimize or eliminate thermal wall gradients and enhance rocket performance. The research was successful and I published a conference paper in July 2007 at the 43rd AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit.

I think my responsibility is to inspire the youth to have a dream and perseverance to pursue it. In addition, to do everything in my power to open the door for my field in the country.

You started own rocket company at the age of 26. What were the major challenges that you had faced?

Technical Struggle:

This is the type of struggle I like as it enables me to learn and fix technical issues. Here are some technical struggles
I faced while at my rocket company, Mishaal Aerospace

– Fuel mixer keeping a vacuum
while mixing

Solved

– Combustion Chamber failed 3 times at Hydrotest

Solved

– Valve replaced at static test

Solved

– Oxidizer tank getting to the desired pressure at static test

Solved

Most of these struggles were occurring during a financial struggle to find more investors for Mishaal Aerospace and they happened at critical times as we were running out of time and money.

Financial Struggle:

Not the type of difficulty I like:

– We had a fully vested investor

– Investor financial issues surfaced at crunch time

– Search for investors two and
half years

• Aerospace is not an easy field to attract investors

• For those that appreciate it, they already invested in other rocket companies

• Too risky for the average type
of investor

The space is always referred as abode of ‘heaven’ in religious texts. Have you ever experienced any divine intervention during your career?

Yes:

1. Being inspired at the age of 6 by
the stars

2. Being put in a position where it was difficult to find jobs due to the
economic situation in the USA in
2010 which lead me to start my
own company

3. Finding an initial investor to start
my business

What are your fondest memories about Saudi Arabia?

Looking up at the sky in the Nafood of onayza and seeing such a high density of stars at the age of 6, which sparked my interest and inspired me to become a rocket scientist.

Do you think that you would have reached these heights if you had stayed back in GCC?

Sadly, I do not believe so, as the schools and universities do not offer a full spectrum Aerospace Engineering
program and the job market is not fully developed yet.

Which courses that the young aspirants in the field can pursue in GCC?

I do not know as the only curriculum in aerospace I am privy to is focused on General Aviation

What is your message for the young aspirants in the field?

Make sure your field selection is something you want to do and love to do. Make sure you are really passionate about it, because it will get tough.

Also remember most sectors are strongly male dominated and hence you will find yourself, as a woman, having to work three times as hard to get recognized for the same thing a male does. This is just part of the game, so don’t take it personally, eventually when women  dominate most fields we can make the men work 4 times as harder (I state this with humor of course). In addition sometimes, it can get a little competitive, so just roll with it.

Lastly, I will leave you with this:

In life one is lucky to have a dream, to stop at just having a dream is a calamity. One must make this dream a reality and have the willingness to walk through hell to do that. For the path to transforming a dream into a reality is an arduous one, which is full of obstacles and deterrents. One must not lose sight of the dream and have the perseverance to achieve it. Never be afraid to fail, because through failure you will learn how not to do it, and can start over with that knowledge and soon you will succeed. I truly believe that failure is the seed from which success grows.

What is your next goal in life?

Take time off for myself to work on several hobbies and find new opportunities that challenge me and perhaps take me outside my comfort zone.

Tell us about your family.

I am the youngest of six kids.  Both my parents are Saudi. My Mother is a Banker and father is an ATP Pilot and was the King’s pilot for many years (before I was born) and real-estate developer and businessman.

I have my Siblings, Dina – a microbiologist and immunologist, Mohammed financial advisor/stock broker and dealer, Rima, Sara and Ibrahim in to Business.