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“Girls To Build A Spaceship, Girls To Code A New App, Girls To Grow Up Knowing They Can Engineer That”

Lyrics from the fantastic new commercial by GoldieBlox, a company founded by Debra Stirling (Stanford graduate with a degree in Mechanical Engineering/Product Design), championing to “disrupt the pink aisle” with a toy that  introduces girls to the joy of engineering at a young age.

GoldieBlox’s vision for this video was to “showcase the amazing inventive power that girls have”. They re-wrote the lyrics to the Beastie Boys’ Girls and hired six engineers, Brett Doar (of OK Go! fame)  and three fantastic young girls to transform a  house into a “princess machine.” It’s such a refreshing take on commercials for girls’ toys and made me smile all the way through (and it’s catchy!).

The First GoldieBlox Toy On Shelves – Goldieblox and the Spinning Machine [Amazon]

When first hearing about GoldieBlox last year I was pleasantly surprised that rather than developing something stereotypical, a pink lego sort of product per se,  it really seemed to have a solid basis. Debra Stirling has certainly done her research concerning gender differences, child education and how children learn and interact. Stirling built GoldieBlox using the notion that boys were more interested in building while girls generally prefered reading and other verbal skills. Therefore having a book incorporated into GoldieBlox helped the girls to stay focussed on that whilst carrying the out the activity alongside it. She stated last year that the boys playing with GoldieBlox liked to spin the dog as fast as possible until it fell off after completing the build, whilst the girls spun it gently using the ribbon. The success of GoldieBlox will hopefully continue to grow, with the new commercial a finalist to be aired at Superbowl (vote for it here!).

Roominate developed by Maykah allows young girls to build a dollhouse room complete with working circuits [VentureBeat]

Maykah, a company formed by a group of three Stanford grad students is also aiming to inspire the next generation of female technology innovators. Their first toy Roominate inspired by an early dollhouse memory,  allows young girls to attach and custom-build a miniature room with working circuits to their dollhouse.

Influencing girls at a young age with toys like this, encouraging girls to build and engineer, really is the key to inspiring them and setting them on a course to consider STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) at a later stage. LEGO, once described by Jezebel as simply making money through “girls conditioned to want pink and sparkly toys about ponies and princesses” rather than trying to change the status quo, has also released a new female scientist minifigure with a further set of female STEM career minifigures planned to come.

Scientist

LEGO Scientist Minifigure [LEGO]

At a young age, I, although given Barbies to play with as a child, much preferred putting together train sets or toy car race tracks and playing with space shuttles, toys mainly targeted at boys with their product marketing and places in the toyshop aisle. I feel that being encouraged to play with these toys rather than shunned, played a large part in allowing me to start to understand physics and become inquisitive about how the world around me worked, especially when I was young before it feeling like simply school work (which it never was..). That wonder about the universe and how it was formed led me to where I am today working as Engineer with an background in astrophysics and space engineering. If toys like GoldieBlox had been around when I was younger, how many more girls would’ve decided to follow their true path towards learning about engineering and physics, rather than simply fitting in by playing with Barbies?

With girls deciding by the age of 11 to move away from studying science, toys like these are important to bring STEM  into their lives in an enjoyable way when they’re young and to prevent stereotypes from forming in the first place.

Personally I hope that these toys sell out at Christmas!

NASA’s New Astronaut Class – The First With A 1:1 Male-Female Ratio! [space.com]

 

Having been asked to speak at the first official Ada Lovelace Day (15th Oct) celebration in Canada this year, I spent some time thinking about exactly what message I wanted kids, parents, teenagers & women in tech attending to hear. I decided to tell them my story. But more importantly why I decided to start Rocket Women; to give back to the women that had inspired me along my journey, helping me to reach where I am today. I’ve decided that the best way to do that is by inspiring others.

Focusing on role models, I believe that positive female role models are essential to provide women with examples to look up to when they’re making the most critical decisions in their education, lives or careers. For myself Sunita Williams has always been an inspiration and I was lucky enough to meet her whilst working at the European Space Agency. She went on to give me some fantastic advice to write my engineering Masters thesis on Future Lunar EVA Suit Design and Operations. What should be highlighted though is not only the number of female role models available for women right now, but ensuring that there will be role models in the future for future generations to look up to and aim towards.

