Valentina’s Day, T-29, #WomanAstroHistoryMystery

Serova, Elena - NASASince we’re counting down to Valentina’s Day, I thought I would highlight Tereshkova’s comrades, of which there were only three as of November 2013. Oh, wait! Did a quick check online and there are a total of six cosmonauts as of September 2012, according to NASA’s Women In Space page.

More checking and I came across the Smithsonian’s Air and Space magazine with an article (link below) about Elena Serova published September 2014. It states that Elena was the fourth cosmonaut. So which one is right? Who are the other two women listed on the NASA site? And there’s two ways to spell Serova’s first name?

Like I was saying, there were three. That I know of. But, but NASA’s page…

It’s a #WomanAstro history mystery. I run across this all the time when I do research on the internet. Unfortunately, it’s where today’s youth goes for their information. If I get befuddled by what I find, I can only imagine the challenges for young girls interested in space. What about women’s history in other scientific disciplines? I’m not sure I want to know.

And we’re back to three (because it’s getting late). I’ve provided three links for each. I hope you enjoy!

So that’s how it goes for today. I’m obviously doing this by the seat of my pants and it is full of surprises. I haven’t studied astronauts/cosmonauts as I have women astronomers, so a lot of this is new to me. And in case you didn’t notice, not a lot of planning went into this. Okay, I didn’t plan anything. I just jumped right in. Sometimes that’s what you have to do.

Valentina’s Day, T-30, #GirlsWithToys

Mercury 13, NASA

Seven of the Mercury 13 on March 23, 2008. From left to right: Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman. Image Courtesy of NASA

Yesterday you were invited to celebrate the First Annual Valentina’s Day to commemorate the accomplishments of #WomenInSpace. I shared the invitation on Twitter, and the Twitterverse exploded!

No, not because of Valentina’s Day, but because #GirlsWithToys was trending. This lively hashtag resulted from an interview by NPR with Shrinivas Kulkarni, a California Institute of Technology professor.

“‘Many scientists, I think, secretly are what I call ‘boys with toys,'” [Kulkarni] says. “I really like playing around with telescopes. It’s just not fashionable to admit it.'”

Apparently it is “fashionable to admit it” because women scientists from many disciplines posted plenty of pictures to prove it. After seeing them, I have great hope for the future of women in science. It’s just a shame though that it takes getting their lab coats in a twist to get the respect they earned.

As for The Mercury 13 from yesterday’s entry, they certainly didn’t get what they deserved, to fly to space. Let’s not forget who they are.

To commemorate them in this blog, here’s the list of these incredible women from Wikipedia.

  1. Myrtle Cagle
  2. Jerrie Cobb
  3. Janet Dietrich[1]
  4. Marion Dietrich[1]
  5. Wally Funk
  6. Sarah Gorelick (later Ratley)
  7. Janey Hart (née Briggs)
  8. Jean Hixson
  9. Rhea Hurrle (later Allison, then Woltman)
  10. Gene Nora Stumbough (later Jessen)
  11. Irene Leverton
  12. Jerri Sloan (née Hamilton, later Truhill)
  13. Bernice Steadman (née Trimble)

Notice anything? Only six have their own entry in Wikipedia. If you go to the pages that do have a link, there’s missing information. When I research women’s histories, sometimes it feels like I am watching their stories fade into the sunset. There is still so much work to be done.

And that’s why we need Valentina’s Day! Women in science do not get the recognition they deserve, nor do girls get the role models in science they need. Let’s change that!

P.S. – For your convenience, I googled the missing women. I’ve linked to sites I found interesting and hope you do too. Enjoy!

  1. Myrtle Cagle
  2. Sarah Gorelick (later Ratley)
  3. Jean Hixson
  4. Rhea Hurrle (later Allison, then Woltman)
  5. Gene Nora Stumbough (later Jessen)
  6. Irene Leverton
  7. Jerri Sloan (née Hamilton, later Truhill)

On The Shelf: The Messier Album

Charles Messier's emblem.

As I pack my books in anticipation of moving next month, I realize what a great collection I have. My dear tomes live on two tall bookshelves, five shelves each. One bookshelf is dedicated entirely to science fiction, a lot of which I still need to read; the other holds my non-fiction. I thought I would share with you some of my favorite books about the science I love so much as a way to ignite the astronomy bug for those who may not know where to start.

