Tracy Van Houten has always been infatuated with space. Over the course of two decades and two degrees, that love took Houten from a pre-engineering class in high school to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where she works as an aerospace systems engineer on groundbreaking projects like the Mars Curiosity Rover.
Like many female engineers, though, the 32-year-old mother of two has encountered challenges one might expect in a field where nearly 90% of professionals are men. Colleagues have occasionally asked Van Houten — sometimes the only woman in the room — to take notes during meetings and plan work parties. At times she feels her ideas aren’t acknowledged or heard.