Will Wanda Austin take Apple into space?

The appointment of Wanda Austin to Apple’s board of directors is noteworthy. Not only does the move reflect Apple’s continued attempts toward diversity, but it also suggests the company’s future plans.

The news, if you missed it, is that Apple nominated Austin, former president and CEO of The Aerospace Corporation, to its board. She will help occupy the seats left behind as existing board members Al Gore and James Bell retire as they turn 75 years old. (Austin is 69.)

Who is Wanda Austin?

Austin is a super high-powered woman with decades of science and technology experience, including work within the US space program. When she became CEO of The Aerospace Corporation, she was the first woman and first African American to take the role there.

She also sits on the boards of Chevron and Amgen and held a seat on the Virgin Galactic board until she vacated it Aug. 24, 2023. Austin is also interim President of the University of Southern California, which highlights these additional accomplishments:

  • She is internationally recognized for her work in aeronautics and systems engineering and holds an extensive number of industry awards.
  • She is co-founder of systems engineering and leadership development consultant MakingSpace.
  • She served on the President Barack Obama’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology until January 2017, advising in areas where an understanding of science, technology, and innovation was key to forming effective US policy.
  • She served on the Defense Policy Board, having previously served on the Defense Science Board and the NASA Advisory Council. 
  • She is a leading advocate for STEM education.

What did Apple say?

“Wanda has spent decades advancing technology on behalf of humanity, and we’re thrilled to welcome her to Apple’s board of directors,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a statement. “She’s an extraordinary leader, and her invaluable experience and expertise will support our mission of leaving the world better than we found it.”

“Like Apple, I’ve always believed in the power of innovation to improve lives, support human potential, and shape a better future,” said Austin. “I’m honored to join Apple’s board of directors, and I look forward to being part of a company that’s always creating new ways to empower people all over the world.”

What could it mean?

While it may seem a little tenuous, the connection between Apple’s new board member and the company’s ongoing work in satellite communications may yet turn out to be significant. After all, war in Ukraine has absolutely shown the national security importance of reliable satellite communications. That’s also why Austin’s connections within US defense policy seem important.

Apple’s work with Global Star and its ongoing project to enable Emergency SOS by Satellite on iPhones has already required a huge (billion dollar) investment. SpaceX on Jan. 8 sent and received text messages via its satellites and T-Mobile — and decided to announce this with an image of two iPhones showing the message shared.

Apple already holds patents for satellite-based services of sundry kinds, so if it intends on extending its own service in similar fashion, there may be implications on national and international interests. At the same time, it’s hard not to think that defense policy decision makers will yearn for a safe pair of hands to entrust with national communications interests as satellite comms evolves; perhaps Apple will become that entity with Austin’s help.

Plenty of synchronicity

Perhaps a little less out of this world, Austin’s experience and her proven ability in science, engineering, national policy, and STEM education all resonate with Apple’s existing projects, not least as a board room champion for the company’s work to educate tomorrow’s software engineers.

In related news as Apple prepares for its Q1 ’24 results on Feb. 1 and its annual investors meeting at the end of that month, the company revealed that Cook took home $63.2 million in 2023. That’s down $36 million on the previous year, but still around 400 times the salary of the average US Apple employee.

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Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.


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