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The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will join in this month’s celebration of Women’s History Month. On March 16, 2016, there were a number of speakers from the STEM concept; the multi-disciplinary aspects of the space agency. STEM is short for the disciplines of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Former astronaut Ellen Ochoa was part of a panel moderated by Goddard’s Deputy Director for Technology and Research Investments, Christyl Johnson. Associate Director for Science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Jo Handelsman was scheduled for the opening remarks. The event was shown live on NASA Television at noon (EDT).
This event highlighted the accomplishments of women at the space agency and was produced in coordination with the White House Council on Women and Girls, whose governing members include cabinet-level federal agency representatives. “With passion and courage, women have taught us that when we band together to advocate for our highest ideals, we can advance our common well-being and strengthen the fabric of our nation,” said President Obama upon establishing the White House Council through an executive order in 2009. The Women@NASA project is an initiative created in response to this executive order and provides an opportunity to celebrate women from across the agency who contribute to its mission.
Sally Ride, a physicist, was the first American woman to fly in space in 1983, and the third in space overall. To date, 49 women have flown for the space agency. The first woman in space was not, however, an American. She was Valentina Tereshkova from the former Soviet Union aboard Vostok 6 in 1963. The accomplishments do not stop there. The Chinese have had two female taikonauts (astronauts) in their space program. In addition to this global diversity, NASA is also fully inclusive. Astronaut Ellen Ochoa is a Latina and Dr. Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman in space. Jemison will be speaking at Appalachian State University on March 30, at a free public event to continue the NASA Celebrating Women program.
In addition to achieving the same accolades as their male counterparts, women have also had their share of tragedy. Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher, and astronaut died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, along with six other crew members. She was the first woman chosen for the Teacher in Space Program, introduced by President Reagan. Women have also had their share of personal life invasion, even after death. While reserved in life, Sally Ride’s personal life was made public, as a result of her obituary in 2012, concerning the partner that she had left behind.
NASA was formed in 1958, by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in response to the launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union. It is the federal agency responsible for the civilian space program coupled with aerospace and aeronautics research. The agency’s longest mission program was the space shuttle, spanning more than 30 years. Future missions being planned include Orion manned rockets and the James Webb Space Telescope. More ambitious goals include missions to the asteroid belt and eventually to Mars, within the next 25 years. In its aerospace and aeronautics science programs and exploration missions, NASA celebrates women.
By Bob Reinhard
Edited by Jeanette Smith and Cathy Milne
NASA: Sally Ride and Valentina Tereshkova: Changing the Course of Human Space Exploration
NASA: NASA History Program Office; Woman@NASA
NASA: President Eisenhower Presents NASA Commissions
WHITE HOUSE PRESS OFFICE: President Obama Announces White House Council on Women and Girls
Image Courtesy of Carla Cioffi and NASA HQ Photo’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License