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Astronauts

All-Female Russian Crew Start Mock Mission To The Moon

2 November, 2015
The crew of 6 Russian women prior to entering isolation

The Crew Of 6 Russian Women Prior To Entering Isolation

A year after Russia sent it’s first female cosmonaut to the International Space Station (ISS), a group of six Russian women are currently undergoing an 8-day analogue mission to the Moon. The accomplished women, with expertise in backgrounds including biophysics and medicine, entered a suite of wood-panelled rooms on October 28 at Moscow’s Institute of Biomedical Problems to simulate the mission. The psychological effects of spaceflight are being tested, with a team of doctors and psychologists remotely monitoring the study.

The institute has previously undertaken a 520 day isolation mock mission, Mars 500, in which 6 male candidates lived in similar conditions, simulating a mission to Mars. Another older analogue study with a mixed crew ended early after two male crewmembers fought and one male crewmember attempted to kiss a female crewmember.

One of the most challenging parts of the all-female Russian mock mission may have occurred before it had even started, during the pre-study press conference. The institute’s director Igor Ushakov remarked, “We believe women might not only be no worse than men at performing certain tasks in space, but actually better.” His casual derogatory remarks continued with, “I’d like to wish you a lack of conflicts, even though they say that in one kitchen, two housewives find it hard to live together.” A potentially inspiring endeavour for women in space was unfortunately reduced to a sterotypical comparison of being a housewife and not being good enough for spaceflight. His remarks deepening the fact that a lack of self-confidence in one’s ability is an internal barrier that women battle around the world. When Canadian Space Agency (CSA) retired astronaut Dr.Julie Payette was asked what her biggest challenge in the pursuit of her goals, she admitted that it was “Fear and doubt I wouldn’t perform as needed.”  Dr.Payette admitted that it had been her biggest challenge and it had taken a lengthy amount of time to convince herself that she was good for the job, even once she was selected and in training.

The institute director’s remarks continued to set the tone for the press conference, where the 6 women, all experts in their fields, were asked by the press how they would cope without men or makeup for the next week. When the subject being inquired into moved to how they could possibly cope for 8 days without shampoo, the women sarcastically remarked back to the press, “I don’t know how we’ll survive without shampoo. Because even in this situation, we really want to stay looking pretty.”  The media’s line of questioning is similar to that faced recently by cosmonaut Yelena Serova, Russia’s 4th cosmonaut(!) and the first female cosmonaut on the ISS. Yelena, an engineer with significant experience, was asked prior to her mission how she would style her hair in the microgravity conditions on the ISS and how she would continue to bond with her daughter during her 6-month mission. The then head of Russia’s space agency’s remarks about Yelena’s mission of, “We are doing this flight for Russia’s image. She will manage it, but the next woman won’t fly out soon.”, do little to inspire hope in the numbers of Russian women in space increasing in the near future. Though by choosing to conduct a study with 6 female candidates simulating a mission to the Moon, Russia will gain additional results that may help with this issue and hopefully inspire young Russian girls to realise that they can be a cosmonaut too.

Astronauts, Inspiration

The Martian’s Jessica Chastain Discusses Lack Of Women In Space

14 September, 2015

At the recent Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) premiere of the highly anticipated movie The Martian, actress Jessica Chastain, who plays Captain Melissa Lewis, the Mars mission commander, took time to highlight the lack of women in space.

“Around 10% of astronauts are women, which seems low to me. In our film, out of a crew of six, two are women, which is great. If you look in our future, our interpretation says that we’re moving towards equality. But how great is it to get to play the commander of first manned mission to Mars.” When the reporter exclaimed that we’d ‘already made it’, in relation to the equality of women in space, Jessica stated, “Well, we’re not there yet in reality, but it’s pretty great in the film.”

"As a female you don't have to be like a man, you just have to be the leader of a team and recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the rest of your crew." - NASA Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson

“As a female you don’t have to be like a man, you just have to be the leader of a team and recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the rest of your crew.” – NASA Astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson

Jessica Chastain also worked with NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson to prepare for her role. Tracy explained, “We spent half of a day together training in the same facility that I’m in everyday, just talking about what it’s like to live and work in space and what it’s like to lead a team of people. But when it came to being a commander, she asked specifically are you more like a director, do you tell people what to do, or do you sit back and let them do the work. So we talked about, as a female you don’t have to be like a man, you just have to be the leader of a team and recognise the strengths and weaknesses of the rest of your crew.”

