Space oddity: Why are women still playing catch up in the gender space race? – Fiona Tatton, Womanthology Editor

Mr Spock
Fiona Tatton - Womanthology Founder and Editor

Fiona Tatton

Hello and welcome to issue 78, Women in Space. Every so often I find myself plugging away as a new issue of Womanthology and something incredibly special happens. It’s the fact that so many amazing women (and men) are prepared to be so generous with their time in sharing their stories and wisdom that allows me to pull together each issue. I’ll schedule everything as best I can, and as far in advance as I can, but then I’ll stumble across a wonderful story on Twitter or someone will recommend a colleague I ought to speak to, and then some magic happens and I’ll send up having a wonderful spontaneous conversation I wasn’t expecting.

Last week I’d arranged to speak to the wonderful Lisa Marie Haas, one of the hopefuls to become the first German woman in space. It was such a pleasure chatting to her. I found myself living up to two British stereotypes – one to be overly apologetic, the other being having appalling foreign language skills. I spent the first two minutes of the call apologising profusely that I do speak some German, but that my skills are stuck at GCSE level. I’m one of those awful Brits abroad who tries out a few phrases from my Lonely Planet guide, gets frustrated, gives up and then resorts to shouting louder in English. “FULL ENGLISH BREAKFAST TWICE PLEASE!”

Lisa