In the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of  the First Woman In Space, Valentina Tereshkova (& the 30th Anniversary of the First American Woman in Space, Sally Ride), NASA also announced their new astronaut class with the highest percentage of female astronauts ever selected by the agency. Four out of the new eight astronauts are female with a breadth of experience among them, with women now representing 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps. The four women chosen are Christina M. Hammock, NOAA station chief in American Samoa,  Nicole Aunapu Mann, US Marine and F18 fighter pilot, Dr.Jessica Meir PhD, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and Anne C. McClain, US Army and OH-58 Helicopter Pilot.  Dr.Jessica Meir PhD is also a graduate of the International Space University (ISU) (MSS00), making me proud to be an ISU alumnus myself!

Taking into account the significant impact that this decision will have on future generations, hopefully this trend towards equality will continue. Each decision, whether it be that a new astronaut corps has a 50% male-female ratio or whether companies decide to promote and hire women into high profile and visible leadership roles, will influence the future of these industries and their overall success to come.

International Women’s Day

March 20th, 2013 | Posted by rocketwoman in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

International Women’s Day celebrated globally (Copyright: accenture.com; npr.org; womeninaerospace.org; independent.co.uk; women2.com)

The United Nations’ International Women’s Day (IWD) took place on Friday 8th March with some great events organised around the world. In particular Women 2.0 honoured IWD with Founder Friday meetings in innovative cities globally to promote the creation of new networks among aspiring entrepreneurs, current entrepreneurs and investors. Women In Aerospace (US, Europe and Canada) celebrated women by carrying out networking events for their members internationally! Women working at Accenture collaborated to create an excellent webcast through which they shared their inspiring stories of success in the tech industry. Accenture, with more than 90,000 women employees, also released their 2013 International  Women’s Day research titled “Defining Success”. The survey of  4100 business executives from 33 countries showed that when work-life balance was concerned, more than three quarters (77 percent) agreed that technology enabled them to be more flexible with their schedules. Eighty percent reported having flexibility in their work schedule is extremely or very important to work-life balance, however 70 percent said technology brings work into their personal lives. Considering women alone, 80 percent of those surveyed worked on weekends and/or holidays (compared to 83 percent of men). Proving an equal commitment to and responsibility towards their careers. In Sheryl Sandberg‘s new book “Lean In” she advocates flexible working conditions and a higher salary for women. With the Accenture survey highlighting that almost 10 percent less women than men asked for or negotiated a pay rise,  this issue being brought to the forefront of the public’s awareness should be welcomed. (A review of Lean In will be posted soon!)

The Atlantic provided us with a striking portrayal of women around the world on International Women’s Day, emphasising this truly global event connecting women of all cultures, countries and backgrounds. Presenting an essential reminder that IWD also allows us to ”focus on places and situations where women’s rights, equality, health, and safety still have a long way to go”.

How did you celebrate International Women’s Day? Leave you comments below or on Twitter @Rocket_Woman1

-Vinita

Women are astronauts too! – copyright SpaceKate.com, 2013

The Lynx Apollo competition has been exceptional at showcasing the commercial spaceflight industry to the public but apparently lacks in the gender equality department. The recently opened competition will allow 22 winners to experience a suborbital flight on the Lynx SXC space plane. Open to participants in over 60 countries, entrants are being asked to discuss why they should be chosen to fly to space, with their entries voted upon. 22 winners will be chosen at the Lynx Space Academy challenge weekend, held this summer in Orlando, Florida, after conducting “space-stimulation challenges”. Though this brings human spaceflight to the forefront of the public eye, it has unfortunately also highlighted a major misconception in the aerospace industry.

In this fantastic post by @SpaceKate she brings to our attention that when applying for the competition and choosing a picture, she had the choice of herself in an astronaut suit, generic Lynx Space Academy branding, or “pictures of a (presumably) male astronaut with a hot girl swooning” or shockingly “of the hot girl’s clothes all over the floor of the again (presumably) male astronaut”. Though, as she clearly points out, the majority of the consumers targeted by Lynx (Axe) are male, the competition is open to everyone. By providing these male-focused avatars, this actively discourages women from applying to such competitions, rather than inspiring them, which I hope would be a bonus of such a high-profile competition and company.  The reasons behind Lynx using such avatars for the competition are somewhat understandable [but not necessarily honourable] considering their targeted demographic, however XCOR Aerospace and Space Expedition Curacao are unlikely to be intentionally supportive of such an anti-female perspective.