If it’s anything like the book it’s based on, The Martian will hopefully not only be gripping and one of the most scientifically accurate space exploration movies to date, but predict a believable future in which humans set foot on Mars, alongside making strides in the representation of women in the astronaut corps, inspiring the next generation to do just that along the way.

Astronauts, Inspirational women

Sunita Williams To Be First Female NASA Astronaut To Fly On US Commercial Vehicles

27 August, 2015
NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams presenting at ISSRDC 2015

NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams presenting at ISSRDC 2015

After launching to space on both NASA’s Space Shuttle and then the Russian Soyuz rocket, Sunita (Suni) Williams will be the first female NASA astronaut to fly onboard the new US commercial vehicles being developed. Suni, who holds the record for the longest EVA (spacewalk) time by a female astronaut, was chosen along with astronaut colleagues Robert Behnken, Eric Boe and Douglas Hurley to be the first 4 NASA astronauts to fly aboard the future Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft. Boeing and Space X were awarded contracts by NASA in September 2014 worth $4.2 billion and $6.2 billion each respectively, to develop the next generation of crew transportation to low-Earth orbit. The crew selection announcement was made by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden with the selected astronauts including Suni to begin training with the commercial carriers this year.

Suni Karen

Coinciding with the announcement, Suni appeared on stage with fellow NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg to present an inspiring keynote address at the International Space Station Research & Development Conference (ISSRDC).

Get to the starting line

Suni discussed career advice for aspiring astronauts, emphasizing that “Understanding how things work and being an engineer led me to become a helicopter pilot and eventually to JSC. The path doesn’t necessarily have to be straight, but don’t limit yourself to what you know. Go out and try new things. Some of those things when I was young I would’ve considered a failure, but you just need to get to the starting line.” Karen added that her older sister used to laugh and say it was cute when she said she wanted to become an astronaut. However after an internship at NASA Johnson Spaceflight Center she knew that it was the career path for her ,“and here I am”.

Suni Karen ISSRDC

Don’t forget the things you learned at Kindergarden

Suni’s next piece of advice was, “Don’t forget the things that you learnt at Kindergarden”. She recalled the experience of living on the ISS with “people from different cultures and backgrounds, people from all over the world”. Suni’s first mission to the ISS as part of a Soyuz crew of 3, was with an American and Russian, with her most recent with only Russian cosmonauts. She highlighted the international nature of spaceflight through her experience of training with an ESA astronaut and acting as backup crew for a Canadian & Russians. Suni described the sometimes stereotypical view, especially outside of North America that, “Canada, you think just above, is close to being American, but it’s very different.” She also sometimes forgot that her Japanese crewmember was from Japan, as he went to school in US. She described her 6 month missions on the ISS as “a marathon not a sprint”. She discussed the fact that astronauts have to prepare for any incidents that happens on the ISS when the crew are asleep, with the ISS systems and controllers waking the crew up at night if anything was happening. Before her flight she wanted to make sure she was prepared. Discussing the nuances of international work culture, her Japansese crewmate, Aki Hoshide, wanted to “just work Japanese style” Amusingly Suni finally got him to stop working by putting on the TV show Family Guy at 6pm.

Karen added that her philosophy was to “Always do your best. Always clean up after yourselves. Admit you’ve made a mistake”. She described astronauts on the ISS as being a “Jack of all trades up there, including scientists. For some science, we get the experiment rack up and running and leave it alone. Sometimes we get to talk to PIs (Principle Investigators)” which is her favourite time. She said that during her work on the ISS she was “always thinking about the people on the ground and doing her best, knowing how important that experiment is to that person”. Karen admitted that once she “changed up” the wrong igniter in combustion rack and delayed their research for a long time, feeling so awful afterwards.

