VENTURING into space, like the world of startups, is not for the faint-hearted. For aerospace engineer Wanjiku Chebet Kanjumba, however, space is a place for adventure, with unlimited possibilities. Having trained for space and even donned the full space garb, she is determined to make her mark in space exploration. Even if she doesn’t make it all the way into space.
“As a child growing up in Kenya I was always fascinated by space, planets and our solar system. So, in high school, I studied sciences and that’s how my journey began,” recalled aerospace engineer Wanjiku Kanjumba from her base in Florida.
Kanjumba explains she also spent a lot of time watching the launch of space shuttles in the US. She collected comics and books on astronomy.
Her dreams to study space and engineering came true after scoring high grades in sciences in her high school final examination. This earned her a place at the prestigious Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida, USA where she studied astronomical engineering.
Raised by a single parent after her father died of cancer when she was 12 years old, Kanjumba said it was natural for her to pursue aerospace engineering and follow in the footsteps of her elder brothers who were already studying at Embry-Riddle University. One of her brothers is an engineer and the other a doctor.
“I wanted to combine my passion of learning about space and how things worked, the answer to that was Aerospace Engineering. I joined Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to do my Bachelors’ and Masters’ degrees in Aerospace Engineering,” she said.
During her time at the Embry -Riddle University Kanjumba enrolled for the prestigious Project Polar Suborbital Science in the Upper Mesosphere (PoSSUM) Scientist- Astronaut candidate intense training, becoming the first Kenyan woman to ever take the training and graduate.
“The training was intense. The best part was adorning an astronaut’s spacesuit and conducting a test flight simulation. At zero gravity your body floats in the air…it’s like you are swimming in the air. For me, I was the first Kenyan born to take the training, it was a dream come true,” she said.
At 25, Kanujmba was already armed with a Bachelors’ and Masters’ degrees in Aerospace Engineering and hit the employment circuit with much success.
“I had the chance to be employed full-time in one of the top airlines in the United State where I worked in the engineering department dealing with aircraft maintenance and fleet performance. The overall experience was interesting, I mean flying to anywhere in. the United States without paying for a ticket was awesome,” she said.
Even though the highflying well-paying job was exciting it, Kanjumba said it had its own challenges and limitations. It wasn’t going to be easy to keep her ever-inquisitive mind in one spot.
“In my department, I world with people around my age and those in their 70s, so I got to analyze their different perspectives to the work I did. I didn’t see the point personally of working for any corporation my whole life,” she said.
Refusing to waste her youthful energy and time working for corporates Wanjumba set her ideas in motion and took a dive into entrepreneurship.
“So, I started brainstorming on some idea I had and entered the startup world. I go at the moment but couldn’t get funding. Then I met someone with similar experience, but not having the technical experience to execute it. I pitched the ideas of Vicillion to him and tried to kill two birds with one stone and ever since we’ve been working on the company,” she said.
Wanjumba explains that Vicillion is a world-class company leaning on problem-solving and aims to make an impact in the world. Vicillion has 6 labs dedicated to technology research and development in Internet of Things (IoT), Robotics, Aerospace, Artificial Intelligent and Machine Learning, Mobility and Government Contracting.
She said she draws her inspiration from the world’s unique talents liked Nikola Tesla, Isaac Newton, Julius Caesar.
Wanjumba plans to complete her doctorate degree in Japan and aims to concentrate her work more on AI and robotics.
“I am working in different technology fields that have always fascinated me lie the robotics and AI. The idea of working on something I’m passionate about and that would revolutionize technology would be amazing,” she said.
Leaving by her mantra “don’t regret”, Wanjumba has achieved so much in such a short time making unusual strikes in science and is indeed an inspiration to millions of youths in Africa who dream of walking in space.
“I live mainly by one mantra- don’t regret. I don’t want to look back at my life with any, ‘I coulda, woulda, shoulda’, we only get one chance, and we have to make it count, test your limits, unleash your potential and leave something behind that you’ll be proud of when you leave this world,”