Category Archives: Modern WomanAstro

Valentina’s Day, T-29, #WomanAstroHistoryMystery

Serova, Elena - NASASince we’re counting down to Valentina’s Day, I thought I would highlight Tereshkova’s comrades, of which there were only three as of November 2013. Oh, wait! Did a quick check online and there are a total of six cosmonauts as of September 2012, according to NASA’s Women In Space page.

More checking and I came across the Smithsonian’s Air and Space magazine with an article (link below) about Elena Serova published September 2014. It states that Elena was the fourth cosmonaut. So which one is right? Who are the other two women listed on the NASA site? And there’s two ways to spell Serova’s first name?

Like I was saying, there were three. That I know of. But, but NASA’s page…

It’s a #WomanAstro history mystery. I run across this all the time when I do research on the internet. Unfortunately, it’s where today’s youth goes for their information. If I get befuddled by what I find, I can only imagine the challenges for young girls interested in space. What about women’s history in other scientific disciplines? I’m not sure I want to know.

And we’re back to three (because it’s getting late). I’ve provided three links for each. I hope you enjoy!

So that’s how it goes for today. I’m obviously doing this by the seat of my pants and it is full of surprises. I haven’t studied astronauts/cosmonauts as I have women astronomers, so a lot of this is new to me. And in case you didn’t notice, not a lot of planning went into this. Okay, I didn’t plan anything. I just jumped right in. Sometimes that’s what you have to do.

Valentina’s Day, T-30, #GirlsWithToys

Mercury 13, NASA
Seven of the Mercury 13 on March 23, 2008. From left to right: Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman. Image Courtesy of NASA

Yesterday you were invited to celebrate the First Annual Valentina’s Day to commemorate the accomplishments of #WomenInSpace. I shared the invitation on Twitter, and the Twitterverse exploded!

No, not because of Valentina’s Day, but because #GirlsWithToys was trending. This lively hashtag resulted from an interview by NPR with Shrinivas Kulkarni, a California Institute of Technology professor.

“‘Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call ‘boys with toys,'” [Kulkarni] says. “I really like playing around with telescopes. It’s just not fashionable to admit it.'”

Apparently it is “fashionable to admit it” because women scientists from many disciplines posted plenty of pictures to prove it. After seeing them, I have great hope for the future of women in science. It’s just a shame though that it takes getting their lab coats in a twist to get the respect they earned.

As for The Mercury 13 from yesterday’s entry, they certainly didn’t get what they deserved, to fly to space. Let’s not forget who they are.

To commemorate them in this blog, here’s the list of these incredible women from Wikipedia.

  1. Myrtle Cagle
  2. Jerrie Cobb
  3. Janet Dietrich[1]
  4. Marion Dietrich[1]
  5. Wally Funk
  6. Sarah Gorelick (later Ratley)
  7. Janey Hart (née Briggs)
  8. Jean Hixson
  9. Rhea Hurrle (later Allison, then Woltman)
  10. Gene Nora Stumbough (later Jessen)
  11. Irene Leverton
  12. Jerri Sloan (née Hamilton, later Truhill)
  13. Bernice Steadman (née Trimble)

Notice anything? Only six have their own entry in Wikipedia. If you go to the pages that do have a link, there’s missing information. When I research women’s histories, sometimes it feels like I am watching their stories fade into the sunset. There is still so much work to be done.

And that’s why we need Valentina’s Day! Women in science do not get the recognition they deserve, nor do girls get the role models in science they need. Let’s change that!

P.S. – For your convenience, I googled the missing women. I’ve linked to sites I found interesting and hope you do too. Enjoy!

  1. Myrtle Cagle
  2. Sarah Gorelick (later Ratley)
  3. Jean Hixson
  4. Rhea Hurrle (later Allison, then Woltman)
  5. Gene Nora Stumbough (later Jessen)
  6. Irene Leverton
  7. Jerri Sloan (née Hamilton, later Truhill)

Women of the UofA Lunar Planetary Lab

Commencement time at my alma mater, the University of Arizona (UofA), always brings to mind my wonderful tenure in Tucson. It also reminds me that there are not enough women in astronomy and planetary science; all of my professors in these subjects were men.

