Wednesday, October 17, 2007

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.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

eileen collins last mission was sts 114 july 2005

10:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOVE the title!

1:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to a 1996 web article at

"... the name Lise Meitner has diminished to a footnote ... Otto Hahn ... the expert chemist, carefully separated and processed the radioactive materials; Meitner's job was to explain the nuclear processes going on ...
at the end of 1938, just months after Meitner fled Germany ... Hahn ... more closely analyzed the byproducts of the neutron-bombardment experiments ... the elements weren't heavier than uranium, but lighter. "Perhaps you can come up with some sort of fantastic explanation," Hahn wrote Meitner. ...
Within days, collaborating with her nephew Otto Robert Frisch, also a noted physicist, she worked out a theoretical model of nuclear fission.
Hahn published the chemical evidence for fission without listing Meitner as a co-author ...
With her name missing from the key experimental paper on nuclear fission (previously Meitner and Hahn always shared the credit on their joint efforts), Hahn alone received the 1944 prize for chemistry. ...".

Even though element 109 was named for her, my view is that Lise Meitner is grossly undervalued by almost everyone. Her brilliant insight was the key necessary factor for humans to utilize nuclear energy, and (Nobel or no) she was the most important single human scientist of the 20th Century.

Tony Smith

7:33 PM  
Blogger Kea said...

I was really hoping that Rubin would win the prize this year, especially after recent Dark Matter discoveries. I know things are not going to change in a hurry, but one cannot help but be continually disappointed. And I agree with Tony that Meitner was a great scientist.

9:47 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Tony, Lise Meitner is also a deserving name. There are many! For a student or postdoc to do research her advisor must (1) approve it "The speed of light changing? Get out of here!" then (2) supervise all the research and (3) be first author on any papers. The last two conditions insure that the advisor will get the credit at award time.

8:26 PM  
Blogger Zeynel said...

You may enjoy this article.

3:44 AM  

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