SpaceKate’s post also describes the Lynx Apollo TV advert which shows:

“…a pretty woman who needs rescuing from a fire, cue good looking male fireman to save this “damsel in distress”. Then an astronaut appears, and our fickle beauty changes her affections to him: “Nothing beats an astronaut, ever”.

She also brings up a good point mentioning that she’d:

“…like to see a remake of that advert, but as the astronaut raises their helmet it turns out to be Cady Coleman, Tracy Caldwell-Dyson, Peggy Whitson, Valentina Tereshokova, Sally Ride, Eileen Collins, Soyeon Yi, Samantha Cristoforetti, Nicole Stott… (I could go on) and the fireman goes swooning over to her instead! (In fact, if you’ve some video ninja skills let’s make it happen.) Women are more than sex objects, women can be smart, and women can be astronauts too.”- spacekate.com

One of the most important questions asked are “Where are our female role models?“.  This question is one of the reasons that I started RocketWomen, for women to be aware of and inspired by our female role models.

SpaceKate’s post has got great response by women in the space industry, the significant points addressed leading to statements released by both NASA and Lynx UK. NASA writes that:

“Even today in 2013, many images of women (and stereotypes of men) in the media show that we still have a lot of work to do regarding the role of women and their importance to fields like STEM.  We need to do as much as we can to project a much more realistic and positive image of women, as well as encourage more girls to enter into STEM fields.  We are working hard at NASA on this effort and we hope to do even more.”- NASA

Hopefully this will highlight major misconceptions held in the industry and unfortunately actively promoted. Women are astronauts too and I hope that in the future this will be remembered, especially when concerning public global competitions such as this with the unparalleled potential to inspire women around the world.

Happy New Year!

January 2nd, 2013 | Posted by rocketwoman in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

 

Happy New Year! Wishing you all the best for the year ahead! They’ll be some exciting updates to the site coming up very soon so stay tuned!!

- Vinita

It was great to see Google’s doodle today which commemorated Ada Lovelace’s 197th birthday and her contribution to computer science. Google are also supporting and helping to inspire women to join technology fields. Women Techmakers is a five-part series in which talented female developers and women who advocate for gender balance in the technology industry present their viewpoints. Highly recommended!

Ada Lovelace Google doodle – 10/12/2012 [Google]

 

 

Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

October 16th, 2012 | Posted by rocketwoman in Inspirational women - (0 Comments)

Ada Lovelace Day (October 16th) is an event designed to raise the profile of female scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians. A day to bring attention and celebrate their achievements. Born in 1815, Ada Lovelace is considered to be the world’s first computer programmer! As the daughter of poet Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke, she was encouraged by her mother as a child and taught math and science. She later worked with Charles Babbage using code-like language on the theoretical development of an “analytics engine”, similar to a computer. This was sadly never built as Ada passed away from cancer. Her notes however were used by Alan Turing in the 1940s for his work on the first modern computers. Starting in 2009, a group called Finding Ada led by Suw Charman-Anderson started a petition to call for a day of blogging about women’s achievements in STEM. Therefore every year on this day, blogs recognize powerful women the world over, paying special attention to women in the tech industry.

So this year I’ll be bringing attention and celebrating the achievements of women in the space industry, specifically those that I believe are inspiring others  and a role model for women internationally. Two women who I think should be brought to attention are Sunita Williams and Dr.Soeyon Yi.

I’ve written about Sunita previously, but Sunita Williams is not just any astronaut, she holds the record for the longest single flight in space for a women and for the longest EVA duration for a female (cumulative). EVA Video

The previous record holder, Peggy Whitson, sent her a message to congratulate her on this accomplishment. She said, “Suni – Congratulations on being the female record holder of the most EVA time. It’s an honour to hand off the record to someone as talented as you.” Peggy ended the message with “You Go Girl!!“ Suni replied saying that it was a matter of circumstance, time and place. Adding that, “Anybody could be in these boots.”