Today I would like to highlight the women faculty members of the Lunar Planetary Lab at the UofA. You can click on each name to be directed to their web site for more information about their research at the UofA.

Caitlin Griffith – Professor, Planetary atmospheres. I had the pleasure of hearing her at one of several talks given by the department on current research about Titan. Something you may not know is that she was in Thailand during the 2004 Indian earthquake.

Renu Malhotra – Professor, Solar system dynamics.

Ilaria Pascucci – Assistant Professor, Planetary formation and evolution.

Tamara Rogers – Professor, Planetary atmospheres.

Elizabeth Roemer – Professor Emerita, Comets, minor planets; astrometry.

Marcia Neugebauer – Research Scientist (Adjunct). Her website at the UofA is limited, so check out the UANews article Physicist Honored for Discoveries About the Sun and Wikipedia here.

Elisabetta Pierazzo – Lecturer (Adjunct). Her website at the UofA is limited, so please check out her page at the Planetary Science Institute.

Elizabeth P. Turtle – Assistant Research Scientist (Adjunct). Again, she has a limited website at the UofA, so find out more about her here. I also had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Turtle speak on several occasions, including during my “Mars” class, at the local astronomy club, and other talks at the UofA. She is definitely one of my favorite women astronomers.

And, because I just can’t help myself, I noticed that out of the 52 individuals listed on the faculty index at the Lunar Planetary Lab, there are eight women, a mere 15.38% of the total. Is there a problem there? I don’t know. What I do know is that in the majority of the classes I attended, the ratio of women/men students seemed to be fairly even.

While writing this blog, I also searched the web for additional information on these women. The lack of biographical information is, to say the least, discouraging. Why? Because they are doing tremendous work in an exciting field and they are role models, yet even today their stories are not readily available.

It seems to me that this could be a core issue with the problems surrounding girls and STEM. Any thoughts?

Space Needs Women

Debra Davis standing in front of Boeings X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle on display at the 27th National Space Symposium.

This week the 27th National Space Symposium, sponsored by the Space Foundation and held at the luxurious Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs from April 11-14, gathered industry leaders from across the globe to meet and “explore the most important – and timely – issues confronting [the space] industry” and the future of space exploration. After following the first two days of the conference on Twitter (#NSS27), on Wednesday I decided to drive the 77.3 miles south to do some exploring of my own.

Upon arrival in the early afternoon, registration was the first order of business since no admittance was allowed without a badge. With my media credentials proudly draped around my neck, I marched to the exhibit hall to begin my exploration.

Stepping into the Boeing Exhibit Center North, seeing 70 exhibitors of everything space related, sent me spiraling into the biggest space-rush of my life. All the major players were there: NASA, NOAA, ATK, Ball Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne, Raytheon, SpaceX, and many, many more. The flashy exhibits showcased shiny corporate logos surrounded by images of all manner of spacecraft amid the backdrop of space.

OMG! Astro-awesome! OMG! Squee! Squee! OMG! OMG! OMG! There’s really no better way to describe what lay before me. I took a deep breath and walked down the first aisle.

I stopped by any booth in the large exhibit hall where a woman was standing. (You know my agenda. It’s what I do and with whom I wish to speak.) I had a lovely conversation with the communications director of a firm that designs and manufactures aircraft engines and space propulsion systems. She told me of the role her organization has had in “manned” spaceflight. I leaned in and suggested to her that she should say “human” spaceflight. We chatted a while longer and at the end of our conversation she acknowledged that she should be better at saying human spaceflight. That one comment made me feel that my trip was worth the gas, and I’m sure she will follow through.

My favorite exhibit was the 1/3 scale model of a space habitat from Bigelow Aerospace. One reporter tweeted, “The girl in me thought it was basically the coolest dollhouse EVER.” I have to agree. The thought that this model represents housing for future spacefarers made my skin tingle. We live in exciting times and the commercial space industry promises an exciting future.

