Katherine Johnson, Sally Ride, Margaret Hamilton, Nancy Grace Roman, Mae Jeminson. These five names of women at NASA, although unfamiliar to the public at present, will hopefully soon be immortalised and their trailblazing stories used to inspire the next generation. A fantastic LEGO “Women Of NASA” set featuring the two astronauts, Sally Ride and Mae Jeminson – the first American woman in space and the first African-American woman in space, and three scientists is ready to be voted for on the Lego Ideas website. If the set receives 10,000 supporters it will be one step closer to becoming a commercial set available in stores!
“Women have played critical roles throughout the history of the U.S. space program, a.k.a. NASA or the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Yet in many cases, their contributions are unknown or under-appreciated — especially as women have historically struggled to gain acceptance in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
This proposed set celebrates five notable NASA pioneers and provides an educational building experience to help young ones and adults alike learn about the history of women in STEM.”
Read more about the Lego “Women of NASA” set here.
UPDATE: Lego has announced that the “Women of NASA” set is set to become a reality! The set featuring ‘Hidden Figures’ Katherine Johnson, Margaret Hamilton, Nancy Grace Roman alongside NASA astronauts Sally Ride and Mae Jeminson, has been approved to production and will be coming to a store near you soon! I’m excited for the conversations this set will bring, from the parents teaching their children about the stories of these inspirational women as they build the set to how the set will help to show that a career in space is for everyone.
India has built and launched 82 satellites into space and explored the Moon, Mars and the stars through it’s Chandrayaan-1, Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) and ASTROSAT respectively. But behind these missions is a strong team of scientists and engineers, including a team of trailblazing women.
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) launch [ISRO]
Condé Nast Traveller recently featured the women working on the Mars Orbiter Mission (also called Mangalyaan). India’s MOM mission to Mars was astonishingly designed, planned and launched in 15 months with a budget of only US $70 million! Comparatively, NASA’s recent Maven mission to Mars cost $671 million.
Nandini Harinath served as deputy operations director on MOM and has worked on 14 missions over 20 years at ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), India’s space agency. Nandini highlights that “Women constitute only 20% of ISRO’s 16,000-strong workforce, but female engineers are increasingly joining in. There’s greater awareness and education among young women now. Parents are being supportive of their daughters pursuing careers.” Nandini also discussed the problem of a number of highly educated women dropping out before they reach leadership positions. “That’s the mindset we need to change. Women have to realise that they can manage having careers and families. It’s possible! You can do it if you want to.””
“Women constitute only 20% of ISRO’s 16,000-strong workforce, but female engineers are increasingly joining in”
Here’s an excerpt from the Condé Nast Traveller’s fantastic feature:
“What does it take to make sure your little girl grows up to be a rocket scientist? Start her young. Some 30 years ago, Ritu Karidhal was a little girl, looking up at the stars twinkling in the Lucknow sky, and wondering why the moon changed its shape and size every night. In her teens, she began following the activities of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the newspapers, cutting and collecting clippings. Around the same time, Moumita Dutta was reading about India’s first lunar probe, Chandrayaan 1, in the Anandabazar Patrika in her hometown of Kolkata and thinking, ‘How lucky those people are to have the opportunity to be part of this!’ Flash forward to 2015, and both women are top ISRO scientists, part of a team that worked on India’s acclaimed Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), aka Mangalyaan.”
The feature highlights the little-known story and mission dedication of the women at ISRO, including the four hours of sleep they get per night in order to help their children study and supportive in-laws that travel for hours to help their families.
“We think of our satellites and payloads as our babies, too. To us, they have lives. So the rules for office and home are common: Patience, Procedures, Priorities. If you’re patient, that’s half the battle won. Don’t allow for single-point failure; have backup plans in your mind all the time to avoid chaos. And you can’t be everywhere at once; so assign your priorities. The mind and heart have to be in sync. You must always be true to yourself.”
Update: Meet The Women Who Helped India Reach Mars On The First Try (within 18 months!)
Nandini Harinath, ISRO [Science Friday]
“If you’re doing mission operations you don’t need to watch a science-fiction movie, we see the excitement in our day-to-day lives.” – Nandini Harinath, Project Manager Mission Design, Deputy Operations Director, Mars Orbiter Mission, ISRO
A wonderful new film from Science Friday tells the story of the Indian women in science of ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).
The goal of the film is to show the scientists and work behind the mission, aiming to inspire the next generation of women scientists. With only around “40% of missions to Mars” having been successful, this mission is special as it was not only successful on the first try for ISRO but on a “shoestring budget and in a very short time”.
