The man in the Moon will soon be joined by the woman on the Moon — an idea whose time has come, NASA says.
A half-century after the last human walked on the Moon, NASA has launched a new mission program with the goal that the next lunar footprint be made by a woman.
In a nod to Women’s History Month, as well as the agency’s consistent focus on equal opportunity in its workforce, NASA has named its next lunar program “Artemis,” after Apollo’s mythical twin sister. While the crew for the next Moon landing has not yet been chosen, the overall astronaut team for Artemis is indeed 50/50: nine men and nine women.
Launching a new era
The Artemis program is not only named for a woman but also shaped and run mostly by women.
Its program director is Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, NASA’s first female to serve in that role. The developer of the Space Launch System that will carry the astronauts to the Moon, Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama, is run by Jody Singer, marking another female first for NASA. The space suit those next Moon walkers will wear is being designed by NASA Johnson Space Center engineer Mallory Jennings.
From the ecstasy of the race to the Moon to the agony of failures along the way, few pursuits have united our nation like the space program. Now, the increased diversity of the astronaut corps brings us together all the more. It sends the message that we are stronger and more successful when the whole team participates.
Hanging in the balance
NASA’s “Astronaut Class of 1978” included the first women in the program — Sally Ride, Anna Fisher, Judith Resnik, Kathryn Sullivan, Margaret Rhea, and Shannon Lucid — many of whom went on to achieve their own firsts. In 1983, Ride was the first American woman to fly in space; in 1984, Resnick earned the distinction of being the first Jewish-American in space and Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space; and in 1996, Lucid was the only American woman to serve aboard the Russian Space Station Mir. And how can we pay adequate tribute to schoolteacher Christa McAuliffe, who along with Resnik and five male colleagues, perished in the Challenger disaster of 1986? McAuliffe and Resnick were the first women to give their lives in service to our exploration of new worlds.
In recent years, thanks to NASA’s determination to expand the diversity of the astronaut corps, the last two classes (called cohorts) have been more balanced. The latest graduating cohort in 2017 had a 45/55 percent (five women, seven men) ratio, while the 2013 cohort saw the first gender-equal astronaut cohort, with four men and four women starting NASA astronaut training after one male left the program.
As of May 2020, NASA has 48 “active” astronauts, including 16 women and 32 men, or a corps that is one-third female and two-thirds male.
Making greater strides
The strides continue — even strides in space itself, such as the first all-female spacewalk at the International Space Station carried out in October 2019.
Just this month, NASA flight engineer Kathleen Rubins took her fourth career spacewalk, helping prepare the International Space Station for solar array upgrades.
NASA enthusiastically acknowledges Women’s History Month, noting that “Women at NASA contribute every day to the success of our current missions and pave the way for future generations to reach for the stars.”
NASA’s focus on equal opportunity twins with the Women’s Campaign Fund goal of #5050x2028, or roughly half women and half men in elected offices nationwide by 2028. By mobilizing the extraordinary talent of our nation’s women and men, we will — like NASA’s Artemis — continue to find new worlds to which we can lift our wings.
©2021 Women’s Campaign Fund