Browsing Tag

women

Astronauts, Inspirational women

Sally Ride, First American Woman In Space, Discusses Being An Astronaut With Gloria Steinem

5 February, 2016

A stunning new animated video highlights Sally Ride‘s interview with icon Gloria Steinem in 1983, mere months after Sally became the first American Woman in Space. Her flight invigorated the imagination of thousands of young girls, showing them that it was possible to be an astronaut, or in Sally Ride’s own words and one of my favourite quotes, “If you can’t see, you can’t be.”

But although NASA were looking to the future, some were still lagging behind. Prior to her flight, rather than focusing on her technical acumen and performance, the press asked Sally whether she cried when there were malfunctions in the shuttle simulator, about the bathroom facilities or what kind of make up she was bringing up with her.

“I wish that there had been another woman on my flight, I wish that two of us had gone up together. I think it would’ve been a lot easier” – Sally Ride, First American Woman In Space

A recording of the interview was found by PBS Digital Studios in the archives of Smith College, who transformed the interview into an animated video (above) for its “Blank on Blank” series, posted this week.

“I wish that there had been another woman on my flight,” Ride says in the video “I think it would have been a lot easier.” She also overcame early education barriers, “I took all the science classes that I could in junior high school and into high school.”

“I went to a girls’ school that really didn’t have a strong science programme at all when I was there. At the time it was a classic school for girls, with a good tennis team and a good English teacher. Essentially no math[s] past eleventh grade, no physics and no chemistry.”

NASA has come a long way since Sally Ride’s flight in 1983, with four female astronauts chosen out of the eight candidates in the recent NASA Astronaut Class. Their selection in 2013 means that women now represent 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps, thirty years after the flight of America’s first woman in space.

Although a greater number of women now than ever have the opportunity to become an astronaut and fly, implicit (and explicit) gender bias still remains, notably seen in the questions asked of the crew pre-flight. Six accomplished Russian women underwent an 8-day analogue mission to the Moon last year. Prior to their mission they were asked by the press how they would cope without men, shampoo or makeup for the next week.

This is similar to the line of questioning faced by cosmonaut Yelena Serova, Russia’s 4th female cosmonaut and the female cosmonaut on the International Space Station (ISS). Yelena, an engineer with significant experience, was asked prior to her mission in 2014 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. Remarks about Yelena’s mission by the the editor of Russian magazine Space News including, “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.

However, by being honest about these viewpoints, both historical and recent, and exposing the gender bias that still remains globally, there is hope for change.

Watch the interview above or read it here:

Sally Ride (SR): I wish that there had been another woman on my flight, I wish that two of us had gone up together.

Gloria Steinem (GS): It’s tough to be the first but you’ve done it with incredible grace. You also have the only job in the world that everybody understands.

SR: [Laughs] My father I think was so grateful when I became an astronaut because he couldn’t understand astrophysicist. He couldn’t relate to that at all. But astronaut was something that he felt he could [relate to].

GS: And you could see people all over the world connecting with what you were doing.

SR: Roughly half of the people in the world would love to be astronauts, would give anything to trade places with you. The other half just can’t understand why in the world you would do anything that stupid.

GS: If you don’t have 20:20 vision can you become an astronaut candidate or is it disabling?

SR: I think it used to be. Now as long as it’s correctable to 20:20 it’s ok. So you’d probably qualify!

SR: I didn’t have any dreams of being an astronaut at all. And I don’t understand that, because as soon as the opportunity was open to me, I jumped at it. I instantly realised that it was what I really wanted to do. I took all the science classes that I could in junior high school and into high school. I went to a girls’ school that really didn’t have a strong science programme at all when I was there. At the time it was a classic school for girls, with a good tennis team and a good English teacher. Essentially no math[s] past eleventh grade, no physics and no chemistry.

GS: I’m curious about the reception that you got inside NASA. What kind of thing happened to you?