Sunita previously served in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf in support of Desert Shield as a helicopter pilot. She graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1993 and continued to perform test flights in a variety of military helicopters. After completing her master’s degree in Engineering Management in 1995, she was stationed on the USS Saipan, where she was selected to be a NASA astronaut. On her career path she has previously said,

“Enjoy what you’re doing, you’ll naturally do well at it, and if [the opportunity to be an astronaut] comes up, it’s just a bonus.”

Whilst onboard the ISS in 1997, Sunita completed the Boston marathon in space using the ISS treadmill. She completed the 26.2 mile race in 4 hours, 23 minutes and 10 seconds. In addition to this, whilst on the ISS this year Sunita completed the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. She ran, biked and “swam” in space simulated using a treadmill, stationary bike and strength-training machine. The swimming portion of the race in microgravity used the onboard Advanced Resistance Exercise Device (ARED) to do resistance activities and weight training.  NASA’s flight director in Mission Control congratulated Sunita for completing the triathlon and emphasised that it was “critically important to understand human physiology and how to keep you strong on orbit”.

Sunita Williams completing a triathlon in space

Sunita Williams completing a triathlon in space [slate.com]

Sunita has also been involved in charity work including cutting her long hair while in orbit to donate to Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to children suffering long-term hair loss due to medical issues. Sunita also went on a 5-day visit of India where she met then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, visited her ancestral village and was awarded the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Vishwa Pratibha Award by the World Gujarati Society. She’s a truly inspiring individual and has personally inspired me throughout my career.

The second female role model that I want to tell you about is Dr.Soyeon-Yi. Soyeon was South Korea’s first astronaut, selected from among 36,000 applicants and launched to the space station in 2008.

Dr.Soyeon Yi before launching to the ISS in 2008

Dr.Soyeon Yi before her Soyuz launch to the ISS in 2008 [nyscience.org]

With a background in mechanical engineering and bio-systems, Soyeon currently serves as a senior researcher at the Korean Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) and an adjunct professor at the Korea Advances Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). Whilst spending 10 days on the ISS, Soyeon conducted 18 scientific experiments, including an experiment that monitored the effects of microgravity on 1,000 fruit flies that she transported into space.  She has also described the experiments to educate students and the younger generations as being the most meaningful and important, her first responsibility being to support the next generation and inspire the people of Korea. Soyeon’s Soyuz capsule, which she shared with NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko ,also underwent a ballistic re-entry on return to Earth. This entry at a steeper than normal angle, resulted in the capsule landing at a distance of 400 km from the intended landing site. Ballistic re-entry can expose crew members to gravitational forces exceeding 10 times that of Earth gravity as it relies solely on atmospheric drag to slow a spacecraft. The Soyuz nominal re-entry usually allows for some aerodynamic lift during re-entry, which provides a  shallower and slower descent. Luckily the crew were safe and located 20-minutes post-landing.

Soyeon also carried out the International Space University (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP) at NASA Ames Research  Centre in 2009. I was lucky enough to meet her there whilst working as a Teaching Associate for the Physical Sciences department. She truly inspired each and every person involved in the program with her ambition and accomplishments.

Dr.Soyeon-Yi with myself and other ISU SSP09 Teaching Associates

Dr.Soyeon-Yi with myself and other ISU SSP09 Teaching Associates

 

 

A very Happy Birthday to NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams! Sunita’s celebrating her birthday onboard the International Space Station (ISS), which she became Commander of last week, becoming only the second female commander in ISS history. During an EVA (spacewalk) last week, Sunita also gained the world record for the longest time spent spacewalking by a female (cumulative). Overtaking 39 hours and 46 minutes. When told of her achievement by Mission Control (MCC Houston) during the spacewalk, Suni said that it was a “matter of circumstance, time and place” and that “anybody could be in these boots”. Suni took over the record from Peggy Whitson, who sent her a message during the EVA congratulating her on this accomplishment. Peggy stated that it was an honour to handover  - ending the message with You Go Girl!

Sunita also holds the world record for the most hours spent in orbit by a female. Well Done Suni!! She also completed a triathlon in space last weekend! The activity was timed to coincide with the Nautica Malibu Triathlon held in Southern California. Sunita “swam” half a mile using the strength resistance training machine onboard the ISS, cycled for 18 miles and ran for 4 miles! Creating an offworld record of 1 hour, 48 minutes and 33 seconds! Amazing! Astronauts onboard exercise for 2 hours a day using equipment including a stationary bike and treadmill. They are tethered to the machines using harnesses and straps to keep them in position. Exercise is essential for the astronauts to prevent physical deconditioning. Bone and muscle loss otherwise can occur increasingly due to the weightless environment.