She went on to describe a popular topic fielding questions. “Urine collections is a technique.” Her first time attempting this “was a disaster, I made a mess, and used so many dry wipes than allocated. By end it was easier with a hose and I got better with it.” But she missed the first data point for the research and knew that “data means so much to them”.

Stop and look at the foliage every now and again

Suni’s 3rd lesson to the audience was to “Stop and take a look at the foliage. Just take a moment out and enjoy the journey”. She depicted coming back to Earth on the Soyuz as “Anti climatic when you’re leaving the ISS and closing the hatch, in long underwear and doing leak checks.” You think “something’s exciting’s going to happen, then undock and sit there for whole orbit with the list of tasks in front of you.” She empathetically depicted the “ride home” as spectacular. “Your face is this close to the window and us knuckleheads are close to the fire. Russians in the middle seat. I was in the left seat, starting and stopping the procedures, not wanting to mess it up.” After deorbit burn she described the crew seeing pink outside the window and the window cover dramatically burning off. “The pyros are going off, we can’t talk to the ground. Then things calm down, the parachute deploys and you’re the walnut bouncing around.” Suni hoped the commercial crew that she had recently been selected to fly with, takes a note and learns from the Russians. Suni’s advice was to enjoy the time in space and the journey, mostly enjoying the work with the scientists on the ground.

Karen added that she wished everyone on Earth had 90 mins to see the view from the cupola on the ISS. She exercised on the ARED below the cupola, for an hour every single day. “I just took for granted that I was over the tip of South America again, 240 miles up. How many things on Earth that are magnificent that we take for granted very single day.“

Suni and Karen described that for girls to be interested in STEM and a career in space, videos from a female astronaut’s perspective were very important, even those describing how to wash your hair in space. The HAM radio project was also surprisingly impactful, taking up a tiny slice of an astronaut’s overall training. Suni stated, “We have a whole bunch of things to do, do a spacewalk, grab a visiting vehicle. The HAM radio is 5 minutes and we speak to 10 kids. Sometimes it’s super clear. We get a report afterwards on how many people were at the event and how much time the kids took to prepare. There’s 1000 kids at an event which is pretty impactful. When you’re flying around, doing science experiments there are 1 or 2 people on the ground that are watching. You start to forget there’s a whole load of other people out there and it really chocked me up. HAM radio was huge and public events. When you’re talking to a screen, you don’t know how many people are down there. It’s better for me when it’s down there. I get really nervous when there’s a lot of people and I’m on a big stage.”

She summed up the sole reason for her outreach activities, “We’re trying to inspire the next generation”.

Astronauts, Inspirational women

New Video Shows Dr.Rhea Seddon Being Selected By NASA As One Of The First 6 Female Astronauts

27 July, 2015


A fascinating new video was posted online this week showing Dr.Rhea Seddon being told by a TV presenter in 1978 that she had been selected by NASA as one of the first 6 female astronauts for the agency. After 15 years of NASA selecting solely male astronauts, Dr.Margaret Rhea Seddon and her 5 colleagues made history as NASA’s first female astronauts (15 years after the Valentina Tereshkova flew as the first woman in space), chosen from 1500 applicants. She went on to become the 5th American woman in space, flying as a mission specialist on STS-51-D on 12th April 1985. Dr.Seddon completed a medical doctorate and was working as a surgical resident prior to being selected by NASA.

The First 6 Female NASA Astronauts Selected In 1978
From L-R: Shannon W. Lucid, Margaret “Rhea” Seddon, Kathryn D. Sullivan, Judith A. Resnik, Anna L. Fisher and Sally K. Ride. [AirportJournals]

When asked by the presenter what she hoped to achieve in space, Dr.Seddon replied with, “I’m interested to see how humans react physiologically to space, how women react physiologically to space and to see how man’s going to cope with living off of this planet.” The presenter then went on to ask, “Do you think you can co-exist in that cockpit with two men?”, a question that shows how far women have come in STEM fields to prove their equality in the 40 years since this was aired. Dr.Seddon pauses and calmly replies with, “I think probably so, I’m used to working primarily with men in my field of surgery, so I think it might be more difficult for me to work with a number with a number of women than to working with men. I’m used to working with men.” Since the first 6 female astronauts were selected in 1978, NASA has gone on to fly 45 female US astronauts, with the most recent astronaut class selected being 50% female!

