She grew up in Langley Vale and went to Chatham High School.
Now, Kim Ellis is a world-leading scientist and lawyer in the space industry and flies out to Ireland on July 28 to co-present a workshop about Mars for the International Space University’s space studies program.
The founder and global director of International Earth Space Tech, she calls Medowie in Newcastle home with her family, although her work takes her around the world.
At the end of June she gave a talk at the Florida Space Institute and was the first Australian to speak as an international leader in space law and policy for the American Bar Association.
“I never expected to be doing this,” she said.
“If someone had said to me when I was back living in Langley Vale that I’d end up doing what I’ve doing I would have said ‘are you mad!?’.”
She had originally wanted to be a vet but didn’t get the marks she needed in the HSC, which she completed in 1985. “I did chemistry and physics but I didn’t do that well at it. I think I got about 69 per cent for chemistry and slightly better or worse at physics. I did really well at maths though. I studied three unit and got 84 per cent.”
If someone had said to me when I was back living in Langley Vale that I’d end up doing what I’ve doing I would have said ‘are you mad!?’.- Kim Ellis
After school, Kim secured a traineeship with BHP-Billiton at the Newcastle Steelworks.
A self-described “closet space nerd my entire life", it wasn’t until she was made redundant from her work as a uranium chemist at the Shortland Research Laboratory with BHP-Billiton in 2008 that she decided to chase her dreams.
“That is when I decided to come out of the closet about my love for space and went back to do my law degree.
“I feel so grateful for the opportunity I was given. I thought the world was coming to an end when I was given the redundancy. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow and something you think is a bad thing can work out for the best.”
In her current work she writes papers for legal conferences, consulting work to the industry, speaking about space law and technology and presenting workshops for the international space community.
Kim said the modern world relies on space technology to do just about everything now.
From the GPS to banking institutions using it to upload vast amounts of financial data via satellite, all our entertainment and telecommunications, for search and rescue, aircraft trackers, military defence.
Space technology is also used for research purposes, magnetic fields, chemistry of space around the earth, changes in climate, sending probes to Mars and across the solar system to collect information. “We can be more informed about the dangers and possible benefits of other places.”
“Australia doesn’t have it’s own satellites so the satellite and the satellite data is shared with other countries, we can learn risks or threats from countries that don’t have the same kind of ideas.”
She loves her work. “It’s just in me. I don’t know why.
“I’ve now been to a few rocket launches and they are one of the most amazing things you will ever experience. The idea that you can launch a heavy chunk of metal into space in nine minutes.”
Kim talks about the importance of education and credits her mum as her cheerleader and inspiring her to learn. Now she wants to give back to others.
“I grew up with so passionate about helping kids with their education. For people who don’t have the financial resources there is less choice.
“I want to create a scholarship fund for the students and build the process to get education and access and financial resources for those who are struggling,” she said.
“The more successful I can be, the more I can give to that. Having my company is not just about profit. It’s profit with a purpose.”
Kim has fond memories of growing up in the Manning, attending the Aquatic Festival in Taree with her friends, catching two buses from Langley Vale to attend Chatham High, and eating prawn and mayonaise sandwiches with her mum and two siblings while they sat on the beach or breakwall at Crowdy Head.
I want to create a scholarship fund for the students and build the process to get education and access and financial resources for those who are struggling.- Kim Ellis
She was also a member of senior Scouts group The Venturers, which she did all through high school.
“I loved that it was all about setting goals. That’s where I learnt how to be a leader. I ended up the leader of the group and that was the foundation for all my skills that I use now.”
The workshop in Ireland will see her co-present with technical staff from the NASA Kennedy Space Centre to 130 space student program participants from 29 countries. The nine-week program is held in a different country each year.
Titled ‘Boots on Mars’, they will present a particular problem about going to Mars and it will be the task of the participants to come up with solutions, which will then be given as feedback to NASA to develop their program.
She’s looking forward to it. “They are all people who already work in the space industry, It is a great collection of minds.”
Kim said it has been a challenge at times to be a female in a male dominated industry.
“I always come up against different attitudes but you have to go, ‘this is what I’m doing’. I’m getting there and I’m happy with my progress.”
The mum of two (her eldest is now now is his second year at Sydney University studying mechanical engineering and advanced science, while her youngest is doing his HSC this year) said it doesn’t matter where you come from, where you grow up or where you live, you can achieve what you set your mind to.
“If you’ve got a dream of what you want to do, you can do it. It’s more about what you do, it doesn’t matter where you come from.”
For younger people growing up in the Manning and other regional areas she said to use the time to learn what it is you want.
“If I had a dollar for every time someone laughed at me when I told them what I was planning and wanted to do, I’d be a millionaire.
“It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks – you can make it work.”