NASA aims to land the first woman on the moon with its Artemis program… But why?
Monday (April 12) marks the 60th anniversary of manned space flight, or 60th anniversary of the Soviet pilot and cosmonaut. Yuri Gagarin became the first person to go into space on April 12, 1961. Following this historic moment, NASA launched the first American into space and landed the first humans on the moon in just a few short years.
As part of the NASA Apollo program, 12 different astronauts came to the lunar surface. All these rovers had one thing in common: they were all men… In the first decades of the agency’s existence, the cosmonaut’s profile was extremely tough; most of the astronauts were test pilots between the ages of 30 and 30, and they were all white.
Connected: Women pioneers in space: gallery of the first astronauts
Since then, the subtle definition of what it means to be an astronaut has expanded, society as a whole has grown, and gradually this astronaut profile has evolved to include a wider range of qualified space explorers. Now, with the help of NASA’s latest crewed lunar landing program, Artemis, the agency is seeking to bring humans back to the moon’s surface. this time including women…
This step comes more than half a century later agency history and according to NASA’s own astronauts, historians and the agency itself, landing a woman on the moon will not be the ultimate or ultimate achievement for diversity and inclusion in space. However, this is the next natural step.
Why land a woman on the moon?
Retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, a biochemist who has broken all records as an astronaut to become NASA’s first female non-military chief, told Space.com that by covering the work of women in Artemis, she thinks NASA is “trying to help advertise and to promote “Interest in flying to the moon,” she said in an interview.
“I think that going to the moon is the next logical step, and it is necessary to develop the infrastructure necessary for onward travel and flight to Mars,” added Whitson.
“We know that the last time we were on the moon, in the 60s, everyone was human. So we’re fixing a past mistake, ”space flight historian and author Amy Shira Teitel told Space.com. “I think this is to show inclusiveness,” she added of NASA’s deliberate inclusion of women in the anticipated lunar landing.
To some, the upcoming moon landing with the crew of Artemis, which is currently set to occur by 2024, may seem like a gimmick showing the diversity in NASA’s astronaut corps. However, while NASA’s proposal to include a woman among the two people to land on the moon is deliberate, current and former NASA astronauts alike reject the idea that this is a “gimmick.”
This isn’t the first time social media trolls have accused NASA’s growing diversity products of “tricks.” In 2019, NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir conducted first female spacewalk at the International Space Station. This spacewalk was a planned mission to refurbish and repair batteries, but this moment became a headline since spacewalk had never been done with women only before.
But NASA didn’t decide to put them together on purpose to create history, Meir and Koch are just two skilled astronauts who have been merged together because of the spacewalk’s rotation schedule, NASA officials said at the time. This scheduling coincidence is simply the result of more women in the cosmonaut corps.
So, choosing astronauts to land on the moon with Artemis, it’s no surprise that one of them will be a woman. “These women are qualified. And if you’re going to go on a lunar mission, of course one or more of them will be chosen because they are qualified – equally qualified, ”Whitson said.
This opinion is shared by one of the astronauts, who has the qualifications and the right to become the first woman to set foot on the moon.
“NASA didn’t say,“ Our mission is to land a woman on the moon, ”NASA astronaut Nicole” Duke “Mann, a test pilot and member of NASA’s Artemis team, told Space.com. “Our mission is to return to the Moon for extended lunar operations as part of the Artemis mission. And I think the reality is that the Astronaut Office is incredibly diverse these days, and it includes women. And so it’s just a natural function of this variety. ”
“We recognize that with different backgrounds, different genders, different religions, different experiences, I think it’s all coming together to make us a more capable agency,” Mann added.
And NASA itself seems to agree with that.
