20th anniversary at HE Space - an interview with Melanie Cowan

Melanie Cowan has been our colleague at ESA/ESTEC for 20 years. We would like to introduce her and share her exciting career with you.

Melanie Cowan on a parabolic flight. Credits: ESA

From Hollywood to the real space adventure

When Melanie Cowan started working for HE Space Operations at ESA/ESTEC in 2000,
she thought signing up for 3 years already seemed long. She never imagined that it would lead to an amazing career which has lasted for 20 years and that surpasses her time spent working in Hollywood.
When she worked on the movie Apollo 13, how could she have guessed that one day she would be working for a man (Scott Millican, founder and owner of HE Space) who was actually involved in the real Apollo missions? She also did not imagine when starting to work for the ISS program that she would get the chance to be a part of every first and would see every of its modules assembled in space? 

One million space photos and a gold medal

Melanie is seconded to ESA’s communications office in ESTEC and her current job title is “Video, Photography and ISS Imagery Specialist”. When the International Space Station crew is in orbit, she supports them with editing photos and videos and also giving feedback and advice. Up to now she has worked on about 1 million (!) photos from space. She also has deserved a gold medal for participating in parabolic flights. She has now reached almost 1,000 (!) parabolas.

When asked what her favourite pictures were, she mentioned she has a few, seeing the Earth and looking out of the ISS Cupola. For instance, astronaut Tim Peake took a magical aurora photo over Canada. The red, purple, and gold was quite striking.

Aurora over Canada from Tim Peake. Credits: ESA / NASA Aurora over Canada from Tim Peake. Credits: ESA / NASA
Dragon flying over the Earth from Thomas Pesquet. Credits: ESA / NASA Dragon flying over the Earth from Thomas Pesquet. Credits: ESA / NASA

However, her most personal photo is the one astronaut Thomas Pesquet took when he was onboard the ISS. Melanie: “He wanted to take a long exposure photograph. I gave him advice how to get the best result and when I saw the final image my heart was bursting with joy - Dragon flying over the Earth. I helped take that picture!”

A glance into the future

Now it’s 20 years on, she is still loving her job and she is keen to see the next 20 years of developments: to go back to the Moon with NASA’s Artemis mission and the European Service Module being the first vehicle to bring Europeans to the Moon and to see the Lunar Gateway established.

How have you seen HE Space grow?

“When I started it was only the owner Scott Millican and a secretary, and about 4 other employees. Now HE Space is spread all over Europe with a strong support towards their employees.” One of Melanie’s favourite memories was of her first HE Space summer event. “We went on a boat trip and it was the first time for me on a boat through the Dutch canals and I loved it.”

Working from home nowadays – what makes the difference?

“I don’t miss the commute so I now have 2 hours extra every day. What I hadn’t expected is that I have more contact with my colleagues now than in the office, when I would only see them during lunch.”
Melanie’s advice to others working from home: “Try and separate your work and private life. Create a little space for work and ‘commute’ to the office, even if it means only taking the stairs. Keep to regular hours and close your computer at the end of the working day. For me, my lunchtime is sacred time! My best ideas come after taking this break. During my lunch break I go for a run, a walk or I cycle to take my mind of work.”

Look at Melanie Cowan’s work!

If you are interested in Melanie Cowan’s work you will find it here:

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