To date, 57 women including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists and foreign nationals have flown in space. Our current woman in orbit is NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, working aboard the space station as a flight engineer for Expeditions 36 and 37. While Nyberg lives on the orbiting laboratory for the next six months, she will perform experiments in disciplines that range from technology development, physical sciences, human research, biology and biotechnology to Earth observations. She also will engage students through educational activities in addition to routine vehicle tasks and preparing her crewmates for extravehicular activities, or spacewalks.
I’m ambivalent about this. On one hand, it’s good to show off some role models for young girls. Stay in school, don’t get knocked up in your teens, be an astronaut or a scientist. On the other hand, I’ve seen firsthand where the push to hire more women has resulted in less qualified people being hired, and this sort of press release just gets you an eyeroll.
You want to talk about women in space exploration? How about the woman who earned her chemistry degree in 1935? How about the woman who was told in 1970 she would be let go after her child was born? How about the women who tried to become astronauts before Sally Ride and were turned away because NASA wasn’t ready yet? How about the woman who was told she had no business taking a good job away from a man who needed to support his family? All of these things are as foreign to today’s girls as designated smoking areas for students at my high school or 8-track tapes.
Can’t we just celebrate achievement without classification? To borrow a phrase, I look forward to the day when an engineer is judged by the quality of their designs and analyses, not their gender or the color of their skin.