SR: Really, the only bad moments in our training happened with the press. The press was an added pressure on the flight for me and whereas NASA appeared to be very enlightened about flying astronaut, the press didn’t appear to be. The things that they were concerned with, were not the same things that I was concerned with.

GS: For instance the bathroom facilities. How often did you get asked that?

SR: Just about every interview I got asked that. Everybody wanted to know what kind of make up I was taking up. They didn’t care about how well prepared I was to operate the arm, or deploy communications satellites.

GS: Did NASA try to prepare you for the press or pressure?

SR: Unfortunately no they don’t. In my case they took a graduate student in physics, who spent her life in the basement of a physics department with oscilloscopes and suddenly put me in front of the press.

GS: What do you suppose are the dumbest kinds of questions that you’ve been asked to date?

SR: Without a doubt, I think the worst question I have got was whether I cried when we got malfunctions in the simulator.

GS: That surpassed the one about whether you were going to wear a bra or not. Did somebody really ask you that?

SR: No, the press I think decided that was a good question for someone to have asked me and for me to have answered. But I never got asked that.

GS: But they made you up a good response. Something about in a state of weightlessness it doesn’t matter.

SR: Yeah I was never asked that question.

GS: What about your feelings during the launch? Was there any time that the enormity of what was going on came over you?

SR: The moment of the launch, when the engines actually ignited and the solid rockets, that everyone on the crew was for a few seconds just overcome with what was about to happen to us. But a year of training is a long time, a year of sitting in simulators and being told exactly what’s going to happen, and you hear the sounds and feel the vibrations. It prepares you very well and it worked. We were able to overcome being overcome and do the things we were supposed to do.

GS: Just watching there at the launch, there were people with tears streaming down their faces. People I never would’ve expected and I guess they were all very moved by the human audacity of it.

SR: I think that when you see the long trail of flame and to imagine that there are really people inside that. That’s really something. Inside of course you don’t see the long trail of flame, and what you feel is more of an exhilaration.

GS: Well there are lots of people who are looking up there and feeling proud. Not just of you but of people on the ground.

SR: Thank you.

GS: What do you think it might be like in 2001 in fact? What’s possible for us?

SR: Well 2001 is a long ways in the future to speculate on. But probably the next step after the space shuttle is a space station. I would forsee a station as not just something that’s orbiting the Earth and used for experimentation but would also be used as a launching platform back to the Moon or to Mars. I’m sure that both of those are inevitable. We’ll go back to the Moon and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before we go to Mars.

GS: Do you have any speculation about how long it might be before there are such a thing as ‘peopled’ space colonies?

SR: I’d guess that by the year 2000 there will be. I’d think that we’ll have a space station up by the end of this decade.

GS: On which it’ll be possible to live for long periods of time?

SR: Yes

Astronauts, Inspirational women

Glamour Magazine Features Fearless NASA Astronauts

7 January, 2016

The latest NASA astronaut class to be chosen had the highest percentage of female astronauts selected at 50%. This taking place in 2013, the year celebrating the 50th anniversary of  the First Woman In Space, Valentina Tereshkova (& the 30th Anniversary of the First American Woman in Space, Sally Ride). Four out of the new eight astronauts are female with a breadth of experience among them, with women now representing 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps. It’s really wonderful to see these women being recently featured in mainstream media, especially Glamour Magazine, a media outlet that’s followed by millions of women around the globe (1.17M followers on Twitter!).

Glamour does a fantastic job of interviewing the most recently selected female NASA Astronauts, experts in a variety of scientific fields. Namely, Christina Hammock Koch, former NOAA station chief in American Samoa,  Nicole Aunapu Mann, US Marine and F18 fighter pilot, Dr.Jessica Meir PhD, former Assistant Professor of Anesthesia at Harvard Medical School and Anne C. McClain, US Army and OH-58 Helicopter Pilot.  (Dr.Jessica Meir PhD is also a graduate of my alma mater, International Space University (ISU) (MSS00), making me proud to be an ISU alumna myself!) The article also featured quotes from the inspirational Dr.Dava Newman, Deputy Administrator of NASA.

