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Education, Inspirational women

Inspired by Space: Engaging Girls in STEM

19 May, 2017

Engaging Girls In STEM [Copyright: Curved House Kids]

Engaging Girls In STEM [Copyright: Curved House Kids]

A fantastic new guide, launched by Curved House Kids, details how and why we should be lifting our girls up and encouraging them to further their STEM education. The Inspired By Space: Engaging Girls In STEM guide (pdf) features brilliant activities created by combining the classroom experience of teacher Claire Loizos with Curved House Kids materials and learning methods. The guide was released this week to mark the 26th anniversary of Dr.Helen Sharman’s mission launch, the first British astronaut!

Curved House Kids and author Lucy Hawking worked with
 European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Tim Peake and the UK Space Agency to create the Principia Space Diary, marking the launch of Tim Peake’s Principia mission in 2015. The programme simplified the complex subject of space for a primary-aged audience using a series of activities that followed the story of Tim’s mission. In its first year, the Space Diary reached over 60,000 students and 38,500 printed books were distributed to schools for free!

Women In STEM Statistics [Copyright: Curved House Kids]

Women In STEM Statistics [Copyright: Curved House Kids]

As we’ve discussed at Rocket Women previously, the project highlights that the UK has a STEM skills crisis across all sectors, with an estimated shortage of 69,000 recruits a year. At the same time, only 7% of women are choosing STEM careers.

The Space Diary aims to reverse this trend through helping primary-aged girls to see themselves in STEM careers, whether as an astronaut, scientist, mathematician or coder. Publisher Kristen Harrison stresses that this guide is ‘not just for girls’ and promotes the use of these ideas with all students. ‘True equality is not just about giving girls opportunities. It’s about developing empathy in all students to ensure we are all open to female voices and appreciate the benefits of diversity.’

The guide emphasises open tasks that require children to “learn on their feet”, with activities ranging from researching women in STEM and introducing positive female role models to writing a diary entry from the perspective of an astronaut and building a model of their own Soyuz capsule. They aim to encourage independence whilst enabling girls to be creative and crucially ‘allowing them to see themselves as scientists.’

Women In Science

Women In Science [Copyright: Curved House Kids]

I’m excited to be featured in the guide alongside Dr.Helen Sharman, the first British astronaut! Twenty-six years ago, astronaut Dr.Helen Sharman beat 13,000 applicants to become the first British astronaut and the first woman to visit the Mir space station! Her mission was and is a remarkable moment for the UK and for women in STEM, along with a timely reminder of the need to encourage girls into STEM careers.

Personally, Dr.Helen Sharman was hugely influential in inspiring me to consider a career in the space. At the age of six, I remember learning that Helen Sharman was the first British astronaut & had travelled to space a mere two years before. That moment changed my life. To now be featured alongside her & such inspirational women is an amazing honour! 

Two and a half decades on from her flight, achievements like Dr. Helen Sharman’s are unfortunately still all too rare. This fantastic guide aims to change this and encourage the next generation to pursue a fulfilling career in STEM.

Learn more about the Space Diary here: http://principiaspacediary.org/

The Space Diary by Curved House Kids and the UK Space Agency is now a ready-made programme that schools can use to deliver the science curriculum with secondary links to literacy, maths and numeracy, design and technology, geography, PE and more. To date, over 90,000 students have registered in schools and home education settings across the UK!

Inspiration

New Short Film ‘Dot Of Light’ Showcases Stories of Female Astronauts

6 May, 2017

A fantastic new short film, Dot of Light, highlights the stories of three astronauts from very different backgrounds, Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, Nicole Stott, and Anousheh Ansari, narrating their journey to space. Intimate interviews and archival footage of their flights bring their pioneering stories to life in this film by Eliza McNitt, produced in collaboration with Google.

