Ever since she was young, Gwendolyn Pascua was always fascinated with space. Growing up in Tabuk City in the province of Kalinga in the Philippines, she used to collect photographs of astronauts back when she was in grade school, and when asked by her mother if she wanted to marry an astronaut, she replied with “No, I want to be an astronaut.” She then moved on to be in Science Fairs in her elementary and high school days.
Several decades later, and she is now working as a ground controller at the Biotechnology Space Support Center (Biotesc) in Lucerne University in Switzerland, one of the seven user-service operation centers of the European Space Agency, working closely with Astronauts and being just one step closer to her ultimate dream of becoming one.
Pascua first started her career by graduating from the University of the Philippines, Diliman in 2005 with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Physics. She then moved on to pursuing a Master’s degree in Physics at the same university, and soon she was accepted to apply for master’s degree courses at the Universite de Rennes I in France and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat in Munchen, Germany in 2008.
She then spent her first semester in France and her second semester in Germany until she finished her degrees in 2009. She then completed her Thesis at the Paul Scherer Institute in Switzerland, which is where her thesis supervisor, Dr. Hubertus Luetkens, offered her a job at the institute.
She finally moved on to pursuing a doctorate degree in Experimental Physics at the University of Zurich on May 2014, in which she wrote a thesis about Magnetism and Superconductivity.
She finally landed a position in the operations management team of Biotesc (earning a project manager certificate beforehand).
She is now married to a Frenchman named Demoulin. Her job involves “Preparing [the astronauts’] experiments and procedures starting from planning their experiments, coordinating with scientists and payload developers. We do all tests necessary on the ground before they are sent to the ISS (International Space Station),” explains Pascua. She makes sure nothing is left to chance, and thinks of all the possible scenarios are considered and simulated before a billion dollar mission is launched. Space projects should be precise and thorough,” she said.
She can also speak fluent Mandarin, as she and her friends were obsessed with the Taiwanese boy band F4, which she said would come in handy, as the ESA could possibly collaborate with the Chinese for future projects. She can also speak French and German, and is currently learning Russian.
Even with all the international prestige and glory, Pascua remains a Filipina woman from Kalinga at heart, recalling the times she was exposed to Kalinga customs by her grandfather, who was a member of the Madukayong tribe. Even with a job that requires her to reach for the stars, she would never forget the small town in which she came from.