Meet Eleonora Zeminiani, a Deputy Program Manager based in Italy, who has always loved science and space exploration
Could you briefly describe your job?
I work in the space exploration and science field at Thales Alenia Space in Italy, based in Turin. As the name suggests, we design, develop, manufacture, integrate, test and operate space systems for scientific applications, human and robotic exploration, and space transportation.
Chances are you’ve heard of us if you have read about the ExoMars mission, for which we are prime contractor. Or maybe you have seen pictures of the Cupola and other modules on the International Space Station, for which we provided approximately half of the ISS pressurized volume. And if you know about Europe’s contribution to the American Artemis program, then perhaps you already know that we will provide several major elements for the Lunar Gateway space station, including IHAB and ESPRIT for ESA and the pressurized module for NASA’s HALO, for Northrop Grumman.
I joined Thales Alenia Space in 2006, when I was still an undergraduate student in aerospace engineering, and since then I have taken a pretty diversified path. I started out as an R&D engineer, then became a thermal and environmental control engineer, and more recently transitioned to project management and business development.
I am currently the deputy program manager for a team that is designing the next-generation pressurized space modules; we’re developing and testing a number of key technological building blocks for a habitat designed to work in the lunar environment and keep astronauts safe.
At the same time, I oversee new human spaceflight initiatives, which basically means figuring out where tomorrow’s business opportunities lie and trying to make them a reality by drawing on a combination of our heritage, innovation and fruitful relationships with partners and customers.
What part of your job are you most proud of?
Even when I’m doing something routine, if I take a step back I remember that I’m working in a fascinating field with amazing people. I am proud that all our efforts culminate in products that push the boundaries of what is technically and scientifically feasible. Also, that what we achieve is never banal, easy or taken for granted, and that we’re striving to do something bigger for our customers and society at large.
I am proud to work for a company that is a major partner on cutting edge missions across the Solar System. On the scientific side, we will contribute to bringing Martian samples back to Earth thanks through Mars Sample Return mission. When it comes to space logistics, we supply the pressurized cargo modules to Northrop Grumman for Cygnus resupply vessels. In Low Earth Orbit, we have been chosen by Axiom Space to provide two pressurized modules for their future commercial space station, featuring Philippe Starck’s interior designs.
And speaking of space exploration, we are involved in Orion, NASA's deep space human transportation vehicle and in a number of new programs, including the Dynetics-led consortium to help develop the Human Landing System for Artemis.
Does any event in your career to date stand out?
It’s not a specific event so much as my commitment to helping students with their career orientation.
I have always welcomed every opportunity to communicate about my job. I enjoy giving lectures, speeches, workshops… everything that may transfer a little bit of my enthusiasm to other people, let them understand how beautiful and diverse the space field is, and encourage them to delve deeper.
Attracting young talent to the space sector means investing in the future. I love to think that what we do here is not something we are creating for ourselves, it’s not something that begins and ends in the span of one career. It’s our duty to look after this legacy until it’s time to pass the torch to those that will come after us.
In 3 words, what are the qualities required in your profession?
- Devotion: to care deeply and be passionate about your work, to bring the love for your job into everything you do, embracing the fact that your personal and professional lives may become blurred, and to show grit and dedication in all your endeavors.
- Self-motivation: to be aware of your own goals and purpose, and use them as a reason to come back to your work every day with renewed energy, even (especially!) when things get tough.
- Humility: to recognize that what we do in space is difficult, that you cannot accomplish great things alone, that you better learn as much as you can from those around you and never be ashamed to ask questions or seek help.
Artistic views: © Thales Alenia Space/Briot - © Dynetics - © Axiom Space