Anousheh Ansari in 'Dot of Light' (Still from 'Dot of Light')

Anousheh Ansari in ‘Dot of Light’ (Still from ‘Dot of Light’)`

These lines that we’ve drawn on a map that separates this country from that country, you don’t see that from space, there are no walls separating us. Everything is connected. It is one home. It is one planet. It is one single unit that we live on. Around us is this dark universe. There’s nothing else around that looks anything close to our planet. –  Anousheh Ansari, first female spaceflight participant (first Iranian astronaut).

Watch this powerful film above and here.

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Justyna Barys, Young Graduate Trainee, European Space Agency (ESA)

1 May, 2017
Justyna Barys, a Young Graduate Trainee working in ESA’s technical centre, ESTEC (Credit: ESA/G. Porter, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/igo/)

Justyna Barys, a Young Graduate Trainee working in ESA’s technical centre, ESTEC (Credit: ESA/G. Porter, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/igo/)

Justyna Barys not only works at the European Space Agency (ESA) but was also recently selected to be featured on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list. Originally from Poland, and now based in the Netherlands, Justyna tells Rocket Women about her journey to the space industry.

RW: Congratulations on being selected as one of the 30 Under 30 on the Europe Industry List chosen by Forbes. Can you tell me about that experience and when you found out you’d been selected?

JB: Thank you very much. I felt very thrilled and excited when I found out about this nomination. I was nominated for the Forbes list 30 under 30 Europe 2017 in the Industry category. The journalist from Forbes found my professional profile on the LinkedIn website. The description of the research, which I’m currently conducting in the European Space Agency (ESA) MELiSSA project seemed very interesting to him. That’s how I was nominated. Then the jury in the Industry category decided to place my name on this special list.

RW: How were you inspired to consider a career in the space industry?

JB: To be honest I had never been planning to work in the space industry. I was studying biotechnology and I was expecting to find interesting job after the university in this area of industry. Nevertheless I have been always interested in astronomy and space exploration. It has been always one of my biggest hobbies. When I found a position of Young Graduate Trainee in the European Space Agency in MELiSSA project I thought that it would be a perfect job for me, which includes my academic profile and personal interests. I was delighted when I got this job.

RW: Did you need any specific education or training in order to qualify for your current role? If so, what was it?  

JB: No, I didn’t need any additional courses. The knowledge, which I gained during my studies was sufficient for my position. Nevertheless in the beginning I had to get acquainted with overall knowledge about MELiSSA project and space industry.

I recall a quote from Carl Sagan’s book ‘Pale Blue Dot’, which was very influential: “The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps.”

RW: Who were your role models when you were growing up?  How important are role models to young girls?

JB: In my opinion it is extremely important. I remember when I was eight, I watched the film “Contact” with my father. I can now say that this movie changed my life. I was only eight and of course in the beginning I didn’t understand everything from the movie, but enough to inspiring me to become a scientist. The movie is based on a novel of Carl Sagan with the same title and it’s about a SETI scientist who is looking for extraterrestrial life. In this movie I found role models of women in the science world. Furthermore, the movie shows that a way to achieve success is not always easy and how important is not to give up, be strong and in spite of all always follow your dreams.

As I mention I was eight when I saw this movie first time. From time to time I like to watch it again to remember how my fascination about being a scientist began. I also have to admit that my father had a huge influence on my interest of science and astronomy. When I was a child I spent many hours with him watching science-fiction films and documentaries about space. I recall a quote from Carl Sagan’s book “Pale Blue Dot”, which was very influential: “The visions we offer our children shape the future. It matters what those visions are. Often they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Dreams are maps.”

RW: What’s your favourite book? 

JB: My favorite book is actually Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot”. As I mention before when I was young I got fascinated with “Contact” film. A few years later I started to read books by Carl Sagan about space exploration, the role of the human in the universe and his visions about human future in space. ‘Pale Blue Dot’ is the book which I liked the most. I think that description of the Voyager missions are for me the most interesting part.

In the beginning of my scientific way I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe that girl like me could do something really important. Now I know that was wrong.