If you are a novice to observing, one of the must-have books is The Messier Album, written by John H. Mallas and Evered Kreimer. First published in 1978 by Sky Publishing Corp (they also publish Sky & Telescope magazine), this book had its fifth printing in 1994 and now is only available from Amazon.com used resellers.

Why would I cherish such an old book about the Messier objects when there are newer ones with prettier images taken by bigger and better telescopes? I’ll admit I’m a little sentimental about this book, my primary reference when I first observed the glorious gems of the northern hemisphere. Night after star-filled night my little tome sat by my side during my quest for my Messier certificate from the Astronomical League.

During the day at many a star party, I would peruse my little companion for the objects I intended to bag after dusk. I read the “basic data,” “NGC description,” and “visual appearance” for each of the 110 Messier objects. I studied the black-and-white photographs and, sitting at my telescope after dark, I compared what I saw to the drawings made by Mallas.

Users of small telescopes will get the most benefit from The Messier Album. Mallas used a 4-inch f/15 Unitron refractor for his observations and his drawings offer an accurate view of what can be seen through a smaller aperture scope by the human eye. Trying to compare an object seen through a small telescope to the fabulous color pictures from light buckets like Hubble is nearly impossible for the novice.

Also included in The Messier Album are essays written by Owen Gingerich titled “Messier and His Catalogue” and “Hints for Beginning Observers,” as well as a checklist, a chapter on Mallas’ and Kreimer’s process, additional reading, and “Messier’s Own Catalogue” which is written in French. The best thing about this little book as an observing aide is that it’s available for as little as $2.38US from Amazon.com.

With today’s technology, you can spend hours searching the Internet for lists, photographs, and data about Messier’s objects. I even found an Android app that looks interesting. To be honest though, I’d much rather be sitting at the eyepiece with a red-lensed flashlight and my little book in hand.

Women of the UofA Lunar Planetary Lab

Commencement time at my alma mater, the University of Arizona (UofA), always brings to mind my wonderful tenure in Tucson. It also reminds me that there are not enough women in astronomy and planetary science; all of my professors in these subjects were men.

Today I would like to highlight the women faculty members of the Lunar Planetary Lab at the UofA. You can click on each name to be directed to their web site for more information about their research at the UofA.

Caitlin Griffith – Professor, Planetary atmospheres. I had the pleasure of hearing her at one of several talks given by the department on current research about Titan. Something you may not know is that she was in Thailand during the 2004 Indian earthquake.

Renu Malhotra – Professor, Solar system dynamics.

Ilaria Pascucci – Assistant Professor, Planetary formation and evolution.

Tamara Rogers – Professor, Planetary atmospheres.

Elizabeth Roemer – Professor Emerita, Comets, minor planets; astrometry.

Marcia Neugebauer – Research Scientist (Adjunct). Her website at the UofA is limited, so check out the UANews article Physicist Honored for Discoveries About the Sun and Wikipedia here.

Elisabetta Pierazzo – Lecturer (Adjunct). Her website at the UofA is limited, so please check out her page at the Planetary Science Institute.

Elizabeth P. Turtle – Assistant Research Scientist (Adjunct). Again, she has a limited website at the UofA, so find out more about her here. I also had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Turtle speak on several occasions, including during my “Mars” class, at the local astronomy club, and other talks at the UofA. She is definitely one of my favorite women astronomers.

And, because I just can’t help myself, I noticed that out of the 52 individuals listed on the faculty index at the Lunar Planetary Lab, there are eight women, a mere 15.38% of the total. Is there a problem there? I don’t know. What I do know is that in the majority of the classes I attended, the ratio of women/men students seemed to be fairly even.

While writing this blog, I also searched the web for additional information on these women. The lack of biographical information is, to say the least, discouraging. Why? Because they are doing tremendous work in an exciting field and they are role models, yet even today their stories are not readily available.

It seems to me that this could be a core issue with the problems surrounding girls and STEM. Any thoughts?

Space Needs Women

Debra Davis standing in front of Boeings X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle on display at the 27th National Space Symposium.

This week the 27th National Space Symposium, sponsored by the Space Foundation and held at the luxurious Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs from April 11-14, gathered industry leaders from across the globe to meet and “explore the most important – and timely – issues confronting [the space] industry” and the future of space exploration. After following the first two days of the conference on Twitter (#NSS27), on Wednesday I decided to drive the 77.3 miles south to do some exploring of my own.

Upon arrival in the early afternoon, registration was the first order of business since no admittance was allowed without a badge. With my media credentials proudly draped around my neck, I marched to the exhibit hall to begin my exploration.