Fearless Women: NASA Astronauts From The 2013 Class. The Class With The Highest Proportion Of Women At 50% [Photo credit: Glamour magazine/Bjorn Iooss]

Fearless Women: NASA Astronauts From The 2013 Class. The Class With The Highest Proportion Of Women At 50% [Photo credit: Glamour magazine/Bjorn Iooss]

 A highlight from Glamour’s feature includes:

Governments around the world—in China, Europe, and Russia—have plans in the works to at least land robots on Mars, while in the U.S., private companies like SpaceX are partnering with NASA on a human mission and plotting their own commercial trips. And unlike the 1960s race to the moon, this time women are playing pivotal roles—building rockets, designing space suits, and controlling the remote rovers that are already sending momentous insights back from Mars.

This emphasises an important point, women are contributing to missions on an increasing basis, compared to the days of the Apollo programme.  In fact the New Horizons mission team, which last year provided the world with the closest encounter of Pluto and it’s moon Charon, is 25% female, making it the NASA mission with the highest number of female staffers, including engineers and scientists.

The newest four female members of NASA’s astronaut corps also describe how they felt the moment they realised they were chosen in 2013 and how they were inspired to apply.

Anne McClain: There were more than 6,100 other applicants for our class of eight, and I’d made my peace with not getting in. I still remember getting the call that I’d been selected. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t talk. I started crying. I grew up in Spokane, Washington, and I can’t recall ever not wanting to be an astronaut. I learned a lot [serving 15 months] in Iraq, flying attack helicopters at the front of the front lines. I joined the Army out of a deep sense of duty, but wanting to be an astronaut feels more like my destiny. With so much conflict in the world, space exploration can be a beacon of hope. No one cares about race or religion or nationality in space travel. We’re all just part of Team Human.

Jessica Meir, Ph.D.: I had a fantastic view of the stars from the teeny town in Maine where I grew up. Maybe that’s why I wanted to be an astronaut from such a young age. I’ve always been drawn to remote places—and extreme challenges. While doing research on emperor penguins for my Ph.D. in marine biology, I lived and worked in Antarctica, where I also went scuba diving under several feet of ice.

Christina Hammock Koch: My bedroom wall in Jacksonville, North Carolina, was covered in posters of the space shuttle alongside ones of New Kids on the Block. I had always set my sights on working with NASA, but I didn’t want to get there by checking the usual boxes, like learning to fly and scuba dive. I wanted to get there because I was passionate about science and the next frontier. When the opportunity to spend a year at the South Pole came up, I took it. There I was in charge of more than 10,000 gallons of liquid helium to keep the telescopes supercool. Our motto was “When the South Pole isn’t cold enough, call us.”

Nicole Aunapu Mann: I’m probably one of the few astronauts who didn’t know that’s what I wanted to do as a kid. “Astronaut” seemed like a far-fetched dream. I’m from Penngrove, California, and it wasn’t until my first tour in Iraq flying fighter jets with the Marine Corps that I realized one day I might actually be a good candidate. Going into space will be the absolute coolest thing in the world.

Glamour’s feature also discusses the logistics of relationships in space whilst on a multi-year interplanetary mission and the intricacies of astronaut training. From the feeling of being weightless in a zero-g plane, practicing a spacewalk underwater and even to learning to be a dentist.

NASA recently opened a call for the next generation of NASA astronauts, closing mid-February. If you’re a US citizen and would like your chance to explore the Moon or even Mars, apply now! Women currently represent 26% of NASA’s astronaut corps, let’s work to bring that up to 50%.

Read the full version of Glamour’s feature on female astronauts here

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

Inspiration

It Was Never A Dress

4 May, 2015

Axosoft’s “It Was Never A Dress” Campaign [Axosoft]

Is it a dress or is it really a cape? A fantastic new campaign by Axosoft, an agile project management company, with the tagline #ItWasNeverADress aims to “shift perceptions and assumptions about women,” according to their website. Launched at Girls In Tech’s Catalyst conference, the campaign will bring together stories and images from around the world to “foster necessary conversations, vital voices, and that honor ALL women”, striving to create an important dialogue around women in underrepresented fields, including tech and science. Women truly are superheroes!

