Orbits Aligned

Vanessa Canola, Intern at UNODA, Italy 

I met Victoria for the first time during my internship at the Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations in Geneva, in particular during the multilateral forum ‘Open-Ended Working Group on Space Threats’. Victoria served as a panelist, providing insights into counter-space capabilities. I was sitting in the room, together with my former team, taking notes of her speech. This disarmament forum, and the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) Outer Space Conference held in September 2022, pushed me to deepen my knowledge of space security, a relatively new and fascinating field for me. Subsequently, in order to continue along this path, I decided to apply for the Space4Women program organized by the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA), not knowing that our paths would cross again.  

After the selection process, I discovered the name of my mentor; it was Victoria. This decision to apply to the Space4Women Mentorship Program was driven by my eagerness to engage in a supportive network within the space sector. Recognizing the unique challenges and opportunities for women in this field, the program seemed like an ideal platform to get guidance and contribute to the broader mission of promoting security in the space-related domain. 

At the very beginning of our one-year journey, Victoria asked me to write down 3 tangible goals to be achieved in the short, medium, and long term. These were broken down into smaller and concrete steps to fulfill one ultimate dream. Becoming more engaged in the space field on a professional level and finding a way to bridge my background in Arms Control and Disarmament with my new interest in the space field and simultaneously improve my research skills was one of them. To achieve these goals , Victoria facilitated my engagement in internship opportunities by providing constructive feedback on the application processes and support through recommendation letters.  

In addition, throughout the calls we decided to regularly schedule, Victoria’s mentorship proved to be precious for me, not only on a professional level, but also on a personal one. By sharing with me her personal story, opening up on obstacles and challenges faced over time, and highlighting her professional successes, Victoria served as a navigational compass for me to start walking the first steps in the field, and pushed me to achieve results and goals I wouldn’t have otherwise reached. This mentoring was invaluable in combining the practical aspects of professional growth with the formation of a strong personal and inspiring bond. In addition, Victoria provided me with constructive feedback on a research project on ASAT tests, helping me improve my academic and space-related research skills. 

On a final note, this mentor-mentee relationship has been extremely helpful in refining my path within the space sector, achieving a deeper understanding of my career goals and accomplishing some of them. I was then selected to become an intern at the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) in Vienna, Austria.  

I was delighted to build this dynamic partnership with Victoria, made of constructive feedback, a mutual exchange of ideas, and most importantly, wholehearted support. In addition, this program had a direct influence on my professional path, boosting my interest in space and providing me a platform to connect with other young professionals sharing the same passion in different branches under the “space umbrella.” For instance, when I was in Prague, I had the pleasure of getting to know in person another participant, Kateřina Sýkorová, with whom I shared insights on the pursuit of a potential academic career.  

In conclusion, the Space4Women Mentorship Program proved to be a transformative experience for my career, and its inherent worth lies in its ability to foster an atmosphere that encourages women's growth in the field. The connections made possible by this program have been crucial in highlighting the significant value of both personal and professional relationships. Space4Women has definitely brought to light the strength that comes from women supporting other women – a force that advances individual careers while also serving the larger goal of encouraging gender equality in the space industry. 


Victoria Valdivia, Senior Analyst, Center for Military and Strategic Studies, Chile 

Since the beginning of the “Space4Women” mentorship initiative, I have been participating as a mentor, an experience that has been different every single year. Becoming a mentor in an international environment will always be a challenge because you must fit into a very multicultural environment which means different languages and sometimes different cultural perspectives.  

Coming from southernmost country of South America (the very end of the world) will always put you in the position of being quite exotic. Sometimes, people do not now where my country is located and most people have no idea of what kind of space activities Chile conducts. After three years of mentorship I have learned that one of the biggest values of the shared period with my mentee will always be the cultural interchange and the capability of sharing our daily life, perspectives and why not, our dreams, fears, and stories. 

As a mentor, this period has been very special because it has been my first time mentoring someone from Europe. When I was notified that my mentor would be Vanessa, I was very excited to meet her, so our first call has turned in memory of the beginning of a wonderful and unique period of my life. 

Aside from the methodology of work, I have tried to put the focus on general objectives of Vanessa. Achieving space working goals are not only based on your network, background, and luck, but you will also need enough self-confidence and strength to get through the different challenges that space industry contents. I remember when Vanessa shared her dreams and goals with me, I knew that she would be successful because she had those special ingredients of a triumphant story: she is kind, self-confident, strong, and someone whom you can trust. Also, she has an amazing background in international affairs and security issues, something that has been amazing for me as a mentor as it was the very first time I had the opportunity to walk together with a colleague of the same knowledge area. 

On the personal side, this year has been difficult, with the loss of my father, who taught me to name the stars and guided me through my professional development as a space policy and intelligence analyst. For those things of destiny, because there will always be a friendly hand on your way, Vanessa wrote me the next day. I never said this, but this message has been like a lifejacket for me, where her warm words brought me back from the darkest day of my life, remembering why I am in this program: to share with others my story and how from the end of the world I reached the stars. I have realized that even in this action of sharing my story, I am preserving the learned lesson of my dad. There is something magical in this, and the memories that we share will transcend.  

I had never imagined that someone that you don't know physically would be able to put you back on track. I will never have enough words to thank Vanessa for that message. We are used to talking about the opportunities for mentees getting in touch with mentors, but we forget to mention how we - as mentors - benefit from these relationships: I have gained a friend, a colleague, someone who deserves my deepest respect and friendship, not only for her proven background, but because of the proven quality of her heart. We need to remember that the space industry needs kindness and that support among women is something more that sustains the phrase: To listen, to be there when times are difficult, and to grow up together.  

This year, our weekly meetings have turned into a marvelous space to shared experiences, work on Vanessa’s planning and also to talk with a friend, laugh together, and when it has been necessary, reflect on the foundational principles of this program. 

Together we have realized that reaching gender agenda goals in outer space is about creating a supportive networking among women. For me, meeting Vanessa has been strong proof of that: it is possible to walk with true friends and work hand-in-hand to open new roads for the coming generations. I am pretty sure that we can expect amazing news from Vanessa and that this program has gained a wonderful ambassador: someone that reflects perfectly the spirit of this initiative.  I am very grateful to be part of the Space4Women mentorship programme because I met a dearest friend and an admired colleague.