RW: If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be? What would you change? Would there be any decisions that you’d have made differently? 

JB: Never give up on your dreams.

Following your dreams is not an easy task. On the way to achieve a success you will encounter plenty of failures. Actually it is a hard job. But for sure worth the effort. After all the feeling that with your actions you can change the world – it’s priceless.

To be honest I think that I wouldn’t change any of my decisions. The only one thing which I would change it would be my attitude. In the beginning of my scientific way I didn’t believe in myself. I didn’t believe that a girl like me could do something really important. Now I know that was wrong.

Inspiration

Illustrations To Inspire Girls In STEM

14 April, 2017

Remembering The Pioneers [Total Jobs]

Remembering The Pioneers [Total Jobs]

Recent reports have shown that there’s a massive skill requirement for engineering upcoming over the next few years with one in five schoolchildren having to become an engineer to fill that gap in the UK. Considering 15% of UK engineering graduates are female and only 9% of engineering professionals, we can start to fill this gap today by encouraging more girls to pursue STEM, ensuring that they make up 50% of engineering talent in the future.

One of my favourite quotes is by Sally Ride, the first American woman in space: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” It’s in this vein that these brilliant new motion illustrations were created by Total Jobs and the co-founder of STEMettes, Jacquelyn Guderley, each depicting the STEM journey and challenges young girls endure. Each illustration, backed by the British Science Association, is supported by inspirational advice, helping to dispel the stereotypes and gender boundaries that exist today.

Opening Doors

Opening Doors [Total Jobs]

Opening Doors [Total Jobs]

You can be what you can see. STEM is inclusive and doors need to be opened to a career in STEM for everyone.

Looking Beyond The Labels

Looking Beyond The Labels [Total Jobs]

Looking Beyond The Labels [Total Jobs]

Be more than the labels placed upon you by society. Be more than what people think you will ‘only’ amount to and push yourself to be what you want to be. Be an awesome coder like Felicity Smoak from CW‘s Arrow, or an astrophysicist like the woman who came into your school and showed you that you can be more than your labels.

Jobs For The Girls

Jobs For The Girls [Total Jobs]

Jobs For The Girls [Total Jobs]

I’m British Asian and my background is Indian, so although my parents were supportive of my interest in space and science, there was some pressure to study a traditional subject for a girl – become a dentist, doctor or a teacher, as it was a “safe” choice and an acceptable job for a girl in Indian culture. Even in society as a whole jobs in technology or science are still seen widely as “for boys”. Girls need to be encouraged to choose STEM careers and when they do, girls often outperform boys in STEM subjects!

Smashing The Sterotypes

Smashing The Sterotypes [Total Jobs]

Smashing The Sterotypes [Total Jobs]

Self-belief can be changed in an instant. We need to stop so many 16-year-old girls walking away and abandoning STEM. One way to do this is for career advisers to encourage girls to pursue careers in STEM, an industry where you’re able to attract wages that are 20% higher than other industries! Stereotypes need to be broken down so that girls aren’t denied the opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Remembering The Pioneers [Total Jobs]

Remembering The Pioneers [Total Jobs]

The lack of female role models has a profound effect on girls choosing A-levels, says sociologist Louise Archer at King’s College London. “For girls in particular, physics is seen as being a very masculine subject,” she says. “So the girls who like physics have to work a lot harder to balance it with that notion of normal femininity.”

Finding Inspiration

Finding Inspiration [Total Jobs]

Finding Inspiration [Total Jobs]

Finding Inspiration [Total Jobs]
Finding Inspiration [Total Jobs]

You need those role models out there, tangible and visible, to be able to inspire the next generation of young girls to become astronauts, or be whatever they want to be.

