Faces Behind Gateway - Meet the European Space Agency's Barbara Nucera and Sara Pastor


2021/03/08 | 891 words | AEROCONTACT | CAREER
Faces Behind Gateway - Meet the European Space Agency's Barbara Nucera and Sara Pastor © NASA

In late 2020, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) finalized an agreement to collaborate on the Gateway, with ESA committing to contributing habitation and refueling modules and enhanced lunar communications. This agreement expands NASA’s long-time International Space Station partnership with the European agency to NASA’s Artemis program efforts. The Gateway will provide a sustainable, reusable, and reliable outpost for astronauts and a staging point for deep space exploration. Developed by NASA and a team of international partners, including ESA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the Gateway will be a critical part of returning to the Moon.

This edition of Faces Behind Gateway features ESA’s Barbara Nucera and Sara Pastor. They are vital members of the Gateway team, who continuously work to maintain the strong, international partnership with NASA and build a global coalition with the goal of returning to the Moon.  

Meet Barbara Nucera, European Space Agency’s Houston Team Leader 

As a liaison for ESA based in Houston, it’s not surprising that Barbara Nucera frequently receives questions from friends and family in Italy asking when humans will move forward to the Moon and on to Mars. For years, she answered vaguely, but now she is excited to provide more specific answers and tell them about all the progress made so far to accomplish this goal.

Growing up in Pecetto, a small village near Alessandria, Italy, Nucera’s passion for math and science led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy. While in school, she became fascinated with space. She was one of few women enrolled in this area and went on to earn a master's degree in aerospace engineering.

Nucera joined ESA in 2008 as an Italian Space Agency liaison at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and has worked for the International Space Station program. Today, she is one of the ESA liaisons at Johnson, representing her agency in human spaceflight programs. She participates in boards, review meetings, and technical discussions related to the European contribution to the Gateway program. She also facilitates the exchange of information and coordination between other partner agencies.

After working for almost 20 years on human spaceflight in low-Earth orbit, Nucera was excited to embark on a new career journey and represent Europe in deep space exploration as part of the Gateway program.

"I particularly like that my role gives me the unique position of seeing both the American and the European perspectives and the responsibility to bridge between them so that we can continue to work effectively as an international team," said Nucera.

Nucera enjoys reading, traveling, and exploring new places with her husband and five-year-old son outside of work. She credits her strong upbringing to her grandmother, who taught Nucera that she could do anything she wanted as long she had the determination and passion for it. Nucera is looking to instill the same values in her son.

Meet Sara Pastor, European Space Agency’s International Habitation Module Project Manager

Sara Pastor’s passion for space was born out of curiosity during her high school years. She would constantly wonder what is next in space exploration and how much farther humans can travel. Driven by this curiosity, Pastor pursued degrees in aerospace engineering, specializing in systems engineering for aircraft and space systems from the Polytechnic University of Turin in Italy.  

As an adventure seeker, Pastor is always looking for the next project or challenge. Throughout her career, she has embarked on many new challenges and emerged on top. She started her career at Thales Alenia Space, a customer for ESA. She then began working for ESA as a contractor before securing a role as a permanent employee.  

Pastor joined the Gateway program in 2016, in the early stages of development, while still supporting the space station program. She became fully dedicated to the Gateway program in May 2020 as the International Habitation (I-HAB) module project manager working in the Exploration and Robotic Directorate at ESA. She is responsible for designing, developing, and verifying the I-HAB module or the pressurized living quarters for visiting astronauts on the Gateway. Pastor also manages the European industrial procurement activities, leads the ESA project team, and supports upper management in discussions with ESA stakeholders and international partners.

As someone who was not part of the generation that saw the first man walk on the Moon, Pastor is excited to watch humanity move forward to the Moon, sustainably with the Gateway.

“NASA makes [ESA] feel like we are part of the same team. One of the major inspiring experiences in my professional life was seeing how the NASA team handled a major anomaly on [the International Space Station], all together to solve it, rather than trying to point fingers at others immediately. I see the same attitude on the Gateway team as well,” said Pastor. 

Pastor grew up in a small village in the Italian Alps and now lives in the Netherlands with her husband, two daughters, and their dog. She enjoys hiking, skiing and loves discovering new cultures when traveling around the world. While at home, Pastor draws mandalas to calm her mind and sharpen her concentration. 

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