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The space pioneers who aren’t Bezos, Branson, or Musk

October 6, 2021, 1:02 PM UTC

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Frances Haugen testifies about Facebook before the Senate, the Virginia gubernatorial race steps into a Taylor Swift controversy, and we introduce you to some of the most powerful women on planet Earth—and in outer space. Have a great Wednesday.

Today’s essay is a two-parter, from Michal Lev-Ram and Claire Zillman.

– Ladies who launch. I grew up watching a lot of Star Trek—mostly Next Generation. I was kind of born into it. My dad, who is a retired aeronautical engineer, was a big fan. It still runs deep: Even just a few years ago, he dressed up as Spock for a Halloween party. Back in the day, he was a software manager for a NASA contractor, working on flight simulation technology out of Ames Research Center in the Bay Area. (The job is what prompted my family to move to the U.S.) My sisters and I got to visit the flight simulator at NASA with him, and I grew up overhearing conversations about human-machine interaction and aviation safety. I was fortunate to have not just my dad but also NASA in my backyard. It was a literal reminder that you could reach for the stars.

Clearly, I didn’t follow in his footsteps, and neither did my sisters. I wasn’t drawn to aeronautics, or aerospace. I wasn’t the kid who told everyone I wanted to someday be an astronaut. But it wasn’t because I thought I couldn’t.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because after spending the past couple of months reporting and writing a story about women who do work in the field, I’m struck by their passion and perseverance. Many of them knew they wanted to work in the space (no pun intended) from the time they were young kids—even if they didn’t have a model of what their career could look like, as I did.

To be sure, the aerospace sector has changed drastically. A few decades ago, if you worked in the industry, you were probably at NASA or a comparable space agency overseas. Today, there is more private money flowing into private space ventures than ever before. According to BryceTech, a research firm that tracks the sector, $36.7 billion was invested in space startups over the past two decades—with a full 72% of that pot doled out since 2015.

The women I spoke to for my story were spread out all over the world, and the technologies they are pursuing range from a “tugboat” for satellites (used for moving objects in orbit) to an inflatable pod that could someday sustain plant and human life on the Moon or Mars. Sound far-fetched? Maybe not.

A growing number of people are venturing beyond our Earth’s atmosphere. But while about 600 people have gone to space to date, only 11% of them have been female. This brings me to my next point: It’s not coincidental that my story did not focus on the male billionaires driving most of the recent space-related headlines: Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, and of course, Elon Musk. While many in the industry credit the trio above with driving massive investment and innovation in the sector, they are not representative of the talent toiling away on the technologies that could someday soon impact us all: The non-male, non-billionaires who are reaching for the stars.

Michal Lev-Ram
michal.levram@fortune.com
@
mlevram

– Meanwhile, back on Earth... Kristen introduced Fortune‘s Most Powerful Women list on Monday. The flagship list, topped this year by CVS CEO Karen Lynch, recognizes influential women in American business. Today, Fortune publishes its sister ranking, the Most Powerful Women International list, which features female executives who work outside the U.S.

No. 1 again this year is Emma Walmsley, CEO of British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline. She captured the top spot despite facing her biggest test yet: a campaign by activist hedge fund Elliott Management to unseat her. She has the backing of her board and major shareholders for now, and she’s plowing forward with her plan to remake GSK into a drug- and vaccine-development powerhouse. Also high on her agenda are GSK’s three COVID vaccine candidates and the company’s COVID antibody treatment, which has earned emergency use authorization in the U.S. and the EU.

Even though the size of Walmsley’s business, its financial performance, and societal influence distinguished her as this year’s No. 1, her experience over the past 12 months is surprisingly representative of other executives on the list. They too are under immense pressure from the demands of today’s unprecedented business environment—to rebound from COVID disruptions, cut emissions, embrace sustainability, and navigate a tumultuous regulatory landscape, especially in China. But they are also taking on some of the world’s toughest problems—COVID, climate change, social inequality, and longstanding gender disparities. These 50 women didn’t land on our radar because they face enormous challenges; they earned spots on the list because they wield enough power to enact real change.

You can explore the entire list here.

Claire Zillman
claire.zillman@fortune.com
@clairezillman

The Broadsheet, Fortune’s newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women, is coauthored by Kristen Bellstrom, Emma Hinchliffe, and Claire Zillman. Today’s edition was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

ALSO IN THE HEADLINES

- Blowing the whistle. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before a Senate subcommittee yesterday that the company is "morally bankrupt" and needs to be reformed. "There is no one currently holding [Mark] Zuckerberg accountable but himself," the former Facebook employee told senators. Fortune

- Not necessary? As the British government announced an inquiry into failures by police following the murder of Sarah Everard, Prime Minister Boris Johnson added that he would not support making misogyny a hate crime. The PM said that there is "abundant" existing legislation available to address violence against women. BBC

- Lawyer up. Big Law is lagging behind the rest of corporate America when it comes to recruiting and retaining diverse staff at all levels. Major clients like HP and Novartis are starting to throw their weight around to push their law firms to make progress. Some companies are warning they'll find new representation if diversity at their corporate law firms doesn't improve. Bloomberg

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: De Beers exec Mpumi Zikalala will become CEO of Kumba Iron Ore Ltd., making her the first woman to run the Anglo American South African iron ore business. Justworks hired Open Society Foundation's Yrthya Dinzey-Flores as VP, DEI, social impact, and sustainability. Qualtrics hired Dr. Adrienne Boissy, most recently of Cleveland Clinic, as its chief medical officer. Michelle Lee, regional bank executive for Wells Fargo, was elected chair of the board for the Consumer Bankers Association. Riot Games promoted head of global esports partnerships and business development Naz Aletaha to global head of LoL Esports. 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

- Priorities in order. Executives from DoorDash, Hims & Hers, Workday and more shared during a Most Powerful Women panel yesterday how the pandemic moved up ideas that were already on the horizon. For example, grocery delivery for DoorDash went from a nice-to-have to "imperative," said VP of communications and policy Elizabeth Jarvis-Shean. Fortune

- Bad blood. Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin is the former co-CEO of the Carlyle Group. His Democratic rival, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, is using that against Youngkin, connecting the ex-CEO to the firm's financial backing of the sale of Taylor Swift's master recordings. (That's the sale to Scooter Braun that prompted Swift to re-record her old albums.) McAuliffe's campaign is running online ads that say #WeStandWithTaylor. The Verge

- Incoming call. The Democratic super PAC American Bridge is going after companies that have donated to politicians who voted for the Texas abortion ban. First, the PAC led by former Planned President CEO Cecile Richards is targeting AT&T, which has donated to GOP Texas lawmakers. AT&T says the company also donated to Democratic Texas politicians and "has never taken a position on abortion and has no immediate plans to change that policy." CNBC

ON MY RADAR

‘I was part of something unusually evil:’ In Kansas with Stephanie Grisham New York Magazine

Who is the bad art friend? New York Times

How the founders of a famed but failed ice cream chain plotted their return Bloomberg

PARTING WORDS

"It’s been the ride of a lifetime."

-Waymo co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana on running the self-driving car company

This is the web version of The Broadsheet, a daily newsletter for and about the world’s most powerful women. Sign up to get it delivered free to your inbox.