Astronauts, Inspirational women

Valentina’s Day – Celebrating The Day Valentina Tereshkova Became The First Woman In Space

16 June, 2015

“If women can be railroad workers in Russia, why can’t they fly in space?” – Valentina Tereshkova

52 years ago on this day, Valentina Tereshkova launched on her Vostok 6 mission and became the first woman in space, breaking the ultimate glass ceiling. Valentina was partly selected for the Soviet Space Program for her exceptional parachuting ability, having conducted 126 jumps, at a time when cosmonauts were required to parachute from their capsules mere seconds before they impacted the ground. This is unlike the current Soyuz capsules, which parachute into the desert steppes of Kazakhstan, firing retro rockets to land safely. As Valentina parachuted from her capsule during her Vostok 6 landing, wind gusts unfortunately caused her face to hit the inside of her helmet and gave her a bloody nose and a bruise under one eye. Valentina’s mission and achievement inspired generations of women to study STEM, however it was 20 years later in 1983 before Sally Ride would go on to become the first American woman in space. The percentage of female astronauts represented in NASA’s astronaut corps has steadily increased since then, now reaching 26%. NASA’s recent  astronaut class contained the highest percentage of female astronauts ever selected by the agency, with women selected as four out of the new eight astronauts. Although not quite yet equal, the number of tangible female role models in space is increasing, inspired by Valentina’s story and the others that parachuted to Earth before them.

Astronauts, Inspirational women

ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti Returns To Earth, Becoming Longest Serving Female Astronaut In Space

11 June, 2015

ESA astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti smiling following her Soyuz landing in Kazakhstan after spending 200 days in space

Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti landed today in her Soyuz descent module on a desert steppe in Kazakhstan having broken the world record for the longest serving female astronaut in space, spending 200 days on the ISS. The record was previously held at 195 days by NASA astronaut Suni Williams. European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut became the first Italian woman in space, launching to the ISS on 23 November 2014 . Her return, along with crewmates NASA astronaut Terry Virts and Russian commander Anton Shkaplerov, was delayed from May due to an incident with the Russian Progress 59 resupply mission. Samantha wasn’t disappointed by the delay tweeting, “Looks like it’s not time to get my spacesuit ready yet… what a present! ‪#MoreTimeInSpace.”


Samantha also spoke to Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon whilst on the ISS, posting a video thanking her female friends for their support whilst she was on the ISS and thanking Susan discussing for her interest in girls in STEM and commitment to help girls find their way to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math[s], “..maybe in the future we can event work together to help sparkle that passion and interest for STEM and to show that no dream is too big”.

Maybe in the future we can work together to help sparkle that passion and interest for STEM and to show that no dream is too big. – Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti to Hollywood actress Susan Sarandon

I had the pleasure of working with Samantha whilst I was based at ESA’s European Astronaut Centre and DLR (German Aerospace Centre). She is a true role model with the ability to speak 5 languages fluently and was the first women to be a lieutenant and fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force, accumulating over 500 hours of flying time, prior to being selected as an ESA astronaut in 2009. Samantha has been tweeting regularly during her stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and posting some stunning images of the Earth. Hopefully her story will encourage girls to follow her footsteps and go on to beat her record during a future mission to Mars!

Astronauts, Inspirational women

Inspirational Google Doodles Remember Sally Ride, The First American Woman In Space

26 May, 2015

One of Today’s Google Doodles Celebrating Sally Ride, the First American Woman In Space

Today’s Google doodles celebrate what would’ve been the 64th birthday of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. Throughout her career at NASA Sally  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 was a strong 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 focusing on girls and minority students.

Sally devoted her life to science and inspiring others to explore the wonders of STEM. Said in her own words, “Everywhere I go I meet girls and boys who want to be astronauts and explore space, or they love the ocean and want to be oceanographers, or they love animals and want to be zoologists, or they love designing things and want to be engineers. I want to see those same stars in their eyes in 10 years and know they are on their way!”

