By NATALIA HAWK
You probably don’t give a shit about astronauts. And to be honest – I can’t really blame you.
You’re probably too busy with your everyday life to worry about NASA and things like missions to Mars and what the International Space Station is planning.
Because when you have three children/uni assignments/work deadlines/sick parents/a grumpy partner to contend with, outer space understandably might take a backburner on the list of Things To Care About.
But you need to care about astronauts.
More specifically – you need to care about what NASA just did, because it’s pretty amazing.
You see, last month, NASA announced their 2013 astronaut candidate class. This class is made up of eight people who will join the 49 NASA astronauts that already exist and are working on rather impressive things like missions to asteroids and planets.
Four of those people are women.
Their names are Christina Hammock, Nicole Mann, Anne McClain and Jessica Meir.
NASA didn’t select these women because they had some kind of gender quota to fill. They simply did it because they were the best people for the job. And out of all astronaut candidate classes, that’s the highest percentage of women ever selected in a NASA group.
That might not sound so significant until you consider that…
1) 534 people have travelled to space so far – and only 57 of them have been women.
2) These four women won out over 6300 other applicants. 6300.
And the application process was intense, as you might expect it to be. Just looking at the NASA website, ONE aspect of their training program requires that you be able to swim 3 lengths of a 25m pool in a flight suit and tennis shoes. And that isn’t even taking into account the other mental/physical requirements.
But let’s forget about all that for a second. Let’s look at the achievements of the four women.
Christina has engineering and physics degrees and a masters in electrical engineering, and has spent winters in places such as Antarctica doing research.
Nicole has a mechanical engineering degree and is a qualified pilot in the US Marine Corps, as well as a brilliant soccer player.
Anne is a pilot/command intelligence officer/rugby player/scuba diver that also has degrees in public health and international studies.
Jessica has degrees in biology, space studies and marine biology, is a pilot/scuba diver/ice diver, and is an assistant professor at Harvard medical school
These four women have nine degrees between them. Three are qualified pilots. Two are qualified scuba divers. Christina and Anne are among the youngest candidates ever selected for the program.
There is no denying that these four women are amazing. But we can’t just leave it at that. We can’t just read this post, nod our head in agreement and then just walk away.
We need to spread the word about them. We need to brag about their achievements to other women. We need to promote how well they have done.
Because in our society, we don’t spend nearly enough time celebrating or appreciating smart women. And I’m as guilty of this as everyone else.
Off the top of my head, I can name at least 100 female celebrities and intimate details about their personal lives. I can explain the entire Kardashian family tree, if you want. I can tell you about at least five of Brody Jenner’s ex-girlfriends.
But I can barely name any women who are significantly changing the world in the field of science, or medicine, or charity. I am barely aware of those who are doing ground-breaking research into the future of our world.
And that has a trickle-down effect to everyday life. It’s why I wasn’t particularly proud to be part of the “smart group” at school (read: the group that actually bothered turning up to school most days and bringing their books). It’s why I didn’t say anything when my friends – from that “smart group” – dumbed themselves down when speaking to boys, in some kind of attempt to appear more attractive.
It’s why my heroes were always pop stars like Britney Spears, instead of people like my own mother, who has a medical degree from one of the best universities in Europe and defied all odds to escape a communist country and come to Australia.
She now spends her days saving people’s lives. To contrast: Britney sang songs with lyrics like “hit me baby one more time”, went crazy, shaved her head and got married for 55 hours.
It’s why I love to tell people stories about how bad I am at maths and how I can’t ever calculate 24 hour time and about how I have crashed/scraped my car about five times.
It’s why I keep telling people that “it’s not that hard!” to get into a law degree. Even though it is hard. And I worked my arse off to do it.
And I know that other women do the same, because I sit there and I hear them do it all the time.
So send this post to other women that you know. Other women that don’t care about astronauts, but should. Get them to send it to their daughters. Get their daughters to send it to their friends.
Because when we are presented with four brilliant women, such as these new NASA astronauts – we need to start learning their names and their stories, just as we know the stories of so many who are doing much less important work.
And then maybe one day, our daughters might learn to look up to us instead of whatever pop stars is in the top 10 iTunes charts of the moment. That would be all kinds of amazing.
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And just to keep your inspiration levels going, here are some other smart women who we admire: