Maxim Babenko/The New York Times

February 20, 2022

Cornell Graduate Student Reaches New Heights with Spaceflight Fellowship

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Grace Genszler, grad, was selectively chosen to receive the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship, an award that connects the next generation of commercial space flight to world class aerospace companies to gain experience and mentorship in the field.

Commercial space is broadly defined as activities in entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and innovation that will enable new or dramatically improved products or services related to space travel that do not depend solely on the government. 

“Commercial space flight is this new place to explore and a new mode of transportation,” Genszler said.

Genszler works in the Space Imaging and Optical Systems lab run by Prof. Dmitry Savransky. The lab researches the logistical planning of exoplanet missions — planets that orbit a star that is not our sun. 

They do this by researching the dynamics and controls of the mission, and by developing optical systems of the telescopes and instrumentation that will be used to observe exoplanets. Genszler’s area of expertise is determining the optimal time window to conduct these exoplanet observations.

“I primarily work on figuring out which stars you should look at and when,” Genszler said. “We want to increase the amount of science that a mission can provide.” 

Genszler has always been fascinated by space. Through her undergraduate program at Wheaton College in Massachusetts, she double majored in both physics and engineering. 

“Some of my elementary school science teachers were amazing as well and introduced me to astronomy and NASA, which I found really cool. It was also the same time I started competing in gymnastics,” Genszler said. “I kind of realized that to be good at it, it was helpful to understand the physics fundamentals of it and that’s how I improved my skills. In gymnastics, you are the projectile.”

Genszler will be working with Virgin Orbit, a sister company to Virgin Galactic which recently embarked on suborbital space tourism flights. Over the summer she will get the opportunity to work in mission design and hopes to apply these skills to expand the next generation of space exploration missions. 

Her summer mentor, Karina Drees, is the current President of the Commercial SpaceFlight Federation. 

“I also have an interest on the policy side of things, and this is where the Matthew Isakowitz Fellowship comes into play,” Genszler said. “I am excited to learn from [Karina Drees] about how the public and private companies work together and how they work with NASA and other government agencies.”

According to Genszler, one way students can get involved in spaceflight is to apply for the Small Satellite Mission Design School, a joint summer program between the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and the Cornell Astronomy Department.

Genszler will head to California to kick-start her career in May, with dreams to expand accessibility for college students to get hands-on experience in the inner workings of space flight missions.