“Maybe her Doodle will motivate some girl or boy somewhere in the world to become a scientist and adventurer just like Sally.” – Tam O’Shaughnessy—life partner of astronaut Sally Ride, and co-founder & CEO of Sally Ride Science.

Today’s inspirational Google Doodles are below:

Google Doodle To Celebrate Sally Ride’s 64th Birthday

Google Doodle To Celebrate Sally Ride’s 64th Birthday

Google Doodle To Celebrate Sally Ride’s 64th Birthday

Google Doodle To Celebrate Sally Ride’s 64th Birthday

Astronauts, Inspirational women

International Women’s Day: 5 Pioneering Rocket Women You Should Know

8 March, 2015

The first International Women’s Day occurred in 1911 and today over 100 years later, the world is celebrating the achievements of women globally whilst supporting gender equality. To celebrate this year’s theme ‘Make It Happen’, here are the stories of 5 pioneering true Rocket Women that have made it happen, achieving their goals and overcoming all obstacles in their way. We should remember their stories on International Women’s Day to pass on and inspire the next generation of trailblazing women.

1. Valentina Tereshkova

"If women can be railroad workers in Russia, why can't they fly in space?" - Valentina Tereshkova, The First Woman In Space [Image Copyright: esa.int]

“If women can be railroad workers in Russia, why can’t they fly in space?” – Valentina Tereshkova, The First Woman In Space [Image Copyright: esa.int]

The original Rocket Woman. Valentina Tereshkova made history on June 16, 1963, breaking through the ultimate glass ceiling and becoming the first woman in space at the age of just 26. However her flight almost ended prematurely due to a navigation software error that pushed her spacecraft away from Earth, a secret that was kept classified for 40 years. Valentina Tereshkova discovered the error and a new landing algorithm was developed immediately, allowing her to land safely, her sole injury being a bruise on her face. She went on to receive the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace as a spokesperson for the Soviet Union.

2. Sally Ride

“I never went into physics or the astronaut corps to become a role model. But after my first flight, it became clear to me that I was one. And I began to understand the importance of that to people. Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.” – Sally Ride, First American Woman In Space [Image Copyright: NASA.gov]

Twenty years after Valentina Tereshkova launched into space, Dr.Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983. Throughout her life she was a dedicated advocate for women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), supporting them through her company, Sally Ride Science. As an author she inspired countless young people to study maths and science and was posthumously honored with the country’s highest civilian commendation, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden remembered Sally Ride recently, “Sally’s impact on our nation and future generations of explorers is immeasurable. Godspeed, Sally Ride, and thank you for reminding us to reach higher, break barriers and dream big.”

3. Sunita Williams

“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.” – Sunita Williams, NASA Astronaut. Holds the record for the longest single flight in space for a women & for the longest EVA duration for a female (cumulative). [Image Copyright: NASA.gov]

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 cumulative EVA (spacewalk) duration for a female. Sunita is a personal inspiration and role model to me, taking the time to give me invaluable advice for my Masters thesis on EVA training whilst in training for her last spaceflight at the European Space Agency’s (ESA) European Astronaut Centre. 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. Whilst in space onboard the ISS, Sunita completed the 1997 Boston marathon using the ISS treadmill and went on to complete the Nautica Malibu Triathlon during her 2012 ISS flight. She ran, biked and “swam” in space simulated using a treadmill, stationary bike and strength-training machine.

4. Ellen Ochoa

“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire – the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.” – Ellen Ochoa, NASA Astronaut & First Hispanic Woman In Space. [Image copyright: NASA.gov]

Ellen Ochoa couldn’t decide between pursuing physics or engineering. Asking her engineering teacher, they told her that engineering was too hard for a girl to do. Her physics teacher on the other hand supported her, telling her that physics would get her somewhere. Even though her engineering teacher had told her that she was a girl and couldn’t study engineering, she followed her engineering dreams and became not only an engineer, but went on to be the first Hispanic female astronaut in 1993. After achieving this milestone she stated. “This was the last astronaut job that was not (yet) done by a woman. Now with this milestone we can focus on the fact that what is important to succeed in life, it does not matter whether you are a man or a woman.” Ellen went on to have an illustrious career at NASA, leading her to her current position as Director of NASA’s Johnson Spaceflight Center in Houston, TX.

