Women on Top
One of the first Moon movies was Fritz Lang's FRAU IM MOND, or "Woman in the Moon." In reality there have been 12 men on the Moon but no women. Returning to the Moon could be justified to correct that omission. This week Peggy Whitson of Expedition 16 ascended via Soyuz as the first Space Station commander who happens to be female. She is pictured with the whip given to her by friends in Kazahkstan. Previously Shuttle mission STS-114 was commanded by Eileen Collins. Discovery's flight to ISS is scheduled for October 23 commanded by Pamela Melroy.
Women have adapted amazingly well to life aboard Space stations. One could propose different reasons why we can share small quarters. Shannon Lucid holds the US endurance record for her 188 days aboard Mir in 1996. Scott Horowitz told me that us fitness types don't adapt well to the confined quarters. Lucid did so well because she is a couch potato!
To become a NASA astronaut a woman must gain experience as a pilot, scientist or both. Today we have a growing number of woman pilots, even in flight test and combat. In science, we see more and more women slowly ascending the ranks. Today in the military and science a woman still encounters sexism or outright harassment. There are still precious few women in the highest ranks of science.
Tuesday's New York Times featured an interview with biologist Cindy Lee Van Dover, the first and only woman to pilot the submersible Alvin. The US Deep Submergence Facility, soon to be retired, is as valuable to science as the Space Shuttle. Observations of deep sea vents show that they could be cradles of life on Earth. Van Dover says the training would be tough for anyone, male or female. On her way to the bottom of science she encountered people who said openly, "You shouldn't be a pilot." She doesn't know why there has never been another woman Alvin pilot.
Shockingly, almost no women have won the Nobel Prize in physics since Marie Curie! Women such as Jocelyn Bell and Rosalind Franklin have done work deserving the Nobel but not received it. Cecilia Payne and Vera Rubin also come to mind. Though there is no Nobel for math, no woman has ever been awarded the Fields Medal. Congratulations to all who have won, but omission of women from the trip to Stockholm ought to be a scandal.
It is logical for society to make maximum use of its human resources. Women with talent in sciences should be encouraged. More effort should be made to promote science careers in general. It is through science that we will solve Earth problems from food to the environment. The wonders of science should not be restricted to an lucky few.
Labels: Space Station