Stepping into the Boeing Exhibit Center North, seeing 70 exhibitors of everything space related, sent me spiraling into the biggest space-rush of my life. All the major players were there: NASA, NOAA, ATK, Ball Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne, Raytheon, SpaceX, and many, many more. The flashy exhibits showcased shiny corporate logos surrounded by images of all manner of spacecraft amid the backdrop of space.

OMG! Astro-awesome! OMG! Squee! Squee! OMG! OMG! OMG! There’s really no better way to describe what lay before me. I took a deep breath and walked down the first aisle.

I stopped by any booth in the large exhibit hall where a woman was standing. (You know my agenda. It’s what I do and with whom I wish to speak.) I had a lovely conversation with the communications director of a firm that designs and manufactures aircraft engines and space propulsion systems. She told me of the role her organization has had in “manned” spaceflight. I leaned in and suggested to her that she should say “human” spaceflight. We chatted a while longer and at the end of our conversation she acknowledged that she should be better at saying human spaceflight. That one comment made me feel that my trip was worth the gas, and I’m sure she will follow through.

My favorite exhibit was the 1/3 scale model of a space habitat from Bigelow Aerospace. One reporter tweeted, “The girl in me thought it was basically the coolest dollhouse EVER.” I have to agree. The thought that this model represents housing for future spacefarers made my skin tingle. We live in exciting times and the commercial space industry promises an exciting future.

That future is not without its challenges. Several people I spoke with are concerned with what is perceived as a current lack of direction and purpose within NASA, their largest client. Many are concerned by the final two Space Shuttle missions looming on the horizon and no clear plans for future multi-purpose crew vehicles or space launch systems. I got the sense that many are asking in their corporate board rooms, “What’s next?” As an outsider, I look forward to seeing what that “next” is.

The general crowds at the conference were mostly men, as were the hosts behind the exhibit booths. The commercial space industry needs more women as is simplistically evidenced by the gender disparity in speakers at the 27th NSS.

Featured speakers – 15 total, 2 women or 13.33%
Symposium speakers – 53 total, 13 women or 24.53%
Total speakers – 68 total, 15 women or 22.06%

Space exploration is a human endeavor. I have concerns that the commercial space industry will, though unintentional, leave women behind or, even worse, that women won’t even consider a career in this exciting and out-of-this-world industry.

So, my mission to encourage women to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields continues, especially anything related to space. Space is fun and getting a solid education in STEM subjects may get you a career in the commercial space industry. Study on! And I hope to see you at the 28th National Space Symposium.

See Me Soar, Day 4: Woman Astronomer Links

Sunflower Galaxy in infrared. Image Courtesy NASA/JPL Caltech

It’s Friday, day four on my quest to celebrate each day of National Women’s History Month. For some unknown reason, I just can’t seem to get my act together. So, I’m going to embrace my laziness and today, for your reading pleasure, I’m giving you 10 great websites I like with lots of links on women astronomers. Enjoy!

WomanAstronomer.com

Women Astronomers at Astronomy Compendium

Women in Planetary Science

She Is an Astronomer

Women and the US Naval Observatory

Wikipedia, Category: Women Astronomers

Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Women in Astronomy

AAS Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy

Distinguished Women of Past and Present, Astronomy

Women in Astronomy – Bio-Notes

Clear skies!
Debra

See Me Soar, Day 3: Charlotte Emma Moore Sitterly

Charlotte Emma Moore Sitterly. Image courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives.

“In complete ignorance of the requirements needed for this job, I reported for duty and was cordially received, but without fanfare assigned my first task, the photographic determination of the position of the moon.”

So began the career of Charlotte Moore upon graduating from Swarthmoore College in 1920. As was the case for many woman astronomers in that era, she was a “mathematics computer” for Princeton University, tasked with making calculations used in astronomical research. It was “women’s work” dating back to The Harvard Computers. While at Princeton, Moore worked with Henry Norris Russell, the co-developer of the Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram.

After five years at Princeton, Moore moved to California to work at Mount Wilson Observatory researching solar spectra. In 1928, she returned to Princeton for a year before resigning to continue her education at the University of California at Berkley. Upon completion, she again worked with Russell at Princeton on atomic spectra.

It was during this period that Moore met her husband, Dr. Bancroft Walker Sitterly, an astronomer, physicist, and faculty member at Wesleyan University. They married on May 30, 1937. The couple did not have any children and remained married until his death in 1977.

