Hillary Searle’s career to share the story of human spaceflight and the future of space exploration turns “shooting for the stars” into a much more literal phrase. As the communications lead of Orbital ATK’s defense and commercial division, Searle’s responsibilities include everything from external and internal communications to education outreach.
Her favorite part of the job, however, is going to launches.
Yes, rocket launches.
On the scene, Searle is in charge of all media relations. “You get a lot of the same reporters that will go to each launch. So you work with them, escort them, get their media credentials, take them to tower rollback, which is when they roll back the tower from launch vehicle, and answer their questions.”
Pitching stories and organizing press conferences fall under her responsibilities. She also she sets up interviews with ATK’s spokespeople and then navigates the interviews to make sure the representatives are saying all the right things.
Because her job requires working so closely with the media, Searle gave some stellar advice for building those relationships. “Build it before you need it,” she said. “If you don’t have a relationship with them already, and you try to pitch a story to them, they’ll see right through it.”
On March 25, Searle attended the latest big event at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the launch of the GPS IIS-9, a satellite sent up by the Air Force. Though the exact mission of the Air Force is unknown to outsiders, the satellite will benefit everybody—the more satellites circling around in space, the better GPS signals we get on earth.
ATK is currently working with NASA on a new program called the Space Launch System. Last December they tested a new capsule for astronauts; the whole system should launch in either 2017 or 2018, ending the countries’ astronaut-less streak. (NASA’s space shuttle program ended in 2011.)
Now, just because there aren’t astronauts going into space for a while doesn’t mean there aren’t rockets going up—in fact, there are around twenty launches per year, just in the United States!
Searle landed the job most of us have never thought about, but we will now dream about. Although she never thought she’d be hanging out at rocket events after graduation, she totally loves it.
Her piece of advice to students and grads about how getting the dream job is to “keep your options open” because there are so many things you can do within the industry and you’ve got to find what you love.
Her other suggestion? “Make sure you see a launch.”
PR is an exciting field with countless opportunities. Although you may not end up in space, shoot for the stars and you could end up somewhere you never thought possible.
M’Leah Ricker, a public relations student at Brigham Young University, enjoys writing, public speaking and politics. After graduation, she plans to attend law school. Her favorite U.S. president is Abraham Lincoln and she can recite all of the presidents’ names, parties and years from memory. She loves her family, Mexican food, the color pink, puppies and yoga pants.