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Inspirational women, News

Remembering Trailblazing Rocket Woman Katherine Johnson

2 March, 2020

At Rocket Women we’re saddened to hear of the passing of trailblazing Rocket Woman Katherine Johnson at 101-years-old on 24th February 2020. Katherine Johnson played a role in every major US space program, from Alan Shepard’s inaugural Mercury flight, making him the first American in space, to the Space Shuttle program.

Katherine’s inspirational work for the US space program predates the creation of NASA & she began to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA in 1953 where women had been hired to calculate results, this in an era prior to the modern electronic computer. The job title of these women were ‘Computer’.

Katherine Johnson was hired as a research mathematician at the Langley Research Center with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that preceded NASA, after they opened hiring to African-Americans and women. Exhibiting exceptional technical leadership, Katherine was especially known for her calculations of the 1961 trajectory for Alan Shepard’s flight (first American in space), the 1962 verification of the first flight calculation made by an electronic computer for John Glenn’s orbit (first American to orbit the earth), and the 1969 Apollo 11 trajectory to land humans on the surface of the moon.

In her later NASA career, Katherine worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite and encouraged students to pursue careers in science and technology fields. Her life and significant contributions were highlighted in a book and later movie, Hidden Figures, with Katherine brilliantly played by actor Taraji P. Henson. Hidden Figures also features the stories of fellow NASA mathematician Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe).

In the words of former NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, Katherine ‘literally wrote the textbook on rocket science.’ “We’re all so fortunate that Katherine insisted on asking questions & on relentlessly pursuing the answers. We are fortunate that when faced with the adversity of racial & gender barriers, she found the courage to say ‘tell them I’m coming.'”

“We’re all so fortunate that Katherine insisted on asking questions & on relentlessly pursuing the answers. We are fortunate that when faced with the adversity of racial & gender barriers, she found the courage to say ‘tell them I’m coming.” – Former NASA Deputy Administrator, Dave Newman

Thank you Katherine Johnson for your overwhelming strength in the face of adversity & for inspiring future generations of young women to follow their dreams to the stars. We hope that we, the next generation, can make you proud, work hard & honour your incredible legacy.

Remember, channel your inner Katherine Johnson & always know that you belong.

Astronauts, Inspirational women, News

Olay Launches ‘Make Space For Women’ Super Bowl Ad

1 February, 2020
Olay Releases Super Bowl 2020 Ad: “Operation #MakeSpaceForWomen Is Ready For Liftoff!” [Copyright: Olay]

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest sporting events in the world. It’s iconic games have frequently been amongst the most watched television broadcasts in the United States, with Super Bowl commercials shown during the games reaching millions of viewers (Super Bowl 2019 viewing figures were a reported staggering 149 million!).

Olay the skin care company, this week released it’s 30 second commercial due to air during the fourth ad break of Super Bowl 2020. The ad features NASA astronaut (ret.) Nicole Scott, actors Busy Philipps, Taraji. P. Henson, television personality Katie Couric and entertainer Lily Singh. Real-life-astronaut Nicole Stott, Lilly Singh and Busy Philipps play astronauts launching on a fictional Olay space mission to #MakeSpaceForWomen, with Taraji. P. Henson supporting from Earth as part of Mission Control and Katie Couric as a TV reporter covering the mission.

The ad’s campaign named “Make Space For Women” supports the vision of encouraging young women to choose STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), and brilliantly features a real-life Rocket Woman and Astronaut Nicole Stott.

The Super Bowl ad comes just weeks after the historic first ever all-female spacewalk conducted by NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch. Outreach messages like these are needed especially to encourage the next generation to follow their passion in STEM and to increase the number of women in science and engineering. With NASA’s astronaut corps edging closer and making strides towards gender equality, Olay’s Super Bowl advert will help to spread awareness and reach out to young women aiming to achieve their goals in the space industry and otherwise. The message is loud and clear, any girl, anywhere in the world, like these five Rocket Women can take up anything, become anything that they set their mind to.

Each time a user tweets using the hashtag #MakeSpaceForWomen, Olay will donate one dollar (up to $500,000) to the nonprofit Girls Who Code.

Olay is also taking this a step forward by donating proceeds from the commercial to Girls Who Code – a nonprofit that supports young women in computer related fields. Each time a user tweets using the hashtag #MakeSpaceForWomen through Twitter, Olay will donate one dollar (up to $500,000) to the nonprofit Girls Who Code. This fantastic social media fund-raising endeavor is ongoing until 3rd February 2020.

