LONG BEACH, Calif. - She calls herself the Arabian stargazer but Diana Alsindy is many things.
At 25, she's a propulsion development engineer at Virgin Orbit, a former Brooke Owens fellow, an Iraqi American who left her friends behind to come to the U.S. when she was 14, a University of California, San Diego alumna and an inspiration to her 93,000 Instagram followers who turn to her for updates in both English and Arabic.
Her passion for space led her to want to start her @theArabianStargazer account so she could share her knowledge with others who may not otherwise have access to that kind of information.
"We didn’t learn English when we were in Iraq. We were literally living in a war zone, so coming to the land of opportunity, learning how rocketry works and seeing where I am here today, it’s something exciting and it’s very special to me to be able to talk about this,” Alsindy said in an interview with News 6 at Virgin Orbit's Long Beach rocket factory.
A chemical engineer by trade, she first began the deep delve into space science when she was in college.
“Well, when you come from another country, all you want to do is get a degree and survive so I came and I was very interested in propulsion," she said. "Who doesn’t want to make fire and blow stuff up?"
She put her studies to work when she scored internships with NASA, Northrop Grumman and Space Micro, all of which allowed her to perfect the art of developing rocket propulsion systems. That experience then helped her land a spot among the inaugural class of Brooke Owens fellows in 2017.
She said her participation in the fellowship, which was founded by Virgin Orbit Vice President of Special Projects Will Pomerantz, was life-changing.
"I was surrounded by women who are interested in the same thing, who are passionate and have hidden talents that were not able to be viewed in other internships or other applications for universities. So I started in 2017 as a structures intern at Virgin Orbit and it was basically an open door for me to open my career and start my full-time job at Virgin Orbit,” she said.
Now, Alsindy is a full-time propulsion engineer during an exciting time at the space startup as it prepares to launch its rocket LauncherOne for the first time later this year. The company's small satellite launcher gets the job done with the help of Cosmic Girl, a converted Virgin Airlines jetliner, making launches possible from almost any airport around the world.
Every Brookie receives mentorship from high-powered women in the industry, including managers, CEOs and even astronauts. Female guidance is essential, she said, in a workforce that tends to be male dominated.
But Alsindy has hope that in the not-so-distant future, more women will opt for space-oriented careers.
"In 20 years, I believe that the industry will look a little bit different. At least it’ll be a 50 to 50 ratio. Right now, in my classes, at my work, at my job, in this field, there aren’t many women who are working here or taking the chemical engineering classes that I took," she said.
Alsindy's biggest piece of advice for other young women or anyone who's interested in rocketry is to never take "no" for an answer.
"You know what your capabilities are and just go do them. Nothing is easy. There are a lot of risks that are going on. This job is not easy. It’s not safe, too, but don’t be scared because many people are doing it," she said. "There’s help out there and there are mentors and teachers who are willing to make you successful.”
Pomerantz noticed Alsindy's tenacity and encouraged her to create her now-viral Instagram account in order to start a conversation about science communication in English and Arabic. Virgin Group founder Richard Branson thought Alsindy's story was so compelling, he shared it with his millions of online fans.
From there, Alsindy's follower account soared.
But it's not about Internet fame for the multi-talented engineer.
"I want to rejuvenate that excitement and that thirst for knowledge in young kids who are interested in space because who doesn’t love space?" she said.
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