Learn more about the campaign here on it’s website.

Media

Featured in TechGirls Canada’s Portraits of Strength

8 April, 2015

Vinita Marwaha Madill featured in TechGirls Canada’s Portraits of Strength

I’m honoured to be featured in TechGirls Canada’s Portraits of Strength, stories of role models across Canada to inspire young women.

“I am proud of contributing to a spacesuit programme at the European Space Agency (ESA) that will be worn on the International Space Station (ISS) next year to prevent bone and muscle loss in astronauts, with the potential to be used for long-duration exploration.”

“The biggest obstacle I have faced was overcoming preconceived ideals. I’ve always known that I wanted to work in the space industry, however it wasn’t a career path that was expected. I had to prove to others and myself that it was possible.”

I hope that the work I do inspires girls globally to follow their dreams to study and consider a career in STEM.

TechGirls Canada is a fantastic organisation that provides national leadership and community to the hundreds of non-profit and industry groups working to encourage more girls to consider tech as a career.

Read more of the feature on the TechGirls Canada website: http://bit.ly/1Cb9AUu

Inspirational women

Emma Watson: Talented Actress, Female Empowerment Superstar

22 September, 2014

Emma Watson at the United Nations Headquarters in New York [Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images]

I started questioning gender-based assumptions when at eight I was confused at being called “bossy,” because I wanted to direct the plays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not.
When at 14 I started being sexualised by certain elements of the press.

When at 15 my girlfriends started dropping out of their sports teams because they didn’t want to appear “muscly.”

When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings.

I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word.

Emma Watson: actress, global role model and recently appointed U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador. Her passionate speech on gender and feminism at the U.N. Headquarters in New York launched the “HeForShe” campaign and gained her a standing ovation from the room. The campaign aims to galvanize as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for gender equality. Emma is in a unique position, by being looked up to universally by both young girls and boys around the world through her role as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter movies, she can speak to this generation at a time where their opinions on gender and stereotypes are still being formed.

I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realised that fighting for women’s rights has often become synonymous with man-hating. If there’s one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.

For the record, feminism by definition is:”The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.

As Emma stated in her empowered speech, there isn’t a country in the world yet that can say that they have reached gender equality. By sharing this campaign globally and with Emma’s involvement hopefully the world will be brought closer to every daughter, mother and wife being treated as they deserve. “If not me, who, if not now when.”

Here’s her speech in full:

“Today we are launching a campaign called “HeForShe.”

I am reaching out to you because I need your help. We want to end gender inequality—and to do that we need everyone to be involved.

This is the first campaign of its kind at the UN: we want to try and galvanise as many men and boys as possible to be advocates for gender equality. And we don’t just want to talk about it, but make sure it is tangible.

I was appointed six months ago and the more I have spoken about feminism the more I have realized that fighting for women’s rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop.

For the record, feminism by definition is: “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”

I started questioning gender-based assumptions when at eight I was confused at being called “bossy,” because I wanted to direct the plays we would put on for our parents—but the boys were not.

When at 14 I started being sexualised by certain elements of the press.

When at 15 my girlfriends started dropping out of their sports teams because they didn’t want to appear “muscly.”

When at 18 my male friends were unable to express their feelings.

I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me. But my recent research has shown me that feminism has become an unpopular word.

Apparently I am among the ranks of women whose expressions are seen as too strong, too aggressive, isolating, anti-men and, unattractive.

Why is the word such an uncomfortable one?

I am from Britain and think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights.

No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality.

These rights I consider to be human rights but I am one of the lucky ones. My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day. These influencers were the gender equality ambassadors that made who I am today. They may not know it, but they are the inadvertent feminists who are. And we need more of those. And if you still hate the word—it is not the word that is important but the idea and the ambition behind it. Because not all women have been afforded the same rights that I have. In fact, statistically, very few have been.

