Wednesday, March 30, 2011

NASA, Not Much Has Changed

NASA, Future, Exploration, Women, Penley

I must admit, I’ve never been a fan of Slash fan-fiction. I don’t necessarily know if I have a good reason for that aside from a belief in the purity of canon in various fiction universes. Basically, I don’t think I would want people rewriting a world I created and although I know many authors don’t feel that way, I tend to impose my offended nature on them.

That being said, Penley’s NASA/TREK was by far my favorite reading of the week and just a very interesting and educational piece. Taken even just as a history of NASA, it was very engaging and I for one did not know that the challenger command capsule was not instantly incinerated in the explosion.

As I was browsing the internet for current news related to the space program I noticed that yesterday was the first publication of photos from the Messenger spacecraft now in Orbit around Mercury and intended to continue taking pictures and scientific readings for the next. While going through NASA’s website I also noticed that it was just a few weeks ago on March 16th that NASA launched the Women@NASA website.

The website is largely a repository of stories of 32 different women working in various fields throughout NASA and its stated goal is to inspire girls everywhere to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The home page for the site ( is layed out with 32 pictures of Women and clicking on them takes you to a story of what they’ve done and a video of them telling it themselves. The stories are nice, and somewhat inspiring, but I kept being disappointed. I read every single story (they are short) and I kept being like “Oh, cool, she studies water collected by the Mars Rover, but I’m really curious about the stories of the astronauts.” And so I kept thinking I was just about to read an astronauts story.

That’s not to say I don’t understand how integral scientists and engineers are to what NASA does but I have to imagine if I was a young girl dreaming of space, I wouldn’t like this website. I would be like “Wait, I know there are women astronauts, what if I want to actually GO to space. Does NASA not let women fly anymore?”

To get the answer to that you have to click on the small words “More Stories” at the top of the page. This takes you to another part of the women@NASA website. A part that is much less graphically pleasing to the eye and is just a list of photos and short job titles about ¼ the size of each photo on the main page. The first astronaut appears here. Eileen Collins is one of the two remaining women pilots at NASA and I don’t understand why her story (which is longer and much more interesting than those on the front pages) is buried.

The end of her interview asks the question I’m sure a lot of people are asking and she seems to want to find a solution:

“We haven’t hired any women pilots since 1995, and I’m wondering where they are,” Collins said. “I know there are qualified women out there who would love to do this job, and I encourage them to look at this job and to realize that I have had an extremely rewarding career with a lot of flexibility. I’m married. I’ve had two children while I was in the astronaut office. In the 16 years I was here, I’ve flown four missions and had two children, and I’ve been able to do that without too much heartache.”

I began writing this entry expecting to talk about how much NASA has changed since Penley wrote her article. However, what I really found is that the idea of Women going to space is a fading dream, one that NASA doesn’t seem to be trying that hard to revive.


Post a Comment