Sunita is truly an inspiration to me and also to women around the world!

ISS crew celebrating the birthday of Suni’s beloved Jack Russell Terrier Gorby last week! (Fragile Oasis)

P.S. Photos below are of the tool that Sunita Williams and Akihido Hoshide used to install a new electrical Main Bus Switching Unit (MBSU) to relay power on the station. A second unscheduled spacewalk was needed last week for the activity, during which the astronauts used the tools they made on the ISS themselves to fix the station.

Complete ingenuity!!

Saving the day:

The tool that fixed the ISS!

Tools used during the EVA (NASA)

NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, Expedition 32 flight engineer, appears to touch the bright sun during the mission’s third session of extravehicular activity (EVA) on Sept. 5, 2012.

ISS Commander Sunita Williams during last week’s EVA (NASA)

 

Sunita also recently took viewers on a tour of the ISS!

With the unfortunate passing of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, recently, it’s poignant to reflect upon how utterly significant her achievement really was. On her launch into space on Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983, she was preceeded by two Russian women, Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982), however still marking a significant turning point for governmental and societal opinion. Sally was also the only person to serve on both the Space Shuttle Challenger and Columbia Accident Investigation Boards. She also informed major space policy decisions by being a presidential panel member of the 2009 Review of United States Human Spaceflight Plans Committee. This was an independent review of US Human Spaceflight Policy and resulted in fundamental changes made to the US space program. Sally Ride has also been a supporter of women’s education in science and engineering, co-founding Sally Ride Science, a science education company that creates entertaining science programs for 4-8th grade students, specifically focussing on girls.

The story of Sally Ride’s journey to space is the culmination of a decades long struggle at NASA to allow female astronauts, clearly depicted in this article in The Atlantic. Spanning 20 years, from Valentina Tereshkova’s flight in 1963 to Sally Ride’s in 1982. It’s a shame to see how little awareness society has of these women’s achievements. In particular those such as in this case, relating to women in STEM fields, where they’ve had to overcome such adversity in order to even be considered for a particular position.

However, when society has progressed from comments such as “The hand that rocks the cradle should not steer a rocket,” 40 years ago to four women in space simultaneously, it’s an achievement to be proud of. But also to not forget the path that led to where we are as a society today.

Sally Ride. Credit: z6mag.com

Four women in space simultaneously. Here pictured onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Credit: NASA

Welcome!

July 14th, 2012 | Posted by rocketwoman in Uncategorized - (2 Comments)

Dear readers,

Welcome to Rocket Women! To introduce myself, my name’s Vinita Marwaha and I’m an Operations Engineer for the International Space Station. Most commonly described as being a Rocket Scientist. Apart from having a successful career in the space industry, I’m also a daughter, girlfriend, sister and friend. I wondered why it was that women could easily be seen as so many things, however when introducing myself using my job title more often than not I’ve encountered a look of surprise. I work with fantastic women, many who have inspired me over the years to be the person I am now and to take significant steps in my career. I wanted these women to be heard and provide a platform through which they would be able to inspire others.

So I decided to interview women who I think should have a voice, be able to tell you their story and advise women around the world on how they could too be a rocket scientist if they wished. This doesn’t only include working in the space industry. Women are making significant breakthroughs in industries including the technology, aerospace and science research. Videos from each interview will be uploaded to the site and include advice from female astronauts, government policy makers, commercial spaceflight employees, women in technology and also career advisors.

The site will also provide recommendations on how you can learn more about a career in the aerospace and technology industries and steps to ensure that you too have that opportunity. Women currently make up 48% of the total workforce, however only hold 24% of the jobs in science, technology and engineering. I hope that this site will in some way increase that 24%! This blog was partially inspired by a networking challenge from classycareergirl.com

Also a great resource for girls looking for advice on how to further their career!

I hope you’ll enjoy the interviews and they’ll show that you can be a rocket scientist too! If you have any questions or comments about the site or career-wise, please feel free to contact me at vinita@rocket-women.com .

I look forward to hearing from you!

Vinita