In 1997, Hilary Clinton made a famous speech in Beijing about women’s rights. Sadly many of the things she wanted to change are still a reality today.

But what stood out for me the most was that only 30 per cent of her audience were male. How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feel welcome to participate in the conversation?

Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.

Because to date, I’ve seen my father’s role as a parent being valued less by society despite my needing his presence as a child as much as my mother’s.

I’ve seen young men suffering from mental illness unable to ask for help for fear it would make them look less “macho”—in fact in the UK suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20-49; eclipsing road accidents, cancer and coronary heart disease. I’ve seen men made fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success. Men don’t have the benefits of equality either.

We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that that they are and that when they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence.

If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.

Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong… It is time that we all perceive gender on a spectrum not as two opposing sets of ideals.

If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by what we are—we can all be freer and this is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.

I want men to take up this mantle. So their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too—reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.

You might be thinking who is this Harry Potter girl? And what is she doing up on stage at the UN. It’s a good question and trust me I have been asking myself the same thing. I don’t know if I am qualified to be here. All I know is that I care about this problem. And I want to make it better.

And having seen what I’ve seen—and given the chance—I feel it is my duty to say something. English statesman Edmund Burke said: “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men and women to do nothing.”

In my nervousness for this speech and in my moments of doubt I’ve told myself firmly—if not me, who, if not now, when. If you have similar doubts when opportunities are presented to you I hope those words might be helpful.

Because the reality is that if we do nothing it will take 75 years, or for me to be nearly 100, before women can expect to be paid the same as men for the same work. 15.5 million girls will be married in the next 16 years as children. And at current rates it won’t be until 2086 before all rural African girls will be able to receive a secondary education.

If you believe in equality, you might be one of those inadvertent feminists I spoke of earlier.

And for this I applaud you.

We are struggling for a uniting word but the good news is we have a uniting movement. It is called HeForShe. I am inviting you to step forward, to be seen to speak up, To be the he for she. And to ask yourself if not me, who, if not now when.”

Inspiration, STEM TV & Movies

New NBC Show Highlights Sole Woman In NASA’s 1960s Mission Control

22 August, 2014

Name a sole female lead from a space TV show or movie. Sandra Bullock playing Dr.Ryan Stone in Gravity? Sigourney Weaver playing Lt.Ellen Ripley in Alien? Any others? With less than 30% of speaking film roles given to women in Hollywood, it’s no surprise that lead sci-fi characters are predominantly male. Sandra Bullock even admitted that “It was brave that [the studio] created a big tentpole action/science fiction film with a female lead, when it’s probably much easier to make it a male.” Soon these female space leads won’t be the only ones that come to mind.

NBC's Mission Control - Premiering Mid-Season

NBC’s Mission Control – Premiering Mid-Season

NBC have green-lighted ‘Mission Control’, a refreshing new show centred around Dr. Mary Kendricks, played by Krysten Ritter (“Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23″), as a tough but brilliant aerospace engineer leading a team of NASA scientists at the cutting edge of space exploration. The show highlights the challenges faced by a woman in the 1960s, navigating the ridiculous boys’ club of astronauts and engineering nerds. Mission Control is executive produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (“Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights”). Ritter explains, “It’s about a woman in a man’s world at NASA. I play the only woman working at NASA. She’s really smart and fabulous and empowered, but she’s working amongst some bumbling idiots, and that’s very frustrating for her. And that’s where comedy ensues.” The show premieres mid-season on NBC.

 

Chris Hadfield with his book “An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth” on the International Space Station (ISS) [NBS News]

Ritter’s Mission Control isn’t the only space centric show in production. A new ABC sitcom based on Astronaut Chris Hadfield’s best-selling “An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth” book is in development. The show’s premise focuses on an astronaut who must re-adapt to life on Earth, after completing his final mission in space. The new sitcom is being led by Justin Halpern and Patrick Schumacker, as part of a larger deal they have with Warner Bros TV.