“When I was small I had a dream to help the common man.” – Minal Rohit, Scientist & Engineer, Project Manager, Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), ISRO
She’s played a role in every major US space program, from calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepard’s (First American in Space) inaugural flight to the Space Shuttle era. Her inspirational work for the U.S. space program since 1953 predates the creation of NASA. She calculated the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon in 1970, and Apollo 13’s mission to the Moon. When Apollo 13’s mission was aborted, she helped to safely return the crew to Earth four days later through her work on backup procedures and charts .
Her name is Katherine Johnson and it’s likely that you’ve never heard her name before. Until recently that is. 97-Year-Old Katherine Johnson became a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2015, the United States’ highest civilian honor, for a hugely influential career in mathematics. When NASA began to use electronic computers for the first time to calculate astronaut John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, she was relied upon to verify the computer’s calculations. And now, mathematical genius Katherine Johnson has been commemorated in a movie titled ‘Hidden Figures‘ and played by none other than “Empire” Star Taraji P. Henson.
Katherine Johnson along with her colleagues Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history — the momentous launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, and his safe return. Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission in 1962, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. The job title of these women was ‘Computer’. The three women crossed all gender, race and professional lines while embarking on the mission. ‘Hidden Figures’ is an adaptation of the Margot Lee Shetterly book “Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race,”
I’m so glad that this movie has been made and will help to highlight the significant work that these women have achieved. But Katherine Johnson isn’t the only woman whose achievements have been unsung for over 40 years.
During Women’s History Month, other women who you need to know include:
Valerie Thomas [NASA]
In the 1940s, Valerie Thomas went to an all-girls school where math and science weren’t even taught. But she persevered and went on to study physics in college. Valerie took a job at NASA, project managing the Landsat program, which collected satellite images of Earth from space. She soon began conceptualizing the projection of 3D images in a similar way. Using a series of concave mirrors, Thomas invented and patented the 3D-Illusion transmitter, which produces 3D projections of objects – and NASA still uses her technology. It’s her technology that made your 3D TV and modern medical imaging possible.
Seamstresses nicknamed “‘Little Old Ladies”, threading copper wires through magnetic rings. Apollo memory was literally hardwired! Wire going through core=1.Wire going around=0 [Photo copyright: Jack Poundstone/Raytheon]
The Women That Stitched Apollo To The Moon
Raytheon’s expert seamstresses, nicknamed ‘Little Old Ladies’, threaded copper wires through magnetic rings (a wire going through a core was a 1; a wire going around the core was a 0). Unbelievably, software was woven into core rope memory by female workers in factories. Apollo memory was literally hardwired and almost indestructible.
Seamstress Hazel Fellows sewing the thermal micrometeoroid garment of the ILC A7L Apollo spacesuit [Quartz/Copyright: ILC Dover]
At ILC Dover, a team of expert seamstresses, on Singer sewing machines, designed and built the iconic suits worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969, and essential to every Apollo mission. A total of 3 custom made suits were created for each astronaut, a training suit, a flight suit and a backup.
This is Margaret Hamilton, NASA lead software engineer, and this is the Apollo guidance program that she wrote. [Copyright: NASA]
The code hardwired by a team of seamstresses that allowed the Apollo missions to fly, was created in part by Margaret Hamilton. Although not an astronaut, her contribution was critical to the success of Apollo, through the development the onboard guidance software for the Apollo mission as NASA’s lead software engineer. and through her role as Director of the Software Engineering Division at MIT’s Instrumentation Laboratory. Three minutes before the Apollo 11 lunar lander reached the Moon’s surface, her work prevented an abort as computer alarms triggered. Due to her design the computer overcame it’s overloading and took recovery action to rectify the issue, allowing the crew to land. “As a working mother in the 1960s, Margaret Hamilton was unusual; but as a spaceship programmer, Margaret Hamilton was positively radical. She would bring her daughter Lauren by the lab on weekends and evenings. While 4-year-old Lauren slept on the floor of the office overlooking the Charles River, her mother programmed away, creating routines that would ultimately be added to the Apollo’s command module computer. “People used to say to me, ‘How can you leave your daughter? How can you do this?’” Hamilton remembers. But she loved the arcane novelty of her job.” Margaret was also a vanguard in business and founded Hamilton Technologies Inc. in 1986, a groundbreaking software company, becoming CEO alongside coining the term “software engineering”.
