Lead for Space Structures, Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group & Professionals Australia member
As sure as the earth revolves around the sun, Crystal Forrester was destined for a career in the space industry.
“For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in space. I had hundreds of those little glow in the dark stars stuck over my bedroom ceiling.”
“Mum’s got a photo of me when I was in grade 3 in a silver space dress that she made for both myself and my sister.”
Now the Lead for Space Structures at Australia’s Defence Science and Technology Group (DSTG) and a member of Professionals Australia, Crystal has been selected as one of Science and Technology Australia’s ‘Superstars of STEM’.
With a family deeply enmeshed in the science and technology, Crystal’s incredible career in STEM and rise to ‘Superstar’ seems like a foregone conclusion.
“I have a mother who was a radiographer, a father who started as an electronics engineer and is now a Software Test Manager, and my sister has a PhD in wine chemistry and genetics, so I have a very strong family background in STEM.”
Crystal’s interest in space started in secondary school and laid the foundation for her future career.
“I was in grade 7 when I read the novel ‘The ship who sang’ by Ann McCaffrey, about a combination human/spaceship and an astronaut who explore the universe together. It was then when I decided to become an aerospace engineer.”
After completing high school at St Mary’s College in Adelaide, Crystal went on to complete double degrees in aerospace engineering and physics.
“I was lucky enough to study in the very first aerospace degree being offered by the University of Adelaide. I also spent six months studying at the University of Texas at Austin, which has close links to NASA. My study there involved designing a crewed lunar rover and I was fortunate enough to attend a space shuttle launch.”
After graduating, Crystal joined the DSTG where for 11 years she’s worked on everything from metal fatigue in helicopter rotors to composite materials in fast jets. Now, her focus is structures for space.
“My job provides many different opportunities to work at the leading edge of science, providing both long and short term advice to Defence that you know is being applied in the real world, and I really like that focus.”
It’s not by chance that Crystal has spent her entire career in Australia. She’s been a strong advocate for the development of a home grown space industry since she was a university student.
“I wanted to build the space industry in Australia rather than just jumping ship and going overseas, and I’m really happy with the way the sector is growing.”
“In 2004 when I was still at university, I volunteered at the Australian Space Development Conference, and there were just 100 delegates. Now, 15 years later, similar conferences have over 1,000.”
“The creation of the Australian Space Agency has been fundamental in supporting and coordinating the growth of Australia’s space industries.”
“I hope the next 20 years sees massive growth in our space industry. I would really love to see more development; advanced materials design and manufacturing; and the assembly of satellites here as part of a thriving industry.”
Crystal’s passion for space is only equalled by her passion for connecting people.
“I call myself a translator. I love talking to people and linking them with different technological skills. Each area of science has its own language, and I really love connecting people and seeing them understand the technology and start to share it across their own areas of expertise."
That’s why in many ways, Crystal was a perfect candidate to become a Superstar of STEM, one of 60 brilliant professionals who want to elevate the contribution of women in their industry and promote STEM careers to the next generation of women.
“The Superstars of STEM program had a lot of very skilled people applying, so I was very honoured to be selected – very excited.”
“As a ‘Superstar’, the two year program aims to increase the presence of females in STEM in the public discourse, through media and outreach activities. Part of the program involves increasing our skills in social media, providing guidance on how to speak different audiences, and how to approach schools and speak to students.”
“The message that I really want to get across to young women is that with STEM there are endless possibilities. With STEM you can do anything you want and STEM careers provide so much benefit to society.”
“Space research is not just about developing technology for up there, it’s about creating technology for up there that helps us down here as well, particularly for a country as big as Australia.”
“There are satellites that are able to determine the health of crops through spectral analysis. By looking at the light and energy that’s being reflected, absorbed and transmitted, we can tell if the crops are drought affected or if they are suffering from disease that needs to be addressed.”
Crystal believes that a fundamentally important part of her role as a Superstar of STEM is about changing perceptions of who is, and who can, have a career in the STEM sector.
“STEM is not just for super smart people, or just for boys. You don’t need to be someone sitting in a lab in a white coat not talking to people. You can go out, you can have fun, you can explore.”
“Anyone can do it and you can apply and put yourself forward. If that’s what you’re interested in, there are careers out there.”
While Crystal’s life and career is the epitome of successful women in STEM she believes that more needs to be done to support women considering a career in the sector.
“I think it needs to be shown that more women can do it. Yes, there’s a lot of inspirational people that have done work in the space industry and STEM but we haven’t had a lot of female representatives who are well known.”
“We need to support women better throughout their careers, to enable them to continue to progress, eventually into senior management roles”
“We also need to do much better to accommodate both women and men in the industry who have caring and child raising responsibilities.”
Crystal cites career support as one of the fundamentally important reasons she’s a member of Professionals Australia.
“A few years ago, I participated in the ‘Science meets Parliament’ event and Professionals Australia sponsored my position. That was a great opportunity that I wouldn’t have been able to take up without the union’s support and I received a lot of benefit from it.”
“I think union membership is very important. You absolutely need that support in the workplace. Every few years we have our enterprise bargaining negotiations and the union is very active in that.”
“Professionals Australia also have a lot of programs available to support you. If you have a workplace problem, you can get advice and assistance. They can provide financial information and a whole range of other capabilities that are really critical.”
Professionals Australia couldn’t be prouder to be represented in the Superstars of STEM program by someone as accomplished and dedicated to Australia’s space industry and the future women of STEM like Crystal Forrester.
We thank Crystal for sharing her inspirational journey with us and look forward to hearing more about her career in the space industry in the future.