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Published: 20 March 2013

Mission to Mars

Graduate Abbie Hutty explains how studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Surrey helped her achieve career lift-off…

Reading a newspaper story about the European Space Agency’s planned mission to Mars was enough to convince a 15-year-old Abigail Hutty that she wanted to be an engineer. The article provided some much-needed career guidance at a time when she didn’t quite know what direction to take – or what subjects to pursue. It proved to be a pivotal, life-changing moment. 

Abbie’s realisation that engineering is at the forefront of technological innovation and exploration has paved the way for a fascinating, varied and challenging career. Since electing to study Mechanical Engineering (MEng) at Surrey, she has gone on to achieve her ambition of working on the ExoMars Rover programme – the very project that inspired her to go into engineering.

Abbie’s achievements have recently seen her profiled in The Daily Telegraph. We caught up with her to find out more about her work…

Tell us about your work at Astrium…

I am currently working as the Spacecraft Structures Engineer on the ExoMars Rover Mission. It’s due to launch in 2018. This project is quite different from the bulk of Astrium’s work – the mission will land on Mars’ surface rather than remaining in the microgravity of space.

What does your role involve?

It’s quite varied. My job involves technical design, but I’m also required to manage schedules, budgets and costs, as well as liaising with various teams, and managing the work of other engineers and subcontractors. It’s diverse, but I find it very rewarding. I definitely never get bored!

It must be like a dream come true…

I don’t think I will ever get tired of working on a mission that will one day land on another planet.

I heard that the UK was bidding to work on the Mars Rover project back when I was completing my GCSEs. At that time, it never occurred to me that I would ever be able to work on the project directly. But realising that engineering encompasses such ‘cool’ projects was one of the things that inspired me to become an engineer in the first place.

To be able to say that I’m working on a mission to Mars still seems a bit bizarre – but I definitely get a buzz from it! One of the most exciting times will be when we launch (and, of course, when we land). I hope to be one of those people jumping up and down, punching the air in a control room somewhere!

Day-to-day, though, the little things make a difference. To be able to legitimately use the word ‘Martian’ in technical reports always makes me smile.

How did your time as a student prepare you for the work you’re doing now?

Surrey equipped me for my job with a well-respected, solid degree, and a full year of experience in the business sector – as well as supporting interesting hobbies, voluntary work and experiences that have made my CV stand out.

Of course, a degree will never be able to teach you everything you need to know; there’s always a steep learning curve when starting any new role. Surrey taught me how to learn and gave me the confidence to believe that, if I applied myself, I could take anything on board. That’s really all the preparation you need.

I did my training year at Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL). It gave me experience of working in an engineering office, which was valuable. The main benefits I gained from the year, however, were in-depth knowledge and understanding of the sector I wanted to work in.

I got the opportunity to work in quite a varied role at SSTL, and put into practice the various skills and techniques I’d only covered in a theoretical way during my studies. It gave me an advantage over competitors for graduate jobs. I also learnt a lot about the industry – the key players, the relationships between them, and the politics involved. All of which is invaluable when it comes to choosing the best route for your career!