Annie Easley [Engadget. Photo Credit: NASA]
During Annie Easley’s 34-year career, she worked not only on technologies at NASA that led to hybrid vehicles, but additionally to create software that enabled spaceflight and exploration. She was encouraged at a young age by her mother who told her that anything was possible, “You can be anything you want to. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what your size is, what your color is. You can be anything you want to, but you do have to work at it.” At NASA, then NACA, Annie was literally a human computer and later, as actual computers were used to conduct calculations, a math technician. She made a decision to carry out a degree in mathematics and attended classes full-time at Cleveland State University, in addition to working full-time at NACA. Male colleagues had their tuition paid for, however she had to pay for her courses herself, with her own money. NASA later sponsored additional specialized courses, but only after she had paid for her degree. Her work includes research in alternative energy, analysing solar and wind technologies, determining the life use of storage batteries and identifying energy-conversion systems – supporting the batteries used in hybrid vehicles today. Her software development skills were invaluable during the development of the Centaur rocket, the most powerful upper stage in the US space program. The rocket would be used to launch weather & communications satellites in addition to exploration spacecraft – Pioneer, Viking, Voyager and Cassini.
You can be anything you want to. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what your size is, what your color is. You can be anything you want to, but you do have to work at it.
The words of Dava Newman – NASA’s Deputy Administrator and a fellow trailblazer – regarding Katherine Johnson’s achievements ring true for each of these women, “We are fortunate that when faced with the adversity of racial and gender barriers, she found the courage to say tell them I’m coming.”
There’s an interesting riddle which goes along the lines of:
A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies at the scene and the son is rushed to the hospital.
At the hospital the surgeon looks at the boy and says, “I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son.” How can this be?
Did you figure it out?
The surgeon is his mother.
On hearing the riddle, many people are confused, or take a few seconds to find the answer. The reasoning behind the delay is something that you have likely never even thought about: ingrained gender stereotype. It’s the reason why when you hear of a surgeon, many immediately picture a man, instead of a woman.
Gender stereotypes are defined between the ages of 5 and 7 years old.
When a class of 22 children between the ages of 5 and 7 in the UK were asked to draw a firefighter, surgeon and a fighter pilot, 61 pictures were drawn of men and only 5 were female. The powerful two minute film depicting this was shot on location at Whitstable Junior School in Kent and captures how, “early on in their education, children already define career opportunities as male and female”. After drawing their images, the children are stunned to see that the women they’d originally been in the classroom drawing images with, are actually a firefighter, surgeon and a fighter pilot.
“Not one person, apart from one girl, put the firefighter down as a female.” – Lucy, Firefighter, London Fire Brigade
Exposing children to a variety of positive role models at a young age is important, especially as girls decide to leave STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths) by the age of 11, when they’re in an education system where the choice of subjects severely limits their options for working in other fields later. To encourage more girls to consider a future career in STEM you need to inspire them when they’re young and provide them with tangible, visible role models, to prevent ingrained gender stereotypes from developing.
The British MP Ben Howlett recently spoke regarding the need to encourage girls to consider a career in STEM, “In a survey of girls in 2010 deciding the top 3 careers that they’d choose for themselves, the most popular answers were teachers, hairdressers and beauticians. Traditional female roles. We have to ask ourselves why physicists and engineers weren’t in this list. Only 3% of engineering degree applicants are girls and 6% of the UK engineering workforce are female.”
These are important stats to consider and highlights the importance of the #RedrawTheBalance campaign to show young girls that they too can achieve their career goal, and be a pilot, firefighter or surgeon if they want to be.
The female fighter pilot, firefighter and surgeon also each give an insight into their professional experiences, describing the barriers they overcame and the challenges they still face, doing what many perceive as a man’s job.
On why she became a pilot: “I decided to be a pilot quite a long time ago. I was sitting in a school classroom and the teacher was talking about the countries in the world, saying that there were so many and no-one gets to visit them all. I was feeling quite defiant that day and decided I would, and to do that I had to become a pilot.”
On what advice she’d give other girls wanting to be a pilot: “In my opinion what you need to become a pilot is to be enthusiastic, passionate, driven and to be able. None of those traits are gender specific.” – Lauren, Pilot, Royal Air Force
On how she feels about International Women’s Day: “Now more than ever we need to celebrate women’s achievements and keep pushing women forward. I think in the last few years we’ve probably gone backwards. The kids’ reaction today, although it was great working with them, not one person, apart from one girl, put the firefighter down as a female. That one girl put all the professions down as female, which was great to see, even though it was only one person. I’m really proud of her. So now more than ever we do need International Women’s Day.” – Lucy, Firefighter, London Fire Brigade.
