Danielle Wood is taking the lead on bringing space technology back to Earth. The Director of MIT’s cutting-edge Space Enabled Research Lab, Wood takes the tools that typically orbit us, and applies them to projects advancing social good on our home planet—whether that’s improving water sources for African teens, or preventing the next famine. Her talks break down the most complex, cosmic technologies to show us how, with the practice of innovation and a little entrepreneurial spirit, they can be used to improve humanity.
“Danielle’s talent and dedication to using Earth observations to advance justice worldwide makes her an inspiration to all of us.”— Lawrence Friedl, Director of NASA's Earth Applied Sciences Program.
“How can a satellite be an instrument of justice?” asks space engineer, teacher, and scholar Danielle Wood. Are the materials causing anyone harm? Are they accessible only to a select few? As Director of the MIT Media Lab’s Space Enabled program, Wood puts these questions into action, considering how we can repurpose tech like communication satellites, which we already use for cell phone and Internet service, to change the world for the better. Scientists can use these technologies to do things like track endangered wildlife, predict destructive storms, or understand which areas of the world are in danger of famine or drought—communicating that data to aid organizations. Collaborating with local and national governments, non-profits, and entrepreneurial firms, Wood and her team are able to identify opportunities for space technology to improve public services and solve global problems. This includes working with NASA on advancing the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, or joining local scientists in Ghana to combat the environmental degradation stemming from illegal gold mining.
Wood translates her experience leading innovative projects into her talks, introducing audiences to fascinating concepts like building a “moral supply chain,” as well as revealing how scientists and civilians alike can draw from seemingly niche technologies to solve problems that benefit diverse people. For her cutting-edge work on the relationship between space science, Earth observations, and justice, Wood was inducted into the International Academy of Astronautics. “Space belongs to all countries,” she says. “Every country deserves equal opportunities to pursue scientific achievement for societal benefit.”
Recently, Wood was invited to speak before the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology for a hearing on Space Situational Awareness. There, she spoke about the nation’s role in achieving global sustainability on land, in the ocean, in the atmosphere, and in space, drawing from her work with the Space Enabled Lab, as well as with the Space Sustainability Rating—an initiative developed by The World Economic Forum to reduce debris and encourage responsible behavior in space—where she serves as a co-lead.
A scholar of societal development, Wood’s background is a mix of research and hands-on creation, including satellite design, earth science applications, systems engineering, and technology policy. Prior to serving as faculty at MIT, Wood held positions at NASA Headquarters, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Aerospace Corporation, Johns Hopkins University, and the United Nations Office of Outer Space Affairs. A prolific MIT alum herself, Wood earned a PhD in engineering systems, SM in aeronautics and astronautics, SM in technology policy, and SB in aerospace engineering.