When you think of outer space, the first image that’ll come to your mind is a picture of a man in a spacesuit.

Though not inherently bad, the thought itself gives away people’s general view of the space industry – that it’s a club exclusive to only men. 

However, in the Philippines, that notion is being challenged by four Filipinas who are behind the country’s latest observation satellite – the Multispectral Unit for Land Assessment (MULA).

And they are – MULA Systems Engineer Dr. Julie Ann Banatao, Ground Segment Engineer Keziah Bartilad of the STAMINA4Space Program, and Spacecraft Operations Engineer Shielo Muta of the Space Mission Control and Operations Division of Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA), and PhilSA Deputy Director-General and MULA Project Leader Gay Jane P. Perez. 

The work of these incredible women was recently acknowledged at the “Arya: Aviation Women Excellence” webinar presented by the Society of Aerospace Engineers in the Philippines last July 10, 2021. 

Dr. Julie Ann Banatao, MULA Systems Engineer

As the systems engineer of MULA, Dr. Banatao plays a very significant role in the project. She’s responsible for making sure that the satellite will satisfy its mission requirements once launched in space. 

She’s also the brains behind MULA’s concept of operations, which deals with capturing images of the Philippines and transmitting these for data analysis. Before this, she also worked in the development of the Diwata – 2 satellite as the only female engineer. 

Dr. Banatao is currently in the United Kingdom for the first phase of MULA’s development. And though she’s the only female in the group, she does not feel intimidated rather she feels challenged.

She urged young girls who have a knack for science and engineering to pursue their dreams no matter the difficulty they have to face. 

“There will be lots of challenges along the way, but I firmly believe that thinking about gender should not be one of these. Not at this age as exemplified by numerous amazing women scientists.”

Keziah Bartilad, Ground Segment Engineer of the STAMINA4Space Program

Engr. Bartilad’s experience perfectly sums up the challenges that women face in male-dominated fields like engineering. 

During her years in college, Engr. Bartilad faced gender bias from a lot of individuals, stemming from her choice to pursue Electronics and Communications Engineering as a woman. However, she paid no mind to these opinions and proceeded with what she truly loved. 

“There is always a space for women in every field, we can bring a lot to the table, we just have to have the opportunity to be there,” Engr. Bartilad explained.

And because she didn’t give up on her dream to appease those around her, Engr. Bartilad now plays a key role in the development and operation of MULA. She’ll be overseeing the ground stations that will communicate with MULA to facilitate its telemetry, tracking, and control. 

Shielo Muta, PhilSA Division Chief

For her part, Muta encouraged female students to grab opportunities in the STEM sector. 

She acknowledged that women are still underrepresented in the field, but the industry is now embracing inclusivity. 

“Having women in this field goes beyond creating diversity, but rather a woman’s contribution in making scientific innovations is very important,” she said.

Muta is responsible for operating and managing MULA. She’ll be handling communications with the satellite through ground receiving stations located in the Philippines. 

She has also been tasked to work with the subsystem engineers and stakeholders when it comes to the completion of on-orbit activities and experiments such as imaging requirements for agriculture, coastal and marine applications, disaster response, and many more. 

Gay Jane Perez, PhilSA Deputy Director-General and MULA Project Leader 

According to Dr. Perez, a career in STEM is very exciting and women should not be afraid to pursue it. 

“It’s a very exciting field as long as you believe in what you’re doing. You can contribute positively and make a difference regardless of being the only woman on the team. Join us, there is a place for you in this field,” she said.  

Dr. Perez also thanked the people who made it possible for her to enter the industry, specifically mentors who fostered an empowering environment free from gender discrimination. 

You can access the full webinar by clicking here.

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Image Credit: PhilSA