Green-Lighted By ABC – The Astronaut Wives Club based on the book by Lily Koppel [Barnes and Noble]

If you’re still in need of your space-fill, ABC have green-lighted “Astronaut Wives Club” a 10-episode series based on Lily Koppel’s best-selling book of the same title. The drama is based on the true-life story of the spouses of America’s early spacemen and will air in Spring 2015, with a script written by Stephanie Savage (Producer, Writer, Gossip Girl) .

The popularity of recent space movies and the number of space-centric TV shows in production may well point to a renewed and much-needed public interest in the space industry.  Hopefully with shows such as ‘Mission Control’, the reality faced by women working in the industry over decades will be highlighted and their dedication remembered, whilst inspiring women today to aspire to be a modern-day Dr. Mary Kendricks.

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.
Inspirational women

How To Be A Rocket Woman: Leadership Advice From Women In Tech (Part 1)

9 June, 2014
Kirstine Stewart - Twitter Canada

Twitter Canada’s Kirstine Stewart delivering a keynote address at Communitech’s Tech Leadership Conference 2014

“You have to have confidence in yourself before you can have trust in others.” – Kirstine Stewart, Managing Director and Head of Twitter Canada.

Sound advice from Kirstine Stewart at the Technology Leadership Conference held in Waterloo, Canada. The former CBC Director of Programming discussed her rise from Girl Friday at a local television production company, graduating during a downturn in the publishing industry, to becoming President of Distribution only seven years later. She went on to take on the role of Director of Programming at CBC Television in 2006 where she dealt with 5000 employees.

You don’t get a promotion for keeping your head down.

Kirstine is a graduate of the Global Leadership in the 21st Century program at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and a member of the Forum of Young Global Leaders, selected to advise the World Economic Forum.

During her keynote address Kirstine listed her four principles of leadership:

1) Sets the vision

2) Builds tools and leads way for team to success

3) Sets goals and expectations

4) Gets out of the way

She added that a leader should cultivate a sense of innovation, have trust in and empower their team to make the right decision. A leader “gets out of the way” to allow their team to succeed however will be there on a check-in basis to ensure that they feel supported. Kirstine has a proven career of successful leadership and encourages women to study STEM. With only 16% of women in a director position at Canadian tech companies, Kirstine was asked how to increase the numbers of women in the tech industry.  She depicted an inherent issue present in female career advancement, women have historically done well at school with higher numbers studying technology related subjects, however there is a shift in the business world. Kirstine pointed out that “You don’t get a promotion for keeping your head down”. Women are finding it difficult to learn to add value and transition into the business world. With values at school and at work differing, she stated that women will need to bring attention to themselves and that people are only “as successful as the right decisions you make”. The “ones who come up with the right answers rather than the ones who speak a lot” will be valued. Kirstine also mentioned that women wait to be asked the question, rather than giving the answers before they are asked. This proactive nature would help to make women’s voices count more so in the workplace.

Leaning in doesn’t matter as much as what you do when you lean in.

Kirstine also discussed that rather than traditional masculine leadership traits in business being valued, the values of business and leadership have changed. Attributes such as empathy and multi-tasking, typically female, are now increasingly valued. She stated that “it takes all to lead” and that “gender isn’t as important as the attributes people have”. “If we need to be so outwardly focused, we’ll need a different style of leadership.”

Kirstine ended her session with “Leaning in doesn’t matter as much as what you do when you lean in”. I personally am looking forward to reading more on Kirstine’s views and advice on this pertinent subject in her book released next year, Our Turn:  Time For A New Kind Of Leader. She’s an inspirational woman and one whose success women aspiring to lead can learn a great deal from.

Part 2 of Leadership Advice From Women In Tech will be posted this week featuring advice from Dr. Anita Sands, an innovation & change leadership expert with a PhD in molecular physics and who is currently on the Board of Directors at Symantec Corp.

Inspirational women

Google Doodle and Women Techmakers series shows support for women in technology!

11 December, 2012

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

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