Reaching for the stars
March 27, 2011 9:30 AM   Subscribe

The Women@NASA website was developed to encourage more young women to pursue careers in math, science, and technology. Through a collection of videos and articles, the Women@NASA project shares the stories of 32 women across the agency who contribute to NASA’s mission in many ways.
posted by Horace Rumpole (31 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
And only one of them is an actual astronaut, which I guess tells us everything we need to know about today's NASA.

Of course there are many great opportunities to work at NASA but I am totally puzzled as to why championing space exploration as a career to young girls has been massively ignored. Why not have the male astronauts talk about it? Or is that taboo because they're men?

NASA's mission is space exploration, to which, it seems, young girls should not aspire.
posted by gsh at 9:54 AM on March 27, 2011

gsh, I think the point was to emphasize the diversity of potential careers for women at NASA. Only a tiny percentage of NASA's employees actually go into space.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 10:01 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hm. I wonder if the 30 women they've chosen are an accurate representation of the actual workforce demographics, or if it's skewed to show a greater number of minorities. I also wonder how I'd go about finding that out.
posted by elizardbits at 10:03 AM on March 27, 2011

Sorry not to see my friend on the list. Not an astonaut, but she's been on the the ISS and the Discovery.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:06 AM on March 27, 2011

Negative nancy much, gsh? I think it's absolutely amazing they took the time and effort to interview all of these women and set up this site and wish more high-profile tech companies would do the same.

NASA does much more than space exploration. And besides, I'd much rather find out that the majority of women at NASA are doing intensive lab work to better our technologies instead of the physical and mental preparations of space travel itself - not to say I don't appreciate our efforts in space; I admire those brave enough to go into our shuttles -- but I find the work done at home much more fascinating and inspiring.

A former co-worker of mine was a female NASA intern-turned-employee some years ago. She had some great stories.
posted by june made him a gemini at 10:07 AM on March 27, 2011

Something bothering you gsh?

Hm. I wonder if the 30 women they've chosen are an accurate representation of the actual workforce demographics, or if it's skewed to show a greater number of minorities. I also wonder how I'd go about finding that out.

I Googled NASA workforce demographics and got this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:10 AM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Nichelle Nichols spoke before a screening of Porgy and Bess and told the audience when she met Martin Luther King, she let him know she was thinking about leaving Star Trek. His response was" Don't you dare! That's one of the few shows I allow my kids to watch."
posted by brujita at 10:13 AM on March 27, 2011

Astrogyne, mon amour.
posted by hermitosis at 10:14 AM on March 27, 2011

She also told this story in a doc about black astronauts.
posted by brujita at 10:15 AM on March 27, 2011

That's a great interactive chart, Brandon. Based on the "All employees" number, there are 12,282 men and 6,695 women. The average salary is $117k for men and $100k for women. Looking at some of the subfields, there is salary parity in engineering (although not even close to head-count parity).

I think "1330-Space scientist" is the proper OPM code for an astronaut. The numbers there are 243 men, 65 women, with average salaries of $138k and $120k respectively.
posted by autopilot at 10:20 AM on March 27, 2011

gsh, female astronauts make up 26 percent of NASA's astronaut corps. NASA employs 18,000 people, of which only 64 are astronauts (2009's class was nine, including three women). The Women@NASA site is therefore overstating the presence of female astronauts: 1 in 32 women is an astronaut on that page, versus about 1 in 371 in NASA.

(33% women * 18,000 total NASA employees = 5,940 women, about 16 total female astronauts at this time, 5940/16 = 371)
posted by mnemonic at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

(FYI NASA - I am totally willing to be an unpaid intern astronaut. CALL ME.)
posted by elizardbits at 10:22 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

The current Chief of the Astronaut Office is Peggy Whitson, who was the first female commander of the International Space Station.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:35 AM on March 27, 2011

I am totally willing to be an unpaid intern astronaut.