5. Margaret Hamilton

This is Margaret Hamilton, NASA lead software engineer, and this is the Apollo guidance program that she wrote. [Image copyright: MIT Museum (via NASA.gov)]

Although not an astronaut, Margaret Hamilton was a pioneer in her own right, developing 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. 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”.

Astronauts, Inspirational women

The Real Rocket Women:All-Female Astronaut Panel Represents International Cooperation

23 July, 2014

David Kendall, CSA and ISU SSP Director, Introducing The Astronaut Panel [Far Left]. From left seated: Shannon Walker (NASA), Soyeon Yi (South Korea), Wang Yaping (China National Space Administration), Julie Payette (Canadian Space Agency – CSA), Janet Petro (NASA)

“I bet the first thing you noticed about this panel was that they were all astronauts..and that they’re all women” – Janet Petro, Deputy Director, NASA Kennedy Space Center

Janet Petro, Deputy Director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, opened the panel as moderator. She is an esteemed individual of her own with a career in the United States Army flying helicopters, moving onto the commercial aerospace industry before joining NASA and being chosen as Deputy Director of one of the most prominent NASA centers. Her current role involves “managing the Kennedy team to developing center policy to being involved in executing missions that transform the world“. Janet was joined by four panelists that for the first time in the history of the International Space University (ISU)-organised annual Astronaut Panel, compromised of all-female astronauts. Having been an alumna of ISU since 2008, I was proud that the institution had the foresight to organise such an event, really bringing female role models into the public eye. At the start of the event the theatre had standing room only, with the event open to the public and containing both students and children as young as three, a fantastic introduction into the space industry and allowing younger generations to visualise their potential future.

“Having been an alumna of ISU since 2008, I was proud that the institution had the foresight to organise such an event, really bringing female role models into the public eye.”

Janet mentioned that 2013 was the first time in history that NASA had chosen a new astronaut class with a half male-female ratio. Fifty-one years after Valentina Tereshkova flew as the first woman in space and “orbited over the sex barrier”. In the US, 13 female airforce pilots were selected as astronauts with 7 making the final cut. Days before final testing began that opportunity was withdrawn. It took 20 further years until Sally Ride was selected as a NASA astronaut and flew into space. Progressively, the UK, Japan and South Korea have chosen women to represent their county as the first national astronaut.

 “I was a girl, they were men. I was Canadian, they were American men. They were test pilots, nobody in my family had ever been on a plane.  I didn’t speak English (her native language being French).” – Dr.Julie Payette, Astronaut, Canadian Space Agency

Janet was joined by Astronaut Dr.Julie Payette from the Canadian Space Agency (formerly). Julie spoke about how she was inspired to become astronaut, “When you have a dream, people may encourage or discourage you to have that dream, but keep that dream in your heart”. She added that during the 1960s, whilst watching the Moon landings, little girls were inspired to do that. She realised then that she wanted to walk on the Moon and drive the lunar rover. “I was a girl, they were men. I was Canadian, they were American men. They were test pilots, nobody in my family had ever been on a plane.  I didn’t speak English (her native language being French).” Even with this multitude of obstacles against her, Julie said she was lucky that her family didn’t discourage her. She encouraged the audience through, “You never know when an opportunity is going to come your way”. “You can control your education..be a citizen in society, but if you don’t apply or put your name down for something you believe in, you have a 100% chance of not getting it and reaching your goal.”

“You can control your education..be a citizen in society, but if you don’t apply or put your name down for something you believe in, you have a 100% chance of not getting it and reaching your goal.” – Dr.Julie Payette, Astronaut, Canadian Space Agency

Soyeon Yi presenting her spaceflight experiences

Soyeon Yi was only 29 years old when she flew to the International Space Station (ISS) and experienced an off-nominal ballistic re-entry of her Soyuz capsule on landing. She endured up to 8Gs, 8 times her body weight being pushed upon her with the normal Soyuz re-entry force not exceeding 4.5Gs. Peggy Whitson, Soyeon’s fellow crewmate and the first female commander of the ISS, described the 60 second g-force as being in a “rolling car crash“. Talking about the ballistic re-entry, Soyeon joked that “as a grown up I should pretend to be ok.”

