Natalie Panek was born in Calgary, Alberta and developed an interest in space exploration at an early age.
Her high school physics teacher taught her about the value of science literacy, and strongly encouraged her to always embrace challenges. Taking this advice to heart, Panek enrolled at the University of Calgary in 2007 for mechanical engineering. From there, she went on to earn a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Toronto in 2009.
Panek has interned at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, as well as participated in a Space Studies Program based at NASA’s Ames Research Center in 2009, through the International Space University.
Since then, Panek has contributed to a number of high-profile Space projects working in Mission Systems at MDA, the main contractor behind the development of the Canadarm.
Panek is also working on the European Space Agency’s 2020 ExoMars rover program, helping build the chassis and locomotion system for the rover that will drive around Mars, drilling samples to search for signs of life.
Some of her other achievements include driving a solar-powered car across North America and getting her pilot’s license.
Because of the mentorship she received in high school, Panek is also a fierce advocate for women’s advancement in STEM. She uses her social platforms to share her experiences and create open dialogues with young people. She also participates in Cybermentor, a program at the University of Calgary that pairs girls in Grades 6 to 12 across Alberta with professional women in STEM fields.
Panek is the 2013 recipient of the University of Calgary Graduate of the Last Decade Award and the Northern Lights Award Foundation 2013 Rising Star in Aerospace. She was named on Forbes 2015 30 Under 30, joined an elite group of women as one of WXN’s 2014 Top 100 award winners, and received the University of Calgary’s Schulich School of Engineering Diversity and Equity Alumni Award in 2018. Panek is also a member of the prestigious Explorer’s Club and a Fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society.