When Paula Cain answered an ad looking for a pattern maker, the fashion designer didn’t know that her job was going to have an extraordinary impact.
“It sort of happened by mistake. Used to always check the Washington Post ads for jobs, and they had one said: ‘Are you a star trek fan? Do you think about space?’ And it said, ‘Come work here at NASA [National Aeronautics and Space Administration] as a thermal blanket technician.’
“I had no idea what it was. So I called, came in for the interview and I got the job,” Cain, who calls herself a trekkie from Maryland once explained.
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Today, from making just clothes and purses, Cain works in a lab outside Washington, D.C. turning mylar and netting into blankets that protect satellites in space, according to CBS News.
Essentially, satellites need blankets to protect them from the elements in the stratosphere, and Cain and her team have been providing these blankets for more than a decade now.
Looking like a shiny wrapping paper being rolled out, the “big lumpy irregular shapes” are made with instruments costing millions of dollars and the fit has to be exact.
“You got to think on your feet sometimes; like if they want it to be loose or if they want it to be tight,” Cain explained.
Made to handle harsh temperatures in space, space blankets are baked in “a large oven-like machine that heats up to 190 degrees to kill off oil, bacteria and other contaminants,” said CBS Baltimore.
“Our satellites want to be working around room temperature. The blankets are going to be the installation you’re going to get for the lightest weight,” said Matt Garrison, Thermal Engineer.
In recent times, stories have been told about some brave black women, including Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who worked with NASA struggling through racism and sexism to contribute immensely to space flight in the 1960s.
These women are popularly known as the Hidden Figures, a household name that has come to stay after the release of the book titled ‘Hidden Figures; The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race‘ in 2016 by Margot Lee Shetterly.
These women paved the way for several others, affording them the chance to work in the once male and white-dominated organization.
For Cain, her thermal blanket technician job at NASA is out of this world, and she hopes to work on suits for astronauts soon.
“I’ve built things on the Space Station. There are things that I have touched that are up there.”
“What it means to me now being a NASA employee is that the sky is the limit. You just have to find your niche and where you can fit in here because you can fit in here,” said Cain.
“The fact that I’m here doing it, and I’m getting to touch things that are going into space, working here now I’m doing things that people would never even dream of. And I’m a fashion designer, so don’t let your preconceptions of what people think stop you.”
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