Options For Girls

Options For Girls [Total Jobs]

Options For Girls [Total Jobs]

Girls deserve the same career opportunities as boys. In term of recruitment we still have big challenges in the world of STEM. You have to ask yourself the question, how many female role models can young people (especially girls) spontaneously quote, other than their direct family members, versus boys? By ensuring these female role models are tangible and visible, this can change.

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity Knocks [Total Jobs]

Opportunity Knocks [Total Jobs]

I’ve learnt that representation matters and I hope that young women around the world will be inspired by the stories of successful women featured in these illustrations and on Rocket Women that look like them, to take the first step in their STEM story.

Read more about these illustrations supported by the British Science Association here.

Inspiration, Media

Rocket Women Celebrates World Space Week

10 October, 2016

Rocket Women Is Celebrating World Space Week With Little Green Radicals [Little Green Radicals]

Rocket Women Is Celebrating World Space Week Partnered With Little Green Radicals [Little Green Radicals]

We’re excited to announce that Rocket Women has partnered with Little Green Radicals to celebrate World Space Week 2016 (4-10th October), a global event supported by the United Nations! Little Green Radicals are a London-based, organic and fair trade clothing company with a fantastic “rocket to the stars” line that we love! The line is mainly unisex, but there are also rocket dresses just for girls, promoting the idea that rockets are not just for boys, they’re for everyone!

“This season’s range is about dreams, and at Little Green Radicals we girls to dream without limits – you can be pilots, doctors, engineers, astrophysicists or astronauts, and this season we to encourage girls to explore their possibilities.  By creating a rocket to the stars dress, we hope to see far more girls growing up and reaching for the stars. As this week is World Space Week, and we have a very special guest blogger, Vinita Marwaha Madill, who has worked at the European Space Agency and NASA, as well as being an Operations Engineer for the International Space Station at the German Aerospace Centre. Her website Rocket Women is a platform for her advocacy for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and we ask her to talk to us about her journey to the stars…”

“Space has always intrigued me. I remember being an enthralled six-year-old when I learned that the first British astronaut, chemist Helen Sharman flew to the Mir space station in the early 90s. She was, although I didn’t know it yet, a role model to me. She showed me at a young age that my dreams were possible. I’m lucky to have had adults, both parents and great teachers, around me at that age who cultivated that interest and encouraged me to study space.”

Read more of Rocket Women’s guest blog for Little Green Radicals here.

Media

Rocket Women Featured In Tease & Totes

4 April, 2016

“Wanting to be an astronaut, I printed out the astronaut candidate guidelines from NASA’s website when I was 12 and glued them to the inside cover of my school folder, as a daily reminder of how to reach my goal and set my focus on achieving them. Those guidelines set the direction for my career.” 🚀🌍 Awesome @vmarwaha is today’s #WednesdayWoman. From a young age, she knew what she wanted to do and she’s been 🚀 ever since. To read her inspiring story, and her advice for #womeninstem, please click on link in bio 💫 #inspiration #motivation #rolemodel #stem #space #nasa #astronaut #qotd #physics #quote #engineer #girlboss #girlpower #rocketwomen #ISS #explore #science #ilooklikeanengineer #femalefounder #inspire

A photo posted by Tease + Totes (@teaseandtotes) on

Rocket Women is honoured to be highlighted in Tease + Totes in their “Wednesday Woman” feature.

“This week’s Wednesday Woman is Vinita Marwaha Madill ~ Space Consultant, Founder of Rocket Women, and advocate for women in STEM. Vinita has a diverse range of experience in the space field which includes designing spacesuits for the European Space Agency (ESA), working as an Operations Engineer for the International Space Station (ISS) at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) where she guided astronauts through experiments on the ISS, and where she was involved in astronaut training. “

Tease+Totes is founded by tech stalwart Danielle Newnham, and her twin sister and fashion buyer, Natalie Bardega, with a mission to ‘marry the worlds of fashion and technology for social good’, through empowering statement tops and interviews. “We strongly believe in empowerment being the key factor for women and kids to achieve their potential, and that fashion is the best medium to transport that message far and wide.”