While I was watching NASA TV during an EVA awhile back they referred to someone as "spacewalk choreographer." Now there's the job I want.

I don't have anything specific to say re: females at NASA, astronaut or otherwise, but FYI: For those of you who don't still look down your noses at twitter there's lots of great NASA-related stuff to follow there, beginnning with @NASA itself.

Several astronauts post Pics of the Day taken from the shuttle/ ISS - test your geography knowledge! (Mine is sorely lacking, I've found.)
posted by NorthernLite at 10:48 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

There are 2 astronauts on the page: Caldwell-Dyson and Metcalf-Lindenburger were both in space within the last year.

I trained in the lower ranks of mission control at the same time Ginger Kerrick was training to become a Shuttle flight director (she was a Space Station FD already). She was very cool and had a great mission management style. I think flight directors totally deserve at least the same amount of hero-worship that astronauts get - they're the people who tell astronauts what to do after all :)
posted by casarkos at 11:06 AM on March 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I used to work at NASA and have two young girls. Every damn thing that other people give them as gifts is pink or furry. As much as people hate "thomas the train" I love it since they actually are building things and testing them. I got their boy friend's house and its all cars and trains and block and riding toys.

The process starts at birth and just gets worse as time goes on. Its getting better but there is a still a long way to go.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:54 AM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is cool! These "in praise of diversity" projects can seem cheesy - or even as a kind of whitewash if they don't reflect the reality of the workplace. But nevertheless, a bunch of recent social science studies shows that it's vitally important to present kids with positive role models to counteract negatives like "girls aren't good at math or engineering." So thumbs up from me.
posted by yarly at 11:56 AM on March 27, 2011

It looks like there are astronauts with many different OPM series, including 0801 "Management Astronaut" / "Mission Specialist Astronaut" / "Educator Astronaut", 0861 "Pilot Astronaut", and 1301 "Various titles". These overlap other titles, so mnemonic's numbers are probably better than the ones from the "Workforce profile" dataset.
posted by autopilot at 12:07 PM on March 27, 2011

Not to be a nattering nabob of negativism, but how many of them will be laid off due to Obama's NASA budget cuts? With the space shuttle program ending, many of the more than 13,000 employees and contractors at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center stand to lose their jobs not to mention the thousands of off-site contractors. In FL alone more that 25,000 people face cuts. So I guess it begs the question what is the future of anyone going into space sciences careers?
posted by Gungho at 12:39 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been curious about what happened to that young woman at NASA that had the insight that arsenate was a substitute for phosphate for microbes?
posted by anniecat at 1:22 PM on March 27, 2011

Of course there are many great opportunities to work at NASA but I am totally puzzled as to why championing space exploration as a career to young girls has been massively ignored. Why not have the male astronauts talk about it? Or is that taboo because they're men?

Well, that female astronaut who drove from Houston to Orlando in 9 hours while wearing a diaper to kill another woman who threatened her extramarital affair did get a lot of coverage....for the wrong reasons.

I'm fairly certain they do a lot of PR outreach because they aren't going into space. I heard about that on This American Life. Also, they do a lot of meetings.

And nobody wants to go out in space anymore. For one thing, it's cold and astronaut food is not delicious. Why go out there when you can stay right here and be on American Idol or be a celebrity chef? Or a model? Or work at Google and have access to what sounds like an incredible cafeteria?


Host Ira Glass talks with some real-live NASA astronauts: Cady Coleman, Chris Cassidy, and Marsha Ivins. On average, NASA schedules just a couple of space missions a year. But it employs 95 astronauts. This means that only a tiny percentage of an astronaut's career is actually spent in space, and some never get there. Ira talks with these three astronauts about how they spend the vast majority of their time: on the ground, in an office, doing paperwork. (8 minutes)
posted by anniecat at 1:32 PM on March 27, 2011

This means that only a tiny percentage of an astronaut's career is actually spent in space, and some never get there.

