Space X President Gwynne Shotwell blows up most theories about being the middle child and women's capabilities in math and science. In third grade Shotwell remembers being in the car with her mom and wondering how an engine worked. A book on engines was gifted from her mother, who also took her to a Society of Women Engineers panel at the Illinois Institute of Technology in high school. "She didn't tell me where we were going ahead of time because I would not have gone," Shotwell says.
Armed with a bachelor's and baster's degrees in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics from Northwestern University, Shotwell worked briefly at Chrysler before heading to Southern California to work in the aerospace industry. In 2002, she had lunch with a friend who worked for Space X, had a four-minute conversation with founder Elon Musk, and found herself working at Space X two weeks later as vice president of business development. Hired as employee number 11, she now leads 5,000.
Marie Claire picks up Gwynne Shotwell's story, affirming a story about exactly what appealed to her at that Society of Women Engineer's panel. She tells the same story in her excellent TEDxChapmanU Talk about America's economic, education, and innovation challenges. Shotwell's Eureka moment involved a pair of shoes and a great handbag belonging to a panelist with the Society of Women Engineers. "I left that event saying, 'Okay, I'll be a mechanical engineer,' because I thought she was cool."
Shotwell met her husband, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in 2002 while volunteering to help University of Southern California students with a satellite project. Every few weeks the parents of two children escape to their cattle ranch on the North Fork of the San Gabriel River, which they plan to convert to a vineyard in the future.
Texas' dry climate should help prepare Shotwell for SpaceX's next destination: Mars. Its Falcon Heavy rocket will have its first unmanned launch in late 2017, and the Falcon 9 will send a crew to the International Space Station in 2018. (The Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9 rockets combined, with 27 engines.) Afterward, SpaceX will focus on launching its Big Falcon Rocket (known internally as the BFR, or the Big Fucking Rocket), a massive vehicle—part rocket, part 100-person shuttle—meant to transport citizens and supplies to create a sustainable colony of 1 million people on Mars. Musk estimates that each trip will take as little as 80 days and hopes to start the flights early in the next decade. "I have learned over my 15 years of working with him to not bet against him and not question whether something can be done," Shotwell says.
Presumably Shotwell has all the shoes and handbags she desires. And yes, she drives a red Tesla.
Related -- Aug. 18, 2017: SpaceX informed NASA of Slowdown In Its Commercial Mars Program