Do you know anything about on-orbit satellite servicing and space debris? Maybe… if you saw Gravity. But if not, you should because most of your daily life is impacted by it. Amazingly, there are 400 satellites currently floating in outer space. Their job is to keep our essential services on earth working… internet, cell phones, GPS, search/rescue, weather, etc. So what happens when one of them breaks down or gets damaged by flying space debris?

Since we can’t rely on Sandra Bullock and George Clooney to do the repairs, real-life space programs use robots to do that sort of mission critical work. But it takes humans on earth to build these robots, to make them capable of performing all vital tasks, and to command them to do what needs to be done.

“Ever since the beginning of time, humans have been drawn to places that are inhospitable for life but are the sources of our wildest dreams.” There is one woman we know who is a total rock star when it comes to space robotics. Natalie Panek has an incredible ability to make complex subjects seem understandable, to put the impossible within reach and to cast a powerfully seductive glow on space exploration.

The Mission Systems Engineer at MDA Space Missions just gave a great TEDWomen talk in Toronto last week that focused on robotic refueling, maintenance and repairs to satellites. Busted or dead satellites essentially become space garbage, so Natalie introduced us to the concept of sustainable space exploration. It’s a means of limiting orbital debris by making satellites last longer through the creation of innovative technologies that can make even space exploration more socially responsible. We find this completely fascinating.

Natalie says global space programs need to work together in order to accomplish this, and adds that teamwork and community can be catalysts for change.

So check out her captivating TedWomen talk on Why We Explore… it will make you smarter and will certainly make you appreciate the work that Natalie and engineers like her are doing to revolutionize the world, both in outer space and on earth.