That future is not without its challenges. Several people I spoke with are concerned with what is perceived as a current lack of direction and purpose within NASA, their largest client. Many are concerned by the final two Space Shuttle missions looming on the horizon and no clear plans for future multi-purpose crew vehicles or space launch systems. I got the sense that many are asking in their corporate board rooms, “What’s next?” As an outsider, I look forward to seeing what that “next” is.

The general crowds at the conference were mostly men, as were the hosts behind the exhibit booths. The commercial space industry needs more women as is simplistically evidenced by the gender disparity in speakers at the 27th NSS.

Featured speakers – 15 total, 2 women or 13.33%
Symposium speakers – 53 total, 13 women or 24.53%
Total speakers – 68 total, 15 women or 22.06%

Space exploration is a human endeavor. I have concerns that the commercial space industry will, though unintentional, leave women behind or, even worse, that women won’t even consider a career in this exciting and out-of-this-world industry.

So, my mission to encourage women to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields continues, especially anything related to space. Space is fun and getting a solid education in STEM subjects may get you a career in the commercial space industry. Study on! And I hope to see you at the 28th National Space Symposium.

See Me Soar, Day 4: Woman Astronomer Links

Sunflower Galaxy in infrared. Image Courtesy NASA/JPL Caltech

It’s Friday, day four on my quest to celebrate each day of National Women’s History Month. For some unknown reason, I just can’t seem to get my act together. So, I’m going to embrace my laziness and today, for your reading pleasure, I’m giving you 10 great websites I like with lots of links on women astronomers. Enjoy!

Women Astronomers at Astronomy Compendium

Women in Planetary Science

She Is an Astronomer

Women and the US Naval Observatory

Wikipedia, Category: Women Astronomers

Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Women in Astronomy

AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy

Distinguished Women of Past and Present, Astronomy

Women in Astronomy – Bio-Notes

Clear skies!

See Me Soar, Day 2: Astronauts

Women astronauts aboard STS131. Image courtesy NASA.

Who doesn’t love NASA? I certainly do! So, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at ratios of women to men within NASA from the profiles and biographies it has listed on the internet. Originally I was going to provide statistics and links to women’s biographies for all the NASA centers and facilities. However, once I started I saw how much work that entails and have decided to break it down over several days. After all, I have a whole month.

Women who actually soar are those incredible women in the astronaut corp. Johnson Space Center, located in Houston, Texas, houses NASA’s mission control center for all space shuttle and International Space Station activities and is also responsible for training astronauts.

After a lot of counting (and lots of coffee), below are the ratios of women to men I found for all astronaut categories listed. The combined total of all categories is provided at the bottom of the list under Johnson Space Center.

Active Astronauts – 17.74% (11 women, 62 total)
Management Astronauts – 21.95% (9 women, 41 total)
Astronaut Candidates – 33.33% (3 women, 9 total) without international candidates, 21.43% (3 women, 14 total) including international candidates
Former Astronauts – 11.52% (25 women, 217 total)
International Astronauts – 14.75% (2 women, 32 total)
Cosmonauts – 2.27% (1 woman, 44 total)
Payload Specialists – 9.3% (4 women, 43 total)
Johnson Space Center – 12.14% (55 women, 453 total)

Yes, the numbers are a little depressing. The one point I’d like to make is that men have been recruited as astronauts a lot longer than women. I think it would be interesting to see a timeline of women to men ratios, but not something I’m able to do at this time. I’m betting the numbers have gotten better with each passing year. On the bright side, take a look at the U.S. candidates where one third is women. That number is certainly better than the astronauts sent from our international partners.

Parity takes time. Equality takes time. It is happening though. We, as women, just need to keep working at it, encouraging young women interested in soaring high, literally and figuratively. In the meantime, when you need some inspiration, read a biography or two of the women role models already blazing the trail to the stars.

Clear skies!