“Now more than ever we need to celebrate women’s achievements and keep pushing women forward. I think in the last few years we’ve probably gone backwards.”
On what made her become a surgeon: “I enjoyed surgery and medicine at medical school. I considered all options but I thought surgery was the hardest so I’d go for that first.”
On the call for gender parity: “I feel passionate about the issue of gender parity in surgery. I think that patients deserve to have a wide variety of doctors to choose from in all fields of the profession. So I think that it’s really important that women are represented in all sub-specialties. It’s also particularly important when you’re looking at expertise, now more than half of medical students are women. So if you’re only picking surgeons from 40% of the intake, you’re going to lose out on skilled surgeons.” – Tamzin, Surgeon, NHS
The Inspiring The Future charity is urging people to share the film with friends and colleagues to raise awareness of just how much needs to be done to tackle gender stereotyping, using the hashtag #RedrawTheBalance.
Volunteers can sign up here to make a difference: www.inspiringthefuture.org and pledge just one hour to talk to children about their career. Their ambition is to see women from a wide range of occupations going into state schools collectively talking to 250,000 young women.
Marvel Studios are offering an exclusive internship for one talented budding female scientist!
Along with the release of Captain America: Civil War, Marvel’s “Girls Reforming the Future Challenge” is aimed at female applicants who are interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics) and share the same goals as the Avengers team onscreen. Namely, “The commitment to safeguard humanity, protect the earth at all costs and make the world a better place for future generations,” states Civil War actress Elizabeth Olsen, (Scarlet Witch) as she describes the opportunity with her co-star Emily VanCamp. The opportunity is perfect for a budding scientist who’s interested in being “part of more of a creative- and science-based world”.
Girls aged 15 to 18 and in grades 10 through 12, that live in the United States, can submit innovative STEM based projects that they believe can change the world with a short video that demonstrates their idea and explains its far-reaching potential. Marvel, in partnership with the National Academy of Sciences’ Science & Entertainment Exchange, are inviting five lucky smart finalists to California, to allow them to present their projects to a panel of experts AND walk the red carpet at the Civil War movie’s world premiere at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre on April 12. The five talented and lucky girls will additionally get the chance to tour Walt Disney Studios and Dolby Laboratories facilities, in addition to receiving a $500 saving account. The grand prize is an exclusive internship at Marvel Studios!
In Indonesia With School Girls And Their Teacher [Copyright, Vinita Marwaha Madill]
I’ve been fortunate to have spent the last 8 months travelling in Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. Whilst visiting countries including Indonesia, Myanmar and Cambodia, I became acutely aware of the differences associated with the role of girls in society compared with their male counterparts, in particular places that I visited. Mainly related to the limited jobs available to girls and the lack of access to education. In fact 62 million girls around the world don’t have access to education, education that they need and truly deserve. Michelle Obama and her Let Girls Learn campaign, a US government initiative, are focused on changing that. Having talked to girls in Asia and heard stories of their dedication to gain an education, this campaign means a lot to me.
As the First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama writes:
“..this issue isn’t just about access to resources like scholarships, transportation, and school bathrooms. It’s also very much about attitudes and beliefs: the belief that girls should be valued for their bodies, not their minds; the belief that girls simply aren’t worthy of an education, and their best chance in life is to be married off when they’re barely even teenagers and start having children of their own.”
I care because even though I’m from the UK, my Mum was born and raised in India and my Father in Kenya. Having visited both these countries and talked to family, I know how lucky I am to be barely one generation away from having a choice regarding my education and career path. In India, my great-grandmother was married at 13 and similarly with her children, my grandmother. In countries around the world, the belief of treating girls as second-class citizens whilst prioritising the education of male family members still stands.
“Just imagine for a moment what it’s like to be in their shoes. Imagine being a bright, curious young girl with all kinds of ideas about what you want to be when you grow up. And then one day, someone taps you on the shoulder and says, “Sorry, not you. You’re a girl. Your dreams stop here. You have to drop out of school, marry a man 20 years older than you whom you’ve never met, and start having babies of your own.
