Fashioning the Future With: Naia Butler-Craig
Want to go to the moon? Naia Butler-Craig does, and given this rising star's track record, she's going to get there. We're thrilled to have Naia on the blog today because she's already incredibly accomplished, and at age 22, she's just getting started. Not only that, but Naia has awesome insight into what a journey to becoming an astronaut is like because she's walking that path right now and sharing her wisdom as a STEM advocate along the way! Spacewalking starfruit, how supremely sensational is that?!
Naia is a graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is currently a GEM Fellow and PhD candidate in aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech. She's a NASA Pathways intern and was also a GEM Fellow at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. She's received countless awards, scholarships, and recognitions such as the Women in Aviation Scholarship and NASA's Business Professional Women Award. Naia was also recently on The Mars Generation's prestigious 24 Under 24 Leaders and Innovators in STEAM and Space list.
Naia's accomplishments do not stop there, and there's not enough space here to name all of them, but here are a few! Naia was the STEM Power Lead and Community Outreach Analyst for Dreams Soar. During undergrad, she founded a dance team at her school: the ERAU Embry-Riddle Dancing Eagles. Naia is currently the Head of Student Chapters for the Society of Women in Space Exploration. Naia stays involved and helps empower others to follow their STEM dreams both through her hands-on work and through her out-of-this-world social media presence. In addition to her rad personal accounts, Naia runs the awesome Black Girls in STEM Instagram account.
Naturally, we were over the moon to ask Naia all about her goal of becoming an astronaut, what kind of research she does at Georgia Tech, and what drives her space advocacy. Meet Naia Butler-Craig, current PhD student, future astronaut.
When did you first know you were a scientist?
At age 5, I promised myself that I would become an astronaut and change the world. Since then, I was always fascinated and intrigued by simple scientific phenomena like how condensation would form on the bathroom mirror during a shower, or why the sun would make flowers bloom. At age 9, I drew the entire underbody of a vehicle I was certain could run on air alone. From this, it was clear that I was born to pursue STEM.
What drew you to aerospace engineering?
It was not until 8th grade, in an Earth-Space Honors class, that I discovered my unshakeable love and curiosity for space and its enigma. I also learned that math was undoubtedly my strongest suit and something I truly enjoyed. So, by the end of the 8th grade, when I began exploring career choices and colleges, I found the intersection between everything I had an insatiable passion for; science, space, engineering, and math. It was then that I discovered Aerospace Engineering and that it was comprised of everything I loved.
What kind of research do you do at the High-Power Electric Propulsion Lab at Georgia Tech?
Research conducted at HPEPL (High-Power Electric Propulsion Lab) has to do with electric propulsion technology and plasma diagnostic research.
After completing your PhD, what is your ideal career path?
My ideal career path is first, a job at a facility conducting cutting-edge electric propulsion and/or plasma physics research and then begin my journey of applying to become an astronaut. Along my journey, I intend to get heavily involved in global STEAM outreach and help to motivate and support the next generation of STEAM professionals.
What does it mean to you personally to be a space advocate?
My passion for space advocacy is due to my belief in legacy, my belief in equality and my belief in education. I completely support and advocate for the pursuit of education in other fields as well. However, my heart is in space. The reason being is, space is for everyone.
Diverse perspectives are imperative, if not the most important, component of innovation and progress. That is how we progress with everyone in mind. I believe everyone has a seat at the table and can always contribute something unique and valuable. Diverse people providing diverse perspectives makes way for technological advances that has everyone’s best interest at heart. I believe that space advocacy to every facet of humanity will propel the space industry to unfathomable heights.
What excites you most about space exploration in general?
Space caught my heart and has yet to let go. One of the most captivating things about space is that, in space, we're just human. We care less about the divisive partitions in society that reduce us to categories. This unifying concept inspires me. It reminds me that despite our differences, when we leave our atmosphere, we are in this together. Another thing I find beautiful about space is its dynamic complexity. We don’t know what we don’t know and have no idea what we could know. By exploring the depths of the unknown through deep space exploration the chances of medical, technological, and biological breakthroughs are increased dramatically since space technology and exploration has a history of making way for innovative advances in a variety of fields. My desire to engage in deep space exploration has never been to colonize another planet and abandon Earth. Coupled with better preservation of our natural resources, space exploration can provide the knowledge we need to better understand our planet.
As an astronaut, would you be more interested in visiting the moon, Mars, or elsewhere in the solar system?
I am a huge proponent of the moon. I have been fascinated by it for years. Some don’t agree with the decision to go to the moon before Mars, and I really don’t have an unbiased opinion about that. I would absolutely love to be on a crewed mission to the moon.
What is the most rewarding thing about running your Black Girls in STEM Instagram community?
The ability to inform society about the hidden figures who society has yet to recognize!
Your social media presence overall is so wonderful. What drives your STEM advocacy?
Thank you so much! Honestly, it is a daunting thing sometimes, but I’m always driven by the sweet messages from people who say that I’ve helped them in any way. Those messages keep me going.
What advice do you have for girls who want to follow a similar career path as yours?
There’s plenty I can say here, but what I’ve found to be the most important thing in my journey, is belief in myself.
Which scientists (modern day and/or historical) inspire you?
So, so many. Too many to list. But my number #1 will always be Dr. Mae Carol Jemison.
What are some hobbies you enjoy in your free time?
I love movies, dance, and buying my dog stuff!
Do you have any favorite STEM characters in books/movies/other art forms?
Interstellar left a pretty lasting impression on me, so Joseph Cooper from that movie is my favorite. I saw some pretty cool parallels between him and the original JC, Jesus Christ. As a Christian and science advocate, it’s always cool when you notice subtle parallels between science and your faith.
Obviously, Katherine Johnson from Hidden Figures. Well everyone in Hidden Figures except for the racists.
If you were a superhero, what would your go-to wearable tech device be?
I had this think about this really hard, but I am very schedule-oriented and love having my schedules, reminders and etc. synced across my devices, so definitely some smart glasses that had the capability to do all that! I know that's pretty unimaginative but extremely practical!