5 April 2010

Four Women in Space at the Same Time

Today marks the day when more women than ever before are working in space.  

Four women will rendezvous at the International Space Station - the largest ever gathering of women in space.

Today may be just a footnote when people look back in a thousand years but it is possibly the day historians note as the day when gender equality in spaceflight finally became a reality.  

So, who are these women in space making history?  

Take a look at these remarkable women as Mission STS-131 gets properly underway.

Tracey E Caldwell Dyson
Arriving at the International Space Station yesterday on board the Russian Capsule, Tracey E Caldwell Dyson is a chemist by training.  She is a Ph.D and has been working at NASA in a variety of roles including working with the Russian Federal Space Agency.  She has been up in a shuttle before (Endeavour) back in 2007.  

She is California born and – consequently perhaps not unsurprisingly – is the lead singer for an all astronaut rock and roll band, Max Q.  Born in 1969 she was selected by NASA back in 1998.  She has worked closely with the Russians throughout her career – in 1998 she was a Russian Crusader and helped to test and integrate Russian hardware and Software for the International Space Station.  In 2003 she was transferred to the Astronaut Shuttle Operations Branch and hit space in 2007 on the 119th space shuttle flight.  

She is one of the few people on the planet to have celebrated her birthday (number 38 to be exact) in space.  Caldwell just happens to be the first astronaut born after Apollo 11 – which we only hope has brought her – and will continue to do so – lots of luck above the atmosphere.

Stephanie Wilson

Give yourself a slap if you just whispered the word Uhura under your breath.  Stephanie Diana Wilson is the second African American woman to go in to space, flying her first mission on Independence Day 2006 (Mission STS-121 to be exact). Born in 1966 and a native of Boston, she is an engineering scientist – her BSc at Harvard and her Masters at the University of Texas.  

NASA came calling in 1996 and did two years of training, qualifying as a mission specialist.  At first she performed technical duties in the AOSSOB (Astronaut Office Space Station Operations Branch – we knew you would look it up otherwise).  Then it was over to Mission Control as a prime-communicator with on-orbit crews.  This is her third mission in to space, the second being to deliver a connection module to the ISS.  Known as STS-120 she covered the 6.25 million mile round trip in fifteen days.  

Wilson is married but has no children at the moment – a shame if only because then they could say they had the coolest mum on earth – and in space.  This mission’s primary payload is the Multi-Purpose Logistics Module for the ISS, extremely important indeed.

Naoko Yamazaki
Yamazaki does have a daughter, so there is one kid who can look up from their bedroom window this evening and say goodnight to their Mom in space.  Living testimony to how far the American-Japanese relationship has come in fifty years, she is a JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut.    

She was born in Matsudo City and graduated from the University of Tokyo with a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 1996.  She was selected by JAXA in 1999 and has been an astronaut since 2001.  She has also trained as a flight engineer in Star City, Russia and taken part in the development of the hardware and operation of the Japanese Experiment Module of the ISS.  All this is pretty cool, of course, but there is more.  

In Japan there is an anime TV series known as Rocket Girls – which began airing in 2007.  Produced with JAXA’s assistance, Yamazaki appeared as herself in episode seven.  Well, we say appeared – it’s a cartoon after all, but she voiced herself.  She was born in 1970 which would perhaps make you think that she will be the youngest woman on the mission.  You would be wrong.

Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger

A former schoolteacher, Metcalf-Lindenburger (who is known as ‘Dottie’ as her friends – not the best nickname to have on a space mission, but there you go) is the youngest of the four women in space, being born in 1975.  She is an Educator Mission Specialist – which is possibly the coolest job in the world if you can’t actually be a full on astronaut.  

The job is designed to spur excitement among the youth of today in maths, science and all things spacey and exploratory.  In order to get there she had to go through some serious training – some of which looks like glorious fun.  She has a Bachelor from Whitman College, Washington in Geology which she received in 1997.  She has been with NASA since 2004 where she started out as an Astronaut Candidate.  She completed this in 2006 after shuttle, ISS, physiological, flight, water and wilderness and survival training.  

It’s a wonder she has the energy to go in to space to be frank.  Before assignment on this mission she served as technical support within the Astronaut Office.  Possibly her coolest moment came in July 2009 when she sang the US National Anthem at the Houston Astros V St Louis Cardinals game to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Astronaut Training Image Credit

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Space Shuttle Concept Art of the 1960s and 1970s
The idea of a spacecraft returning from space to a horizontal landing had been around for decades before the first operational space shuttle flight in 1982. A proposal had been submitted to NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, NASA’s predecessor) in 1954, just eight years after the Second World War. That proposal would ultimately become the X-15 aircraft but classified studies in to the next generation of space transportation systems continued.  Here is a very cool collection of the concept art used in planning what would be the Space Shuttle.