Aspiring Beyond “Heat and Eat”: Julia Wolfenbarger Brings Projects into Space

Julia Wolfenbarger is Mission Manager for Internal Payloads for Nanoracks. Nanoracks is poised to build on their existing successes getting hundreds of payloads into Earth orbit into building StarLabs and Outposts to address food insecurity on Earth and provide infrastructure for interplanetary exploration. Julia is sure to be busy as food production, agtech research, and a complete food experience all factor in to these big plans

What are you doing in your work?

I help scientists, researchers, and students of all levels get their research to space. Nanoracks works with a wide variety of organizations both professional and educational to find next-generation solutions to problems on the ground and beyond.

What prepared you for what you're doing?

I've always loved math and science, but more importantly, I've always been good at "translating" information from one group or specialty to another. I help customers understand the unique requirements of working in the micro gravity environment; and I help NASA and other station partners understand customer science.

What's an indicator that a food system (or space habitat) is working for the people in it?

It takes ADVANTAGE of the space environment rather than just overcoming the challenges. Lack of or reduced gravity creates opportunities that we don't have here on the ground. But it does this in a way that still feels familiar and comforting.

What is the most interesting work going on right now in your area?

I'm excited about commercialization of space opening up access to so many new kinds of research!

What innovation outside your direct area is most interesting to you?

I'm so excited about wearable sensing tech. We're seeing it here on the ground, but I can't wait to see it start to be tested in the microgravity environment. The kind of real time bio feedback these types of sensors will be able to provide will help keep astronauts and space tourists safe.

What problem related to Space for Food most needs to be addressed?

Ability to make food in space. Preparing fresh food and cooking together are integral parts of the human experience. To truly have a sustainable future in off-planet environments, we need to be able to cook, not just heat and eat.

Who is doing the most interesting work in your area (other than you, of course!)?

An impossible choice! Despite all the exciting development of commercial space, NASA still does incredible work everyday, and we all stand on the shoulders of giants. There would be no American commercial space industry without NASA.

What's your favorite food, space, or ag memory?

My wife has a lot of food allergies so I spend a lot of time getting creative to use the ingredients she can eat to create safe versions of food other people can go buy off the shelf. And finding new and interesting ways to eat our favorite safe ingredients! Also, of course, every rocket launch I’ve been lucky enough to see.

What inspires or recharges you?

Hiking, yoga, and movies with my wife recharge me! I’m inspired by the space leaders of the past, especially those who lead the way for women like me, people of color, and other historically underrepresented folks in the industry. I just found out Jack Black's mom was an aerospace engineer whose work on the Abort-Guidance System was integral to bringing home Apollo 13 astronauts safely. How cool is that? I’m also inspired by the space leaders of the present and future. Charlie Bolden is one of my heroes. I can’t believe I’ve had the honor of meeting him and that I get to work in this industry at a time when he’s still an active force. Our future leaders completely blow my mind everyday. Working with students, I get a sneak peak into the next generation of space leaders. I love to shout from the rooftops how excellent the aerospace professionals of tomorrow are. The kids aren’t just alright - they’re talented, creative, diverse, passionate, and absolutely brilliant. Space is a STEM industry where we truly do awe-inspiring, history-making work everyday. I’m grateful to be part of that.

Meet Julia and other leaders in the intersection of space and food at Space for Food- From Vision to Reality, our free May 4 event where you can also network with others exploring this exciting opportunity space. You can also follow Julia on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn and Nanoracks on Twitter or LinkedIn.