In an interview with collectSpace, Nicole Stott discussed the impact that she hopes Olay’s #MakeSpaceForWomen ad will make on the aspirations of the next generation, “But young girls seeing those women present, and then including a real astronaut, too, in this space-themed advertisement, I think it was genius. I think it allows it to be a very legitimate medium for a campaign that is encouraging young women in STEM.”

NASA Astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer, onboard the International Space Station in 2009, near a window in the Kibo laboratory [Image credit: NASA]

Olay released the teaser trailer for the advert to correspond with the second all-woman spacewalk on 15th January, carried out by NASA Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, and amazingly donated $25,000 in each of their names to Girls Who Code!

At Rocket Women, we’re excited for the impact that Olay’s Super Bowl ad will have to inspire future Rocket Women. As NASA Astronaut Mae Jemison rightly said,”It’s your place in the world, your life. Go and do all that you can do with it.”

Written by Savri Gandhi

(Edited by Vinita Marwaha Madill)

Astronauts, Inspirational women, News

NASA Astronauts Complete Historic First All-Woman Spacewalk

21 October, 2019

NASA Astronauts Christina Koch (EV1 - red stripe) and Jessica Meir carrying out the first all-woman spacewalk on Friday 18th October, 2019 and making history [image: NASA TV screenshot]

NASA Astronauts Christina Koch (EV1 – red stripe) and Jessica Meir carrying out the first all-woman spacewalk on Friday 18th October, 2019 and making history [image: NASA TV screenshot]

Soviet Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to carry out a spacewalk on 25th July 1984, almost 35 years ago. Of the more than 500 people who have been to space, around 10% have been female, and until this week spacewalk teams have either been all-male or male-female, with 15 women having ever carried out a spacewalk or EVA (Extravehicular Activity). [For comparison, there have been 213 male spacewalkers)

Rescheduling Spacewalks

However, on Friday 18th October 2019 history was made as NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch ventured outside of the Quest airlock on the International Space Station and carried out the first all-woman spacewalk, a feat long-overdue. The spacewalking Rocket Women were originally scheduled to carry out a spacewalk on 21st October, however due to the failure of a power controller called a battery charge discharge unit (BCDU) after 19 years of operation onboard the station, their spacewalk was rescheduled to an earlier date and replanned. The BCDU ‘regulates the charge to batteries that collect and distribute power to the station’. Originally this spacewalk was planned to have had the crew install new lithium-ion batteries on the space station, to replace the older nickel-hydrogen batteries, however this task was postponed.

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir [L] and Christina Koch [R] on 15th October 2019 preparing for their joint spacewalk,  holding the Pistol Grip Tools that they will use to exchange a

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir [L] and Christina Koch [R] on 15th October 2019 preparing for their joint spacewalk, holding the Pistol Grip Tools that they will use to exchange a failed power controller that collects and regulates power to the International Space Station

During an interview on NASA TV about their upcoming joint spacewalk, NASA Astronaut Christina Koch said, “I think it’s important because of the historical nature of what we’re doing, and that in the past women haven’t always been at the table. It’s wonderful to be contributing to the human spaceflight program at a time when all contributions are being accepted, when everyone has a role, and that, in turn, can lead to an increased chance of success. There are [also] a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them, and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell.”

There are [also] a lot of people that derive motivation from inspiring stories from people that look like them, and I think it’s an important aspect of the story to tell.

Friday’s 7 hour 17 minute spacewalk was deemed a success with the battery charge-discharge unit fully powered up and running well.

NASA Astronaut Selection Progress

Both Christina and Jessica were selected in NASA’s 2013 Astronaut Class (nicknamed Eight Balls), the first class to have a 50% gender split, the highest female ratio selected, bringing the percentage of female NASA astronauts in the NASA Astronaut Corps to around 30%. This thirty years after Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. NASA and the global space industry are really looking forward, which is fantastic. The recent 2017 astronaut class has five girls out of a total of twelve astronauts, with two astronauts selected at twenty-nine years old.

Presidential Call

President Trump called the pair during the momentous spacewalk and initially mischaracterized their accomplishment, through announcing that,”This is the first time for a woman outside of the space station.” The spacewalk was in fact the first to be conducted by two women, with women having taken part in 42 spacewalks previously with all male-female teams.

NASA Astronaut Jessica Meir responded (whilst outside the International Space Station, in orbit around the Earth travelling at 17,500 mph),

“We don’t want to take too much credit, because there have been many other female spacewalkers before us. This is just the first time that there have been two women outside at the same time.