Think about who — and what — you would be today if your formal education had ended after middle school and you knew only what you’d learned through eighth grade.” – Michelle Obama, LennyLetter.com
Michelle Obama’s much needed campaign is trying to reverse this unjust and culturally-embedded trend by bringing awareness to the fact that 62 million girls around the world do not have access to education, largely due to the attitudes and beliefs of those around them.
We need 100% of the talent available on this planet to reach for the stars and make the next crucial scientific breakthroughs. It’s 2016 not 1916, so together let’s make sure every girl, no matter where she may be born, is both allowed to dream and has the support to reach her dreams, through access to consistent education. Together let’s give girls back their future.
Visit 62MillionGirls.com for more information and to take the pledge to help break down barriers to education for girls around the world, or use the hashtags #62MillionGirls & #LetGirlsLearn.
Britain’s first astronaut, Helen Sharman, with High Tunstall College of Science students in Hartlepool, UK, launching its STEM initiative. [Hartlepool Mail]
This one’s for the Brits.
British Science Week (11-20th March) is being celebrated around the UK this week, organised by the British Science Association. Fortunately, I’m in the UK at the moment and excited to be attending events, especially those focused on space. One popular event in particular, out of the thousands planned, is the Big Bang Fair in Birmingham, the ‘largest celebration of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) for young people in the UK’, through a combination of ‘exciting theatre shows, interactive workshops and exhibits, as well careers information from STEM professionals’. The event runs from 16-19 March 2016 and I’d highly recommend anyone, especially young people, with an interest in STEM to attend!
But why is it so important to inspire the next generation to consider science and engineering?
But we need more engineers and scientists as a whole. Which is why events such as British Science Week and organisations including Stemettes and STEMNET are so essential, and why Rocket Women exists. Inspiring the next generation to consider a degree in STEM isn’t just a nice idea, but a goal that we need to focus on to ensure the UK, and similarly other countries around the globe, have the talent to fill an increasing need for STEM skills in the future.
Update: An event that I couldn’t miss during British Science Week was the Scanning The Horizon: Space Travel Through The Ages event with TV presenter Dallas Campbell and BBC Horizon Editor Steve Crabtree. It was amazing to see footage from the Horizon’s space archives and I even got to do my first on-camera interview for the British Science Association!
Horizon’s recent film about British astronaut Tim Peake’s training
Being interviewed for the British Science Association at the Scanning The Horizon event (with BBC’s Dallas Campbell on the left)
Photo of girls in the Alaska program from a trek [University of Alaska Fairbanks – UAF]
Looking for a STEM adventure? Aged 16-18 and love exploring mountain glaciers and alpine landscapes? Then this programme may be for you!
“Girls on Ice, a free wilderness education program, is accepting applications now through Jan. 29. Each year, two teams of nine teenage girls and three instructors spend 12 days exploring and learning about mountain glaciers and alpine landscapes in Alaska or Washington through scientific field studies with professional glaciologists, artists and mountaineers
The program helps girls learn about the natural processes that create the alpine world, develop critical thinking skills and explore the connection between science and art. Participants learn how to travel on glaciers, design their own experiments and work as part of a team.
Girls are able to participate in this program tuition-free through small grants, gifts from individuals and support from the National Science Foundation, the Alaska Climate Science Center and the University of Alaska Fairbanks.”
Girls on Ice Alaska: ‘Designed specifically for girls aged 16 to 18 who are from Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, British Columbia, Yukon or California. The Alaska expedition runs June 17–28, 2016, and girls sleep under the midnight sun while exploring an Alaska glacier.’
Girls on Ice North Cascades expedition: ‘Geared toward girls from all countries aged 16 to 18 and explores Mount Baker, an ice-covered volcano in Washington. The North Cascades expedition runs July 10–21, 2016. To be eligible, girls must be at least 16 years old by June 17 and no older than 18 on July 21.’
The application deadline is 29th January. Apply here and good luck!
UPDATE: Here’s a new photo of the Stargazer Lottie doll on the ISS:
A new photo of the Stargazer Lottie doll in space on the International Space Station (ISS) [22/12/15]
Six-Year-Old Abigail Enthralled By Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s Sokol spacesuit
Tim Peake, the first British European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut arrived at the ISS on Tuesday 15th December, but he’s also in charge of precious cargo designed by a talented 6-Year-Old space-loving Canadian girl called Abigail. A Stargazer Lottie doll. The doll was created by the European Space Agency and with the help of Lucie Follett, (Creative Director, Arklu). Lucie Follett describes how the company worked with Abigail, “to really create something that reflects Abigail’s ideas of what other kids would like and what gets her excited about all things astronomy related.”
