7 mins read 20 Mar 2023

Women of the Australian Space Community: Jaimee Maika

Women play a huge role in the Australian space sector, and each week will be sharing the story of an inspiring woman who makes our community so special.

Squadron Leader Jaimee Maika, Credit - Supplied.

In March each year we not only celebrate International Women’s Day but we also enjoy learning about all the contributions women have made to society during Women’s History Month. Originally started in the US in 1987, it has in recent times, in part due to social media, become more well-known across the world.   

As a celebration of all the wonderful work, inspiration and support that women across our region do in the space sector, will be speaking to a new woman in the Australian space community weekly, to uncover their stories and find out who inspires them.

Squadron Leader Jaimee Maika - Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)

What is your role?

This is a simple question yet incredibly difficult to answer without defining myself purely by my job or roles! Here goes…

I am a proud Māori Wahine, an Indigenous woman from Aotearoa, New Zealand. I am also a proud descendant of Scottish settlers who migrated to New Zealand two generations before me. My cultural heritage is tied to New Zealand.

However, I am also an Australian and have served my country for 20 years as a Royal Australian Air Force Officer, following a family legacy of military service that includes incredible women like my mother and grandmother. Because of them, I knew a career in the military could provide purpose and fulfilment.

Throughout my career as a military professional, I have had the opportunity to work in space-related roles, both in Australia and the United States. I am about to complete a year of study at the US School of Advanced Air and Space Studies and return to a role in Australia that supports the integration of space operations into broader ADF operations.

I am also a wife and the mother of three beautiful daughters. It is important to me to be the best role model I can be to our children. I am also passionate about making a difference in their futures and will continue researching my dissertation on women, peace and security.

How did you end up working in the space sector and what drew you to it?

Five years ago, I was contacted by my military career manager to consider a position managing space awareness projects on behalf of the Air Force. I knew embarrassingly little about space, and I had no experience in capability development, but I recognised this as a career opportunity that I could not let pass. I call this one of my sliding door moments.  

In this initial foray into the space sector, I was fortunate to work with military, academic, and industry professionals who were intelligent, experienced, and educated about space. If I was to succeed in my new role, I had much to learn from these mentors in the space sector. I was also fortunate to gain exposure across various subject areas, from the scientific development of physical technologies to the legalities of launching a satellite. I quickly realised that social sciences were just as important as physical sciences in the space sector, and the opportunities were vast.

Within two years of this initial space-related role, I was selected as the Australian exchange officer to the United States Combined Space Operations Center at Vandenberg Space Force Base. For 2.5 years, I not only witnessed but was a part of historical change that reverberated across the international space sector. In August 2019, the United States established a Space Command, and in December 2019, the United States Space Force. While these seismic changes created challenges, there was an incredible opportunity to contribute to the expansion of the mission and strengthen international partnerships.  

In Australia, we have now seen the stand-up of the Australian Defence Space Command. Undoubtedly, it is an exciting time to be part of the space sector, whether in a civil, commercial, or defence role.

What advice would you give to people looking to start their career in the Australian space Industry, whether they are new graduates or those looking to move their careers over?

As cliché as it sounds, set yourself a goal for the near future. Perhaps it is to get your foot in the industry door, and if so, that’s perfect. Maybe this is the hardest goal of all because you perceive your future to be riding on this. Now find out how you can increase the chances of making your goal happen and start seeking out these opportunities. 

Be brave and communicate your goal so others can find ways to support you. Maybe others will suggest an educational opportunity or introduce you to a person in their network that can open doors for you. If people don’t know what you want, they cannot help you. 

Invest in relationships. There is a lot said about the value of networking and yes, having a network can be powerful. But those networks are as strong or as weak as the connections you have made. Always remember the value of people and give back when you can.  

Be open to opportunities. While setting goals can help you to deliberately seek out jobs, education or other opportunities, sometimes the real opportunities appear in unexpected ways. Be willing to alter your path if it aligns with your values and your vision.

Who have you met that has had the most impact on your career journey so far?

The person who has had the greatest impact on my career journey is my husband, Tom.

We met on the first days of our military careers, twenty years ago, and have been a partnership since. 

In the initial years of our careers, we were willing to pursue opportunities that required us to live in different cities and sometimes, countries. But when we decided to start a family, it was practical that I step back from my career to have children and support Tom to progress in his career. Importantly, Tom then turned around and did the same for me.

When I was selected for a position in the United States, Tom saw it as an opportunity to invest time with our three daughters while they were young. He was willing to go against career and gender norms and work remotely, part-time while juggling the primary carer role in our family. Not only have his words of encouragement reinforced my value, but his actions have provided the practical support that is necessary to achieve career success.

I believe if we want equality in the workplace, we need it at home too.

Which women in the history of the Space Industry do you look up to? What was it about their achievements that resonated with you?

I look up to Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three African American women who worked at NASA in the 1960s and inspired the 2016 film ‘Hidden Figures.’ These women contributed to some of humanity’s greatest achievements yet despite their value as mathematicians and engineers, were subjected to unimaginable racism and sexism. Their achievements resonated with me because their stories provide perspective for the rest of us. I am so grateful that their stories have been shared.