Cecilia from RHEA Group

Cecilia – Operations and Project Engineer

Cecilia is an Operations and Project Engineer based in the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) in the Netherlands, working in the directorate of Human and Robotic Exploration.

How long have you worked at RHEA?

I joined RHEA 13 years ago, starting as a Payload Operations Engineer in late 2009 and then working mainly as technical officer support for the International Space Station (ISS) User Support and Operations Centres (USOCs) and as a payload operations expert supporting technical development reviews. USOCs are the centres around Europe that perform ISS ESA Payloads Operations. The network comprised nine USOCs at the time I joined, which has now reduced to five for programmatic reasons.

A few years ago I started broadening my scope to other human spaceflight programmes. Then about a year ago I moved to support the first European operational concepts study for the Gateway, which will be launched on Artemis and will offer a staging post for missions to the Moon and Mars.

What is your favourite aspect of your job?

First and foremost I like the topic and the challenges associated with it. I have to study new designs for elements that will orbit the Moon, and derive the related operational concepts and plan how to operate them. This builds on the experience I have gained in operating the ISS Columbus module and ISS payloads – the lessons I have learned over more than 10 years are proving useful in understanding how to operate ESA’s Gateway elements and guide us in what is possible and what is not in the design of such elements.

What made you want to work in the space/security sector?

It is mainly the subject matter and the fact that it is always evolving, with new challenges in terms of the technical aspects. Also, working in a such multicultural and multidisciplinary team plays a big part in keeping me motivated to continue working in human spaceflight.

And anyway, isn’t it cool to plan for a sustainable human exploration of the Moon?!

What has been your most memorable career highlight?

I cannot choose just one. For sure, one would definitely be getting my PhD or Doctoral degree at Eindhoven University of Technology.

Another more recent highlight would be when I was designated as the ESA representative in the ISS Mission Management Team at the NASA Johnson Space Center in a rotation scheme with other colleagues, in particular for the launch of the SpaceX Demo-1 flight in 2019 and for the SpaceX Crew-4 launch in April 2022.

Would you recommend a career in your sector to others?

Yes, definitely! Because it is challenging – but in a good way. And because the space sector has an impact on your life on Earth every day, and space research and technology can bring many benefits to our daily lives.

You do not have to move into space immediately. I ended up in the space sector after few years in the telecommunication industry and another few years doing scientific research and academic work.

Do you have any tips for people trying to get space-related jobs?

Work step by step, keeping your focus on the ‘nitty gritty’ daily tasks. Maintain good relationships with your colleagues, and gain respect and trust by doing your job.

The big results come from small steps!

How does RHEA encourage you to live its values of trust, collaboration and commitment?

Simply by being one of its employees. After so many years, those values are natural for me and I feel like a sort of ambassador for them. RHEA has always been supportive in my career development in a way that demonstrates the values of trust, collaboration and commitment.

Tell us a bit about you and what you like to do in your spare time?

I am an early bird person, as “The early hours of the day have the gold on their mouth”, as we used to say in Italy.

I have had many hobbies and practiced various sports in my life; however, every ‘season’ has its own amount of spare time and my current one is somehow a bit busy for hobbies! However, I do run every day, which gives me energy. I think running outside is my ‘brain breaker’ and helps me put my thoughts in perspective. Other than that, my spare time is dedicated to my sons and reading, especially during holidays.