An excited Abigail watching her Stargazer Lottie doll launch to the ISS in December 2015
The project began as Abigail’s Mum emailed the doll company to thank them for inspiring her daughter through their dolls and convey that she loved interacting with them. Each Lottie doll has a specific activity theme, meant to promote careers to children through their interaction (a fantastic idea!). The Stargazer Lottie doll comes complete with a doll sized telescope, a set of planet cards and as Abigail’s Mum describes is, “wearing clothes that a child would wear to look outside at the stars as well, so she’s a natural companion.” Abigail’s signed book by astronaut Chris Hadfield, her self-proclaimed hero, is her prized possession and her passion for space is apparent, “Sometimes I look up and think maybe I could go up there one day, somehow maybe I could see what’s up there.”
The Stargazer Lottie doll is available now worldwide and would make a fantastic Christmas gift for any young budding astronomers!
As a child I was an avid reader and read every space book I could get my hands on. At the age of 6, I remember reading that Helen Sharman was the UK’s first astronaut and had travelled to space a mere 2 years before, in 1991. That moment changed my life. Rather than astronauts being primarily American NASA Shuttle crew that I saw on TV, or hearing stories of the Moon landing 20 years ago from adults around me, suddenly in the image in front of me was a woman in her 20s with short brown hair. A British woman with the Union Jack patch clearly visible on her left arm of her Sokol spacesuit. I had heard of Michael Foale, born in the UK becoming a US citizen to meet NASA Astronaut qualifications, but never of a British astronaut. I didn’t know it was possible. But in that moment looking at the image of Helen Sharman in her Sokol spacesuit, I realised that that woman could be me. Being a girl born at the end of the 80s in the UK I realised right then that maybe, just maybe, I could be an astronaut too. That changed something inside me. Here was a woman in front of me born in Sheffield, who had studied chemistry, replied to a radio advert calling for UK astronauts, beat 13,000 applicants and had recently gone to space.
Helen Sharman recently with her Sokol spacesuit
Even at the age of 6, I didn’t understand why nobody around me was talking about her mission. She had launched only a couple of years ago when I was 3 but I had never heard about it at school or on TV. I didn’t understand why this woman wasn’t treated like a star and talked about everywhere, possibly naively. I managed to find every scrap of information I could find about her. In an age before the internet I went to library after library (shuttled by my parents), reading about her story in small paragraphs as part of a larger book on space. What she was to me, even though I didn’t know it yet, was a role model. She had showed me that my dreams were possible. Even when I had wonderful supportive parents and teachers encouraging my interests, space went from an interest over the next few years to a career. Knowing that there had been a British astronaut, female at that, helped me push through any negativity around my chosen career path when I was younger. Even if the career councillor at school wanted me to become a dentist, I knew that I wanted to be an astronaut, or at least work in human spaceflight. And eventually I did, even working with the next British ESA astronaut Tim Peake at the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, Germany along with supporting astronauts on the ISS. But I wouldn’t have had that impetus and drive if I hadn’t known that someone had come before me. There had been a female British astronaut and maybe there could be again. Here was a British woman involved in human spaceflight and that had flown to space. It was possible.
The importance of role models at a young age is immeasurable. Which is why I’m so excited for Tim Peake’s flight and the fact that Helen Sharman is finally being talked about 24 years on from her mission. The outreach for Tim’s Principia mission by the UK Space Agency has been amazing and has the highest budget of any ESA astronaut mission. Tim and his Principia mission will hopefully go on to inspire the next generation to reach for the stars and follow their dreams in space, knowing that it is indeed possible.
Fulfilling a lifelong dream at the age of 23. Working with Astronaut Tim Peake at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Astronaut Centre (EAC).
Today the first British European Space Agency (ESA) Astronaut Tim Peake launched to the ISS with London’s Science Museum hosting 2000 jubilant children following his every move. Simply fantastic. In less than 5 years the UK has gone from not contributing to Human Spaceflight through ESA, to having a high profile British astronaut launch to the ISS supported by a sustainable National Space Strategy, a first for the UK. That’s something to be proud about. Tim’s carrying a whole nation’s dreams with him but most importantly inspiring thousands of children to consider a career in space and follow in his footsteps. I wonder how many children watched the launch today and decided that they wanted to be the next Tim Peake?
A smiling Tim Peake, First British ESA Astronaut, gives a thumbs up launching to the ISS on 15th December 2015