Extraterrestrial Parity

mM1QPvMWhen I was younger, I wanted to go to space.

I mean, it was tough not too. Whether it was watching The Right Stuff, reading astronaut books or catching shuttle launches and landings, it was all space, all the time. Where I grow up, if you played your cards right, you could hear (and feel) the sonic boom when the shuttle began its final decent across the country to Florida.

And as a young boy, it was easy to dream of becoming an astronaut. After all, all of my heroes looked like me. In fact, it wasn’t until Sally Ride’s 1983 voyage on Challenger that a woman flew in space with an American flag on her spacesuit. By the way, the Russians are the real extraterrestrial feminists; Valentina Tereshkova flew in space aboard Sputnik almost exactly 50 years ago today (interesting and brief article on Tereshkova here).

So I read this article with interest the other day. In NASA’s latest astronaut class, there is gender parity. 4 men, 4 women. According the article:

“NASA has selected another generation of astronauts to travel to new destinations in the solar system, including an asteroid and Mars, and for the first time in its history half of the new candidates are women.

Four out of the eight candidates are women, ‘making this the highest percentage of female astronaut candidates ever selected for a class,’ the US space agency said.

The new space explorers, drawn from among 6,000 applicants, are all in their 30s, according to NASA. New astronauts will begin with a two-year general orientation training and a flight mission to low-Earth orbit afterwards.

‘We have great female candidates in the pool this year. The selection is about qualifications. It has nothing to do with their genders,’ said Jay Bolden, public affairs officer at NASA.”

Bravo, NASA. If that’s true, it’s as it should be. Astronauts should in fact be chosen by their qualities. It would be great if one day that was the common practice across the culture.

It will be interesting to see what happens with this astronaut class and the ones to follow. Decades after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, it’s entirely possible that the first words heard from Mars will be:

“That’s one small step for a woman…”

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