In 1945, after recommendation from Russell, Moore went to work at the National Bureau of Standards in the Spectroscopy Section of the Atomic Physics Division. This work culminated in Atomic Energy Levels, volumes published from 1949 to 1958, which were “the definitive reference sources used for decades in such fields as astronomy, laser physics, and spectral chemistry.”

Moore received many awards during her long career, including:

1937 – Annie J. Cannon Prize
1951 – Silver Medal, Department of Commerce
1960 – Gold Medal, Department of Commerce
1961 – Federal Woman’s Award, U.S. Civil Service Commission
1963 – Annie Jump Cannon Centennial Medal, Wesley College
1966 – Career Service Award, National Civil Service League
1968 – Honorary Doctorate, Universitat zu Kiel, Germany
1972 – William F. Meggers Award, Optical Society of America
1990 – Bruce Medalist, Astronomical Society of the Pacific

Moore was born on September 24, 1898 in Ercildoun, Pennsylvania. Her parents were George Winfield Moore, a school superintendent, and Elizabeth Palmer Walton Moore, a schoolteacher. Moore worked until her death at age 91 on March 3, 1990 from heart failure at her home in Washington, D.C.

Other links:

Charlotte E. Moore
Charlotte E. Moore Biography
Sitterly, Charlotte Emma Moore
Charlotte Emma Moore Sitterly
Charlotte Moore Sitterly

See Me Soar, Day 2: Astronauts

Women astronauts aboard STS131. Image courtesy NASA.

Who doesn’t love NASA? I certainly do! So, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at ratios of women to men within NASA from the profiles and biographies it has listed on the internet. Originally I was going to provide statistics and links to women’s biographies for all the NASA centers and facilities. However, once I started I saw how much work that entails and have decided to break it down over several days. After all, I have a whole month.

Women who actually soar are those incredible women in the astronaut corp. Johnson Space Center, located in Houston, Texas, houses NASA’s mission control center for all space shuttle and International Space Station activities and is also responsible for training astronauts.

After a lot of counting (and lots of coffee), below are the ratios of women to men I found for all astronaut categories listed. The combined total of all categories is provided at the bottom of the list under Johnson Space Center.

Active Astronauts – 17.74% (11 women, 62 total)
Management Astronauts – 21.95% (9 women, 41 total)
Astronaut Candidates – 33.33% (3 women, 9 total) without international candidates, 21.43% (3 women, 14 total) including international candidates
Former Astronauts – 11.52% (25 women, 217 total)
International Astronauts – 14.75% (2 women, 32 total)
Cosmonauts – 2.27% (1 woman, 44 total)
Payload Specialists – 9.3% (4 women, 43 total)
Johnson Space Center – 12.14% (55 women, 453 total)

Yes, the numbers are a little depressing. The one point I’d like to make is that men have been recruited as astronauts a lot longer than women. I think it would be interesting to see a timeline of women to men ratios, but not something I’m able to do at this time. I’m betting the numbers have gotten better with each passing year. On the bright side, take a look at the U.S. candidates where one third is women. That number is certainly better than the astronauts sent from our international partners.

Parity takes time. Equality takes time. It is happening though. We, as women, just need to keep working at it, encouraging young women interested in soaring high, literally and figuratively. In the meantime, when you need some inspiration, read a biography or two of the women role models already blazing the trail to the stars.

Clear skies!
Debra

I Am Woman, See Me Soar!

Harvard "Computers", image courtesy Harvard University.

Today begins National Women’s History Month in the United States, as declared by presidential proclamation. This month we recognize and honor the accomplishments of women throughout the ages which will, in turn, empower our daughters with endless possibilities for their future.

In 1970, Helen Reddy released the song I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar, a thunderous statement on the women’s liberation movement. It was a time when women were burning their bras, freely expressing their sexuality, and moving out of the kitchen into the workplace. After 40 years, Reddy’s lyrics still rings true, we still have “a long, long way to go.”

As I am writing this blog, the White House also released Women In America: Indicators of Social And Economic Well Being, the first such report since 1963. Women have made great strides and today many women hold powerful positions in careers once solely the domain of men. There is still, however, much work to be done and the space sciences are no exception.

The one question from young girls I’ve received over the years that has caused me the most dismay is, “Who was the first woman on the Moon?” It always makes me sad to answer, “No woman has ever been there.” I still have hope that, within my lifetime, there will be a different reply: that I will be able to answer with the name of the first woman to have taken that step.