And it’s really interesting for us. We’ve talked a lot about it up here. You know, for us, this is really just us doing our job. It’s something we’ve been training for, for six years, and preparing for….And…we were the crew that was tasked with this assignment.

At the same time, we recognize that it is a historic achievement, and we do, of course, want to give credit to all of those that came before us. There has been a long line of female scientists, explorers, engineers, and astronauts, and we have followed in their footsteps to get us where we are today.

We hope that we can provide an inspiration to everybody….that has a dream and has a big dream and that is willing to work hard to make that dream come true — something that all of us that have made our way up here have done all throughout our lives. And I can tell you, the hard work certainly did pay off.”

Spacesuit Sizing

Friday’s spacewalk was the 221st spacewalk in support of the space station’s assembly and maintenance. The first all-female spacewalk was originally meant to occur in March 2019, however due to the unavailability of a prepared and configured Medium Hard Upper Torso (HUT) size of the spacesuit it was postponed. NASA Astronaut Anne McClain, scheduled to take part in this 29th March 2019 spacewalk, found that a Medium Hard Upper Torso of the spacesuit would fit her better after her initial prior spacewalk in a Large size. Astronauts often train in a multitude of sizes and their sizing and preference may change on-orbit as their bodies adapt to a microgravity environment – including spinal elongation and fluid shifts.

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch (right) prepare to leave the Quest airlock of the International Space Station and begin the historic first-ever all-female spacewalk. [NASA]

NASA Astronauts Jessica Meir (left) and Christina Koch (right) prepare to leave the Quest airlock of the International Space Station and begin the historic first-ever all-female spacewalk. [NASA]

For the prior 29th March 2019 spacewalk, two spacesuits respectively with a Medium and Large sized Hard Upper Torso were prepared as initially expected. Due to the length of extra time required to prepare and configure an additional spacesuit with a Medium torso for the shortly upcoming spacewalk, an alternative crewmember (Nick Hague) took part in the March spacewalk instead of Anne McClain to protect the safety of the crew and the timing of the mission, a decision recommended by Anne McClain herself.

Artemis – The First Woman On The Moon

History-making NASA Astronaut Christina Koch is set to remain in space for an extended duration mission of 11 months (328 days) to provide researchers the opportunity to observe effects of long-duration spaceflight on a woman to prepare for human missions to the Moon and Mars. Her mission is set to break the record for the longest single spaceflight for a woman, currently held by NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson who completed a 289 day mission in 2017.

On 8th October, NASA released their new spacesuit designs for future Artemis exploration missions to the Moon, and eventually to Mars, aiming to send the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024. During a press conference prior to the historic all-woman spacewalk, NASA Adminstrator Jim Bridenstine mentioned the Artemis mission and stated, “We want, of course, to have space available to everybody, and we need to continually demonstrate that space is available to everybody…Of course, another reason this is significant is we are preparing right now to send the next man and the first woman to the moon, so this is all emblematic of that,” he said.

Kristine Davis,  Spacesuit Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wears a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU). The suit will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program.  Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Kristine Davis, Spacesuit Engineer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, wears a ground prototype of NASA’s new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU). The suit will be worn by first woman and next man as they explore the Moon as part of the agency’s Artemis program. Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

The new Exploration EMU (Extravehicular Mobility Unit) spacesuits designed for lunar exploration incorporate inclusive sizing with the ability to accommodate anybody from the “first percentile female to the 99th percentile male” according to NASA Spacesuit Designer Amy Ross.

Astronaut Ground Support

The first all-woman spacewalk was also supported by a team of Rocket Women on the ground (around half of the Mission Control Center personnel according to Twitter’s @jennyonconsole)  including Astronaut Stephanie Wilson, who worked as the Capsule Communicator or CAPCOM during the spacewalk and communicated with the crew from NASA’s Mission Control Center in Houston. Stephanie was selected as a NASA Astronaut in 1996 and previously flew on three shuttle missions (STS-121 in 2006, STS‑120 in 2007 and STS-131 in 2010). She was the second African American woman to go into space after Mae Jemison.  

At the end of the historic first all-woman spacewalk, NASA Astronaut and International Space University graduate Jessica Meir announced, “Today was especially an honor as we also recognize that this is a milestone. It symbolizes exploration by all that dare to dream and work hard to achieve that dream. Not only that, it’s a tribute to those that paved the way for us to be where we are.” [Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel support a scholarship for women to attend the International Space University!]

This month’s spacewalk provided a vision of a future in which an all-woman spacewalk is no longer remarkable, but hopefully common place as the number of women in the astronaut corps globally increases and humanity ventures onwards to explore the Moon and Mars.