Read the full interview here at Tease+Totes or the highlights below.

“Newnham: Can you tell us what you were like growing up and what first sparked your interest in space?
Marwaha Madill: I’ve always being inquisitive about space and I remember being an enthralled six-year-old when I learned that the first British astronaut, chemist Helen Sharman flew to the Mir space station. She was, although I didn’t know it yet, a role model to me. She showed me at a young age that my dreams were possible.

I’m lucky to have had adults, both parents and great teachers, around me at that age who cultivated that interest and encouraged me to study space. My parents helped me greatly, taking me to the National Space Centre in Leicester, UK on the weekends to experience space hardware firsthand and thankfully let me spend hours reading about space.

I’m also fortunate to have realized my passion at a young age and told my Physics teacher in Year 7 that I wanted to work in NASA’s Mission Control. Throughout my education, this drive was supported and 12 years later led me to fulfilling my dream, working on International Space Station (ISS) operations at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR), Germany’s answer to NASA’s Mission Control.

Newnham: What have been the biggest obstacles, if any, you have faced as a woman pursuing a career in STEM and how did you overcome them?
Marwaha Madill: 
The biggest obstacles initially were knowing that I could successfully undertake a career in STEM and being able to have my questions answered about what such a career entailed. Allowing girls access to women in STEM is key. With movies and media portraying mainly male scientists, meeting one female scientist can change the life of a young girl as many do not realize that a career in STEM is an option. Their future options can be influenced by a decision they make at a very young age. 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 educations or career.

To encourage more women into engineering you also also need to inspire them when they’re young. Girls at the age of 11 decide to leave STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), when they’re in an education system where the choice of subjects at school severely limits their options for working in other fields later. Girls need to be allowed to be creative and inquisitive from a young age, rather than being told to play with toys that are seen by many as more appropriate for young girls is key. At 8, I was learning to programme the VCR and encouraged to read voraciously about science. The key is to initially spark an interest in STEM and then to allow that to grow over years, overcoming gender bias, especially in the early years and secondary school. There are an increasing number of companies helping parents to encourage girls when younger and avoid toys that are infused with gender stereotypes, including Goldieblox which allows girls to build and become engineers.

Read the full Tease + Totes article here.

Inspiration

Redrawing The Balance

30 March, 2016

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.

Redraw The Balance, a brilliant campaign by leading creative agency MullenLowe London for the charity Inspiring the Future, aims to change this.

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.

Inspiration

Stargazing Lottie Doll Designed By 6-Year-Old Girl Arrives At Space Station

17 December, 2015

UPDATE: Here’s a new photo of the Stargazer Lottie doll on the ISS:

A new photo of the Stargazing Lottie doll in space on the International Space Station (ISS) [22/12/15]

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

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 Lottie Stargazing doll launch to the ISS in December 2015

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!

Inspiration, Media

Honouring World Prematurity Day

18 November, 2014

My Journey From Premature Baby To Rocket Scientist [The Daily Mirror]  

I was born almost 3 months early, weighing 1lb 10oz with a 10% chance of survival without complications. I truly wouldn’t have survived healthy to achieve my dreams without the utmost dedication and care of the doctors and nurses at Kingston Hospital’s neonatal unit in the UK (and my parents). Thousands of children are born premature worldwide annually, not all lucky enough to be able to have access to the type of intensive care that I had. World Prematurity Day (Nov 18) is celebrated to bring awareness to the tireless work of these wonderful caregivers and to tell the success stories of children born early, giving hope to families with children recently born prematurely. I’m sharing my story to provide that much needed hope to families with premature children and to remind those reading that even if the obstacles ahead seem impossible to overcome, with hard work and dedication it is possible to rise above them and achieve your goal.

Here’s the full text to the above article in the Daily Mirror (UK) and more information on Born Too Soon, a charity that which supports the neonatal unit at Kingston Hospital.

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.