Unfortunately, women and girls still lag behind men in STEM subjects and careers, for a variety of reasons which will not be discussed today. What I will say is that I have long believed in the need for more role models for girls, especially in the sciences. It’s why I started WomanAstronomer.com.

So, in celebration of Women’s History Month, I will be blogging and tweeting about the amazing women in space, planetary science, and astronomy. I invite you to join me in celebrating the accomplishments of these wonderful women, to spread the word of their incredible work. (If you know of someone I should include, please let me know.)

First up is Lori B. Garver, Deputy Administrator of NASA. You can check out her biography here, which also has links to follow her on Facebook and Twitter. I think she is a truly inspirational woman and a role model for anyone, especially girls, interested in space.

With the recent surge of activity in the commercial space industry, the future holds even more opportunities for women in the space sciences, the chance to work on spacecraft, to design systems for humans in space, to find planets orbiting distant stars, “to go where no one has gone before.” My generation was “I am woman, hear me roar.” Your generation can be…I am woman, see me SOAR!

Clear skies!
Debra

Engaging Girls: From Science Fiction to Science Fact

Is the leaky pipeline of women in science an opportunity knocking? I think so. And I’d like to offer a suggestion on what these women can do instead of giving up on science and allowing their hard-earned educations to go to waste. Write science fiction for girls!

During a recent trip to my local library, I ambled over to the children’s section in search of science fiction that would appeal to 10-year old girls. I asked the pregnant librarian sitting behind the help desk for some authors’ names currently popular with kids. She stood up, confessing she didn’t know any that were specifically targeted at girls.

The helpful librarian then escorted me down the aisles of books, pointing out sci-fi selections. I suspect her suggestions were rendered more from the “Science Fiction” decal on the book spine than from specific knowledge of what kids actually liked. At the end of our stroll, she referred me to a pamphlet listing science fiction children’s books compiled by the local library system. For good measure, I also picked up the pamphlet for fantasy books. Once on my own, I searched for titles using the sci-fi pamphlet.

The path to my affection for the wonders of the night sky began on the steps of science fiction when I was a young Army brat living in Germany. Before I could read, before my family owned a black-and-white television, and well before I had any inkling of what was beyond my small world, I fell in love with space during Saturday morning matinees.

To be honest, I don’t remember a single movie. What I do remember are Flash Gordon episodes shown before the feature attraction. I distinctly recall watching the heroic Flash with his fair damsel companion Dale Arden by his side, the brilliant Dr. Zarkov, and the evil Emperor Ming. Their exploits enthralled my young mind. But what I remember most vividly is the rocket ship flying through the sky, with strange crackling noises and spitting fire. These now-silly images formed my first thoughts of the possibility of visiting another planet.

A year after we returned stateside, and with a television now in our house, I fell in love with the weekly adventures of the Robinson family in Lost In Space. The show also was a favorite of my girlfriend across the street and it didn’t take long before our play of choice was re-enacting Lost In Space episodes. To this day, I remember our game playing always began with deciding who would be Judy. She was the pretty one and, back in the 60s, that’s what mattered to young girls.

The science fiction book bug really didn’t bite until I was out of high school and living on my own. I joined the Science Fiction Book Club and remember reading my first sci-fi novel, Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. I was infected. I wanted to read more stories about other worlds and, more importantly, I wanted to write science fiction. I then began reading books on how to write the genre. The single most important lesson learned from the many how-to books I read stated that, and I paraphrase, “to write science fiction, you need to know science fact.” I took that statement to heart and began a new chapter in my life.

When I returned home from the library with my four selections of children’s science fiction, I took a closer look at the pamphlets. Actually, I did what anyone interested in science would do. I analyzed them. For the sci-fi pamphlet which offered 29 suggestions, 17 books had boys as the protagonist, eight had a boy/girl combination, and only four had a girl as the main character. The pamphlet of fantasy books offered a more balanced gender distribution, though some of the characters were creatures, not humans: 12 girls; 11 boys; and 5 girl/boy combinations.

So, what does this mean? It means that there is an opportunity just waiting to be answered by women who have leaked out of the mainstream of science. It is my hope they will answer the knock, open that door, and take this opportunity. Our girls need you! And, yes, I’m working on a science fiction novel for kids which, I hope, will engage at least one girl to want to know more about science facts.