Bruce McCandless was named an astronaut in 1966. He didn't go into space until 1984, but the wait was worth it.

Fred Haise was also named an astronaut in 1966. He was a backup crew member on Apollo 8, the first trip around the moon and Apollo 11, the first to land on the moon. His one trip into space was in 1970 on Apollo 13 and he was going to walk on the moon, but an explosion on the spacecraft nixed that. After serving as back up crew member on Apollo 16, he was set to command Apollo 19, but that flight was canceled.

Some would say Bruce made out better.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:43 PM on March 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, Haise set set to fly the second Shuttle mission to Skylab, but the Shuttle wasn't ready in time and Skylab fell to Earth and burned up. Poor Fred.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:51 PM on March 27, 2011

brujita: Nichelle Nichols

At the San Francisco Star Trek convention earlier this month, she also told a story (thank goodness this blogger has written about it...her memory of Nichols's words is much better than mine)
about how NASA first asked her to recruit women and minorities as astronaut candidates. She wasn't the only one bothered by the Good Ol' Boys Club.

She told them, "If I do this for you, if I take time off from performing, and if I go to all this trouble of recruiting high-caliber men and women of varying races... and we still inexplicably wind up with an all-white, all-male astronaut corps, I will SUE you. I will sue you for my time."
Got a roar of approval from the audience. She's one hell of a class act. Such warmth of personality.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 3:03 PM on March 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

The current Chief of the Astronaut Office is Peggy Whitson, who was the first female commander of the International Space Station.

She is also the astronaut with the all time record for time on orbit. Although she is scheduled to be beaten by Mike Fincke on his upcoming 6 month stay on ISS.
posted by Catfry at 3:39 PM on March 27, 2011

I think you're overlooking Crispin Glover.
posted by brain_drain at 5:13 PM on March 27, 2011

This really is great work by NASA and it's a shame that gsh's absurdly crappy reading of the page is the first comment. Way to denigrate all the hard work.
posted by Justinian at 6:14 PM on March 27, 2011

Ah, right. Because I'm required to agree with and heap praise upon everything per group dictate. Disagreement not allowed. I forgot.

To me, this is very simple: our human-based space exploration program is all but kaput. This is devastating. By only highlighting 1-2 astronauts as role models for girls, this site absolutely sends the message that aspiring to space exploration is not worth their time.

That is a travesty. I love the Mars Rovers as much as any pro-space nerd, but dammit all: I want to see humans walk on the Martian surface.

And if that is not what NASA is about anymore, then fine -- but I refuse to praise them for it.
posted by gsh at 10:00 AM on March 28, 2011


As the Apollo 11 astronauts were returning from the moon, each of them made short comments to the world (printed in full in Collins' book, Carrying the Fire, which I can't recommend enough), thanking the hundreds of thousands people who had worked so hard to the mission a success. Neither Neil Armstrong nor Michael Collins (haven't read Buzz's books yet)thought of themselves as heroes, they were just doing their job and humbled by their place in history.

Yes, it sucks that NASA doesn't have another vehicle lined up, but they're working on it. The US space program survived the end of Apollo and the years of Shuttle delays while Skylab fell back to Earth, when no astronauts flew at all. The program will survive relying on the Russia and maybe Space X for getting astronauts to and from the ISS.

My secret wish is that build another shuttle, but be given the money and direction and latitude to do it right this time, learning from the 30 years of flying shuttles, as opposed to having to make expensive compromises.