Soyeon  joked that it was a privilege to be a female astronaut, because everyone knew you because of your ponytail in microgravity. She said that she had considered to cut her hair prior to her flight as it became caught numerous times in helmets and affected pressure seals, however a NASA astronaut said that she shouldn’t as it was a privilege to be a woman. Soyeon recounted that in South Korea her father had to encounter public and social opinion that female astronaut candidates shouldn’t go into space and instead go home and cook for their family. Societal expectations influence public opinion and was something that she had to fight to change. Others in South Korea said that the selection of an astronaut and flight was a waste of taxpayers funds. A viewpoint that Soyeon has shown to negate, by being an ambassador of her country and encouraging the next generation to study STEM.

The first South Korean in space discussed one of her proudest moments when she met Hillary Clinton whilst representing her country. “Hillary Clinton wanted to be an astronaut, but there were no female astronauts.” Ironically, it was only after meeting Mrs.Clinton that her father was able to proudly say that the first South Korean astronaut was his daughter, overcoming societal pressures and opinion. Soyeon discussed the cultural implications of her role, with many conservative families in South Korea not educating women to the degree men are allowed to and women expected to listen to their husbands. Whilst in space and looking back on the Earth her thoughts drifted as to why she was born in South Korea and that exact time, why it wasn’t in 1915 for instance when she couldn’t have gone to middle school, or why she wasn’t born in countries such as Kenya or Haiti when she may have not received an education at all. Soyeon realised how blessed she was and decided to help others in need whenever she can to the best of her ability.

“Whilst in space and looking back on the Earth her thoughts drifted as to why she was born in South Korea and that exact time, why it wasn’t in 1915 for instance when she couldn’t have gone to middle school, or why she wasn’t born in countries such as Kenya or Haiti when she may have not received an education at all.” – Soyeon Yi, First South Korean In Space

“My favourite quote is “Earth is the cradle of humanity but one cannot remain in the cradle forever”…Humanity needs to leave our cradle and explore.” – Soyeon Yi, First South Korean Astronaut

Soyeon quoted the visionary and one of the Fathers of Rocketry, Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, “Earth is the cradle of humanity but one cannot remain in the cradle forever”. Explaining that the cradle is the most comfortable place, where you are always fed and cared for, however eventually you want to be independent and learn to walk yourself and feed yourself to go to where you want to be. She stated that humanity needs to leave our cradle and explore. Soyeon also described the sense of awe when looking out of the window, humorously comparing the view of the planet to meeting George Clooney. “Earth is alive like George Clooney, your brain is gone when you meet him – and when you look out of the window.”

Shannon Walker, NASA astronaut, has been in the space industry since the beginning of her career, working for Rockwell Space Operations Company as a robotics flight controller for the Space Shuttle Program at the Johnson Space Center in 1987. She was fortunate to be chosen to fly the Soyuz with the Russians rather than NASA’s space shuttle, fortuitous training that helped her gain a flight opportunity once the space shuttle had been retired. She emphasised that spaceflight was such an international endeavour, stressing the importance of countries collaborating. Shannon’s career at NASA since being chosen as an Astronaut Candidate in 2004, has included being the lead CAPCOM (Spacecraft Communicator) for the STS-118 Shuttle mission, the primary communication link between the crew and the Mission Control Center, MCC-Houston and crew support astronaut for the ISS Expedition 14 crew. Shannon was assigned to Expedition 24/25 and spent 161 days onboard the ISS in 2010.

 “You never know what life is going to present to you.” – Shannon Walker, NASA Astronaut

Soyeon also described how traumatised the movie Gravity made her feel. The movie starting Sandra Bullock and George Clooney  tells the story of how an astronaut fought to survive after debris destroyed her crew’s space shuttle and the ISS. Soyeon was visibly trembling having watched the scene depicting the frozen astronaut in the cabin, exposed to space. “Gravity is not a movie or a drama but could happen in real life” she added. The movie also does a tremendous job of bringing space to the forefront of the public’s imagination and highlighting international cooperation in space portraying vehicles including the ISS, Russia’s Soyuz, NASA’s shuttle, China’s station (Tiangong-1) and China’s capsule (Shenzhou).

