- Wanjiku Chebet Kanjumba is a Kenyan born astronaut engineer and Kenya’s first Scientist-Astronaut candidate program graduate from the Advanced PoSSUM Space Academy in the USA.
- With an undying love for science and how things work, she has grown to be the co-founder of a tech firm, Vicillion.
- If you live with limitations on yourself, you won’t accomplish much. The world is your oyster if you set no limits, “said the brilliant astronaut
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By Mourrine Wambugu
Exploring space, like any other untapped habitat, can often be scary and full of challenges. However, for 25-year old Wanjiku Chebet Kanjumba, space is an endless place for adventure, full of endless capabilities.
Holding both a Bachelors and a Masters of Science in Aerospace, Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering, Wanjiku is determined to make her mark in space exploration.
Kanjumba also recalled how, when she was younger, she would spend a lot of time watching space shuttle launches in the United States (US).
As she loved everything concerning the planets and our solar system, she would also collect comics and books on astronomy.
“As a child growing up in Kenya, I was always fascinated by space, planets and our solar system. So, in high school, I studied sciences, and that’s how my journey began, “remembered the aerospace engineer.
Her exceptional academic performance, particularly in the sciences, aided her admission to the prestigious Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, USA, where she pursued her passion career in Aerospace Engineering.
I was interested in science and learning about how the world worked and objects from outer space.
So, I wanted to combine my passion for learning about space and how things work – and the answer was aeronautical engineering, “said the inspiring astronaut.
The co-founder of Vicillion, a tech research and development firm, went ahead to pursue her Bachelors and Masters.
Pursuing her education, however, wasn’t as smooth. She was being raised by her widowed mother after her father passed away from cancer at 12 years of age.
This was financially-heavy for her single mum, and it took a lot of sacrifices from both ends for the space lover to graduate.
Despite the challenges, Wanjiku adjusted to the program and persevered through the intense training.
She enrolled in the intense training of Project Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM) Scientist-Astronaut candidate. This made her the first Kenyan woman to actually take the training and graduate.
“The training was intense. The best part was adorning an astronaut’s spacesuit and conducting a test flight simulation. At zero gravity, your body floats in the air… it’s like you are swimming in the air. For me, I was the first Kenyan born to take the training. It was a dream come true, “she excitedly shared from her base in Florida.
By 25, Wanjiku had bagged both certifications and gotten a successful first job at a top airline in the United States.
“I had the chance to be employed full time by one of the top airlines in the United States, where I worked in the engineering department, dealing with aircraft maintenance and fleet performance. The overall experience was interesting. She said, “I mean, flying anywhere in the United States without paying for a ticket was awesome.”
Though the well-paying and high-flying job was exciting, Kanjumba noted it has its own limitations and constraints. This personal observation made her decide not to stay in one spot her entire career life.
“In my department, I worked with people my age and those in their 70s, so I got to analyze their different perspectives on the work I did. I didn’t see the point of working for any corporation my whole life,” said Wanjiku.
Refusing to waste her youthfulness working for the corporate world, Kanjumba brainstormed some ideas and opted to delve into entrepreneurship. This birthed Vicillion, which specializes in bringing clients’ product ideas to reality.
“I started brainstorming on some ideas I had and entered the startup world. I got my moment but couldn’t get funding. Then I met someone with similar experience, but without the technical experience to execute it. I pitched the idea of Vicillion to him and tried to kill two birds with one stone, and ever since we’ve been working on the company, “she said.
She is the co-founder and chair of Vicillion. As explained by Kanjumba, Vicillion is equipped with six laboratories dedicated to technology research and development in the following areas: Aerospace, Machine Learning and Mobility, Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things (IOT), and Robotics.
The 25-year-old space astronomer draws her inspiration from unique talents such as Julius Caesar, Isaac Newton, and Nikola Tesla.
Wanjiku plans on completing her doctorate degree in Japan, with the aim of concentrating more on robotics and artificial intelligence (AI).
Wanjiku Chebet Kanjumba has achieved so many milestones in a short time and could well become a great inspiration to many African lovers of science and space.
While acknowledging how women are under-represented in the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields in Africa, Wanjiku promises a better future through her company.
It saddens my heart every time I think about that. But, as a species, we can accomplish amazing things when we work together, irrespective of our background or status. I am a firm believer that we can all learn something from each other.
“I want to use Vicillion as that inspiration to make us all believe that nothing is impossible, especially when you set your mind to it.” Wanjiku affirmed. “We will work on creating platforms to encourage young women to engage in STEM programs in the future.”
Wanjiku is also the Director and Assistant Head of Strategy and Communications of East Africa’s first independent space company, Space Partnerships and Research Company in Kenya (SPARC).
“I live mainly by one mantra: don’t regret it. If you live with limitations on yourself, you won’t accomplish much, but the world is your oyster if you set no limits. We only get one chance, and we have to make it count. Test your limits, unleash your potential, and leave something behind that you’ll be proud of when you leave this world, “she concluded.