That and go back to the moon, build stuff. Then tackle Mars and the asteroid belt.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:24 AM on March 28, 2011

Here's the comments from Apollo 11 that I was talking about:
177:34:44 Collins: Roger. This trip of ours to the Moon may have looked, to you, simple or easy. I'd like to assure you that has not been the case. The Saturn V rocket which put us into orbit is an incredibly complicated piece of machinery, every piece of which worked flawlessly. This computer up above my head has a 38,000-word vocabulary, each word of which has been very carefully chosen to be of the utmost value to us, the crew. This switch which I have in my hand now, has over 300 counterparts in the Command Module alone, this one single switch design. In addition to that, there are myriads of circuit breakers, levers, rods, and other associated controls. The SPS engine, our large rocket engine on the aft end of our Service Module, must have performed flawlessly, or we would have been stranded in lunar orbit. The parachutes up above my head must work perfectly tomorrow or we will plummet into the ocean. We have always had confidence that all this equipment will work, and work properly, and we continue to have confidence that it will do so for the remainder of the flight. All this is possible only through the blood, sweat and tears of a number of people. First, the American workmen who put these pieces of machinery together in the factory. Second, the painstaking work done by the various test teams during the assembly and the re-test after assembly. And finally, the people at the Manned Spacecraft Center, both in management, in mission planning, in flight control, and last but not least, in crew training. This operation is somewhat like the periscope of a submarine. All you see is the three of us, but beneath the surface are thousands and thousands of others, and to all those, I would like to say, thank you very much. [Long pause.]

177:37:52 McCandless: 11, this is Houston. We're getting a good picture of Buzz now, but no voice modulation. And would you open up the f-stop on the TV camera? Try 22, please.

177:38:13 McCandless: That appears to be a lot better now. We're still not receiving Buzz's audio.

177:38:20 Aldrin: Good evening. I'd like to discuss with you a few of the more symbolic aspects of the flight of our mission, Apollo 11. As we've been discussing the events that have taken place in the past 2 or 3 days here on board our spacecraft, we've come to the conclusion that this has been far more than three men on a voyage to the Moon. More, still, than the efforts of a government and industry team. More, even, than the efforts of one nation. We feel that this stands as a symbol of the insatiable curiosity of all mankind to explore the unknown. Neil's statement the other day upon first setting foot on the surface of the Moon, "This is a small step for a man, but a great leap for mankind," I believe sums up these feelings very nicely. We accepted the challenge of going to the Moon; the acceptance of this challenge was inevitable. The relative ease with which we carried out our mission, I believe, is a tribute to the timeliness of that acceptance. Today, I feel we're fully capable of accepting expanded roles in the exploration of space. In retrospect, we have all been particularly pleased with the call signs that we very laboriously chose for our spacecraft, Columbia and Eagle. We've been particularly pleased with the emblem of our flight, depicting the U.S. eagle bringing the universal symbol of peace from the Earth, from the planet Earth to the Moon, that symbol being the olive branch. It was our overall crew choice to deposit a replica of this symbol on the Moon. Personally, in reflecting on the events of the past several days, a verse from Psalms comes to mind to me. "When I consider the heavens, the work of Thy fingers, the moon and the stars which Thou hast ordained, what is man that Thou art mindful of him." [Long pause.]

177:41:42 Armstrong: The responsibility for this flight lies first with history and with the giants of science who have preceded this effort. Next with the American people, who have through their will, indicated their desire. Next, to four administrations, and their Congresses, for implementing that will. And then, to the agency and industry teams that built our spacecraft, the Saturn, the Columbia, the Eagle, and the little EMU; the space suit and backpack that was our small spacecraft out on the lunar surface. We'd like to give a special thanks to all those Americans who built those spacecraft, who did the construction, design, the tests, and put their - their hearts and all their abilities into those craft. To those people, tonight, we give a special thank you, and to all the other people that are listening and watching tonight, God bless you. Good night from Apollo 11. [Long pause.]

177:43:52 McCandless: 11, this is Houston. We're getting a zoom view out the window now. [Long pause.]

177:44:24 Armstrong: Apollo 11, signing off.
I'm looking in Collins book as he recounts this and he's kicking himself for forgetting some people: "Shit, I left out the simulater people and the Cape and a few others, but it's too late now."

NASA is more than just astronauts and the astronauts are keenly aware of that. It makes perfect for NASA to highlight more than just one select group of workers.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:01 PM on March 28, 2011

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