Soyeon also pointed out that young girls should be encouraged to follow their dream, “If they can hear from their heart that they want to be an engineer of an astronaut. [But] If they want to be an actress then they should, as they help to make us a happier society.” She also admitted that as there are no other senior astronauts in South Korea to advise her she sometimes feels lonely as the sole national astronaut, however she’s a part of organisations such as ISU and the Association of Space Explorers (ASE) that provide guidance and mentorship.

The hashtag #AskAnAstronaut was used in order to allow global interaction with the panel through social media

The panel also took questions from the audience and through social networks using the hashtag #AskAnAstronaut. When asked about the psychological differences between men and women, Wang Yaping, China’s second woman in space and Soyeon Yi clarified that” Women completely adapt to the space environment, just like men, physiologically. However women are considered to be more considerate and serious,” and joked that the advantages of being female were that they were lighter and more economical. Shannon Walker, NASA, added that astronauts sometimes feel like robots on the ISS as their tasks are repetitive, however both male and female adapt to the station and microgravity environment.

When discussing their biggest challenges in the pursuit of their goals, Julie Payette, CSA, admitted that it was “Fear and doubt I wouldn’t perform as needed.” A lack of self-confidence in one’s ability is an internal barrier that women battle around the world. Julie Payette said that it had been her biggest challenge and took a lengthy amount of time to convince herself that she was good for the job, even once she was selected and in training. “Astronauts are not rocket scientists, we don’t invent rockets.” Soyeon Yi added that 7-year-olds think astronauts know everything and ask her about detailed astronautics. She felt that she disappointed them as she couldn’t answer their questions and decided to gain a wider space knowledge base to be a good role model to younger generations. “The SSP [ISU Space Studies Program] is the perfect program to be a leader in the space field. Now I can collaborate with and have friends in over 30 countries from the course.” Shannon Walker’s biggest fear was speaking Russian in public in addition to the astronaut training programme being very physically challenging. “Like all fears, you need to do them a few times to overcome them.”

“[My biggest challenges were]..Fear and doubt I wouldn’t perform as needed.” – Julie Payette, Astronaut, Canadian Space Agency (CSA)

Wang Yaping Presents On The Importance Of Female Astronauts

An attitude shift was needed in the US to allow women to become astronauts. In South Korea, Soyeon Yi recounted that the older male generation “thought their first astronaut should be a military guy, not a civilian girl.” Chinese taikonaut, Wang Yaping, revealed that there were no restrictions for in place for the selection of female astronauts, apart from the fact that she must be married. This is stipulated for all Chinese astronauts, unlike the other agencies represented in the panel. Soyeon Yi described the necessity of a female crewmember through depicting events during her survival training. “All Russian guys were worried about the small Asian woman. The Russian guys compete with each other.” Soyeon encouraged them and their strength, whilst being proactive and cut parachutes to be prepared for the next part of the training. The Russian psychologist confirmed that she was a positive influence and made the team more efficient, “showing that you need a female in the crew”. In China, “A female in space is just like a female in the family, indispensable. Confidence and a sense of humour are equally important.”
“All [the] Russian guys were worried about the small Asian woman.” – Soyeon Yi, First South Korean Astronaut
The ISS will go down in history as an extraordinary feat through constructing an international outpost in orbit and the panel hoped that it would also be taught in history books just how successful it’s international partnership has been. “We have to continue to embrace even more women to surpass borders and frontiers.” The second Chinese woman in space also hoped for more female astronauts in the future, as there were too few females currently. Julie Payette stated that, “The number of women who have flown in space that are not from the US is only 12 out of 57 female astronauts”. The all-female astronaut panel’s wish for the future was that there would be enough diversity in human spaceflight; that being different would not be looked at as being suspicious or strange.
Astronauts, Inspirational women

Happy Birthday to NASA Astronaut Sunita Williams!

19 September, 2012

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! (Image Copyright: 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! [Copyright: NASA]

Tools used during the EVA [Copyright: 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!