No Girls Allowed? NASA's Gender Inequality


  1. No girls allowed? NASA's gender inequality
  2. Sally Ride's historic ride to space
  3. Starlink - Internet for all...but astronomy for no one?

Today I learned

Cue the Ariana Grande lyrics - "that's one small step for woman, one giant leap for womankind"

A close friend of mine from high school sent me this fascinating article - it discusses all the ways NASA has failed to properly accommodate female astronauts throughout the agency's storied history, more than just their recent spacesuit shortage that derailed the first all female spacewalk (discussed here). From its origins, NASA's first astronauts were all military test pilots, which excluded women from applying, and early spacecraft would've provided no privacy for a mixed gender crew (for example, a female Apollo astronaut would've had nowhere to use the restroom on the cramped Command Module). 

Anna Lee Fisher, one of NASA's first 6 American female astronauts and the first mother in space

But we regularly launch female astronauts to space nowadays, don't we? True, but we still don't know much about the effects of space on the female anatomy. For example, we aren't certain how zero-G affects the menstrual cycle because most female astronauts take contraceptives to suppress their periods. These questions must be answered as NASA transitions towards its next goal of putting the first woman on the Moon as part of the new Artemis Program. 

But the coolest coincidence about this article? It featured a researcher named Adeene Denton, who's two years older than me and went to the same high school I attended! I didn't know her well, but she's now a PhD candidate in Planetary Geoscience at Brown, so she might be just a little bit smarter than I am. I'm a proud Longhorn from the University of Texas, but today my high school (Saint Mary's Hall) steals the show. Go Barons!

This week in space history

Continuing on the topic of women in space, Sally Ride was born on May 26, 1951. Ride shattered barriers by becoming the first American woman in space in 1983, launching on Space Shuttle Challenger for STS-7 as the mission specialist who operated Challenger's robotic arm 

On top of being the first American woman, at age 32 during STS-7 Ride remains the youngest American to go to space

Ride was chosen as part of NASA Astronaut Group 8 in 1978, the first group chosen after the Apollo program and the first to include women. Although she's not the first female in space - the Soviets launched Valentina Tereshkova 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya  in 1982 - she takes the cake in another category. Ride was very private about her personal life, but when she died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, her obituary revealed her same-sex partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy. This makes her the first known LGBT astronaut in history!

NASA's first 6 female astronauts: Sally Ride, Shannon Lucid, Kathy Sullivan, Rhea Seddon, Anna Fisher, and Judy Resnick

Current events

This past week SpaceX launched the first 60 satellites of their planned Starlink constellation, which aims to provide satellite-based Internet to the whole world. Check out the great video below showing the train of satellites being deployed across the night sky. Sounds like a big win right? 

Yes, unless you're an astronomer, in which case you might have reason to worry. Once completed, Starlink will consist of 12,000 satellites, and depending how bright they end up being once they reach their final orbit, they could forever change what the night sky looks like for us on Earth. 

As usual, Elon Musk took to Twitter to share his response, noting that as of now there are 4,900 satellites in orbit that people hardly notice unless they're looking very carefully and know exactly where to search. Plus Starlink satellites are capable of tweaking their orientation to mitigate solar reflection when astronomers are conducting experiments, and they use lower radio frequencies than what would interfere with radio astronomy. So is astronomy safe from SpaceX? We'll see!


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