“Today, women make up a significant proportion of all aspects of NASA’s workforce, both in terms of mission capability and personnel diversity,” Vanessa Veech, associate director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, told Space.com in a statement to Space.com via email. mail. “The last two astronaut classes selected also included the highest percentage of women in history, 50 percent for the 2013 class and 45 percent for the 2017 class. As we increase the diversity of our astronaut corps in Generation Artemis, we look forward to “the first woman to walk on the moon and inspire women and girls from around the world,” added Vich.
It is logical to assume that the more women become astronauts, the more women will take part in missions such as the landing of Artemis on the moon. However, the fact that landing is still being discussed through a gender lens – a “woman” landing on the moon, not just an “astronaut” – shows a clear gender inequality that still exists.
Some have even suggested that highlighting the role of women in this program might be a disservice, as it might “other” them.
“By separating a woman, it turns out that the woman is ‘different’ – that she is not here because she deserves a place on the mission, she is there because we said we were going to send the woman to the moon,” Teitel said.
“Obviously I’ll be a lot happier when we get to the point where sex isn’t part of the problem … [when] all can be represented equally and that is based on qualifications alone, Whitson said. – The fact that people still pay attention to gender indicates that it is not quite the equality that should be … we are improving, but I still think that we have a place to go … NASA is very working hard on it. And I think this [Artemis] this is just one of their ways to promote what they are trying to do. “
However, as Whitson said, we have things to do. While more women are becoming astronauts, women still make up only about 10% of NASA’s astronaut corps. In addition, both the astronaut community and the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) continue to experience a lack of diversity and inclusion, as well as serious obstacles for people of color, those in LGBTQ + communities and others from the marginalized. groups.
In fact, there have only been 15 black astronauts who have ever flown into space, compared to over 360 Americans who have flown into space, and there have been no astronauts in history who openly appeared as part of the LGBT community.
So, while in the future we may not see headlines about women astronauts getting things done – rather, we’ll just watch astronauts do their jobs – we haven’t gotten there yet.
“I think that ideally we are going to live in a world someday where there will be no news that all women are going out into outer space; that they do not make it into the news that a woman is walking on the moon, because it doesn’t matter. It’s a human being, ”Mann said.“ I hope we get there someday, [but] we’re not there yet. “
The reality right now is that gender inequalities and many other inequalities exist in the world and during space travel. For these reasons, it remains important to highlight the successes and achievements of women and marginalized groups in space travel (and in all areas of science, science and technology), as it shows the younger generation what is possible for them.
Connected: 20 women innovators in astronomy and astrophysics
If we look back at the Apollo moon landings, they inspired many for decades, but not everyone can see themselves represented in the astronaut group of that era, or even in the vast majority of engineers and other NASA staff at the time.
“When a six-year-old saw the moon landing,” Teitel said of the Apollo performance, the little boys were told, “You can do it. You can be an engineer, you can be a pilot, while a little girl watching, which is probably telling you that you can be their secretary. “
By observing an increasingly diverse group of astronauts and leaders in space travel, the younger generation can see a future for themselves in space.
“Being able to see someone in this role makes her more accessible,” Whitson said. “I, for example, was inspired when the first guys set foot on the moon, but I don’t really tell a lot of people that this was what I wanted to do when I was growing up. That was until I turned 18 and they selected the first female astronauts, and among them was Shannon Lucid, a biochemist. At the time, I was interested in biology and chemistry, so I thought, well, hey, maybe I can really be [an astronaut]… “
“When someone paved the way, they inspired me to turn it from a dream to a goal, because I’m like, ‘You know, these ladies did it. I could too, ”added Whitson.
“Since we have not yet achieved that, I think it is important to highlight some of these events that are happening,” Mann said, echoing Whitson’s statement. Today’s kids, she added, “they watch it on the Internet, or they read the story about it, or they see it on the news, and when they look at this mission, they can identify with astronauts who are astronauts. part of this command “.
“The United States is leading global efforts and human research, and we are also setting an example of diversity around the world. And so I think it’s worth celebrating personally, ”added Mann.
Email Chelsea Gohd at cgohd@ or follow her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.