Shannon Gatta is a Seattle local attending the University of Washington and a graduate from Seattle Central College with her Associates Degree. She is a queer, veteran woman working in the aerospace industry, and has worked with companies such as NASA and Ball Aerospace.
A lifelong dream of Shannon’s is to go to space and be an openly queer representative to the LGBTQ+ community on an international platform. Of the 533 astronauts that have been to space (or the 561 total astronauts and cosmonauts), not one astronaut has come forward as being openly queer. With the all-women spacewalk being canceled due to lack of proper suit sizes fit for the female astronauts, and less than 11% of all astronauts being female, there is a huge under-representation of women in the greatest adventure known to mankind. See? It’s even evident in that horribly sexist word: mankind. Let’s scrap that nonsense, and simply say that space travel is the greatest adventure known to humanity. There, that’s better, now back to business.
Shannon is campaigning to be the first openly queer astronaut to go to space with the Out Astronaut organization. Here’s what the website says: “The International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS) has donated a grant to the Out Astronaut Project to train the winning candidate through a merit-based selection in the September 2019 Advanced PoSSUM Academy class at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The project then intends to train and fly an exceptional LGBTQ student to space to conduct relevant research while highlighting the contributions of current LGBTQ members making contributions in science and space.”
Enter Shannon. She wants to be a visible representative for both the female-identified and Queer communities -and beyond- and for all marginalized communities to know that “despite your obstacles, you have a place in STEM and can achieve beyond your wildest measures.”
I have had the absolute pleasure of meeting Shannon (we even got to be faeries on the ferry together), and she was gracious enough to allow me to get all up in her business and ask her some questions. I thought I would share our interview with you, beloved readers; so here you go, and you’re welcome.
Me: “How has SCC, and Seattle as a whole, helped you to grow more into your authentic self?”
Shannon: “Before SCC, I had no concept of working in aerospace. I had always loved it, but I thought it was for really smart people, which did not include me. Then I heard about the Rocketry Club in the SAM building and how they gave free pizza out at their meetings. I was immediately sold on the pizza, not so much at my capacity to build rockets. But with the help of mentors and other students, I built a Level One rocket and became certified. The club collaborated with UW ESS Rocketry Program and got to build a 13-foot prototype rocket. I got to present this research at conferences, got a scholarship through the Washington Space Grant, and through that got my first internship at NASA. Seattle as a whole is an accepting, supportive environment, giving me a new perspective on life than when I was living in a small town in Texas. Here is where I became the person I always wanted to be, and without the unwavering support of people here I wouldn’t have been able to achieve that.“
Me: “How do you see yourself representing the Queer community as an out and proud ambassador? What’s your vision for that moving forward?
Shannon: “Every single thing I have in my life right now was not something anyone told me was possible when I was a young girl growing up in a small town in Texas. Poverty and a need for change brought me to the military, desire and self-perseverance took me to Seattle to get my degree, and the chance to prove that a queer woman could make it in this industry brought me to NASA, Brooke Owens Fellowship, countless scholarships and private space companies. I wish I knew when I was a kid that hope existed for people like me, maybe I could have made a few less mistakes and done everything a lot sooner, but I’m here now. Being that representation of hope for the queer community, for those who want to achieve their dreams and create change, is my mission with being the first openly queer astronaut in space. We are everywhere, but are so easily cast to the side as ‘confused’ or ‘pretending’ when all we want to be is ourselves. People need to be able to do that wherever they go in life, I just happen to want to do that in space. With years of experience in aerospace, a military career, and a hard work ethic, I will be the best candidate for this role. I have hope. Have hope for yourself, and what you’re capable of.”
Me: “If you could change one thing about the aerospace industry, what would it be?”
Shannon: “I wake up looking forward to a day I am not the only woman on a team, that you can’t walk down the hall without seeing someone that looks like you, to where being a minority is the norm in STEM. I’m here working for a purpose, and if more minorities knew they were capable of getting past their mental and physical roadblocks, they would. This process is not exclusive to aerospace, as I have also worked in the Seattle tech industry. Diversity in people brings diversity in thought, and as an industry they can only flourish with more than just one line of thinking.”
One of the first things that struck my about Shannon was her pluck and tenacity. You can tell she is a strong woman who knows her own mind and is not afraid to speak it, and she says that has not always been the case. She has learned through experience that “no one can hear you if you don’t speak up”, and this has become part of her professional mantra. This proud and outspoken voice has also been beneficial in Shannon’s community service and outreach work. Shannon has done lots of volunteer work with Girls Who Code, Women Impact Tech and The Home Project, just to name a few. Shannon has won numerous scholarships for her work, both professionally and in the community, including the coveted GSBA scholarship for Queer-identified and Queer-allied student excellence. Shannon is an all-around force of nature, and Seattle Central is so proud of her for all of her hard work!
For her OutAstronaut.org campaign, Shannon will be assessed by a panel of professionals in aerospace based on her experience, physicality, the submitted experiment she will conduct in space, her work/contributions to the LGBTQ+ community and the number of votes she collects on her profile from the Out Astronaut website. In the phase that the selection process is in, her video application requires enough votes to weigh in on her assessment in the final round of applications. And this is where we, and more specifically, YOU, come in! You can help her win, simply by going to the website and voting for her. Let’s make history, people!
Just think – how cool would it be for the first openly Queer person in space to have started their career right here at Seattle Central? It makes me a little giggly just to think about it. I figure, if a Queer Person of Color can be Editor-in-Chief of a college newspaper (that’s me), then a Queer person can sure as hell go to space, hunny. WORD. If you are interested in voting for Shannon (and you should be), Shannon’s story and link to her profile are on Out Astronaut, and you can (and should) vote for her there every day (yes, you can vote every day!) until September 1st. Don’t miss out on this groundbreaking space mission by one of our own!
Last but not least, here is the story King 5 news just did about her —> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsn8oqzAFQY
Now, get out there and VOTE!
UPDATE: On September 20, 2019, Shannon Gatta was pronounced the winner of the OutAstronaut campaign contest. Gatta has been given a grant to attend the Advanced PoSSUM Academy at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL.
This is an incredible honor to be selected to be the first astronaut candidate under the Out Astronaut organization.” said Gatta “Thanks to them I’m able to serve openly and without apology as a queer woman while training for a research mission to space. I plan to show the world that identifying openly as LGBTQ+ should not be seen as a limitation to success, and crossing the frontiers of space will inspire the community to achieve authentically, and for the world to accept us as we are.”
Congratulations, Shannon, on this cosmic achievement!
Astro (they/them) is the Editor-in-Chief of the Seattle Collegian, the President of Seattle Central's Queer Cooperative club, a fully-professed Guard with the Sisters of the Mother House of Washington, a social worker and behavioral scientist, founder of Transgender Day of Remembrance at Seattle Central (TDoR), Board Member-At-Large with Diversity Alliance of Puget Sound (DAPS), and a self-identified Queer-Alien-Person-Of-Color. They have won awards for their journalism and community service work as well as for innovation in leadership and academic excellence, and are an active and outspoken advocate and activist for both the LGBTQ+ and recovery communities. They speak regularly at events relevant to these causes, and work closely with their fellows to support these communities. Social justice, diversity, equity and inclusion are their banners, and their belief in the gifts, strengths, and resilience of all minoritized communities is the driving motivation behind their work and their mission: using the powers of journalism, self-expression, creativity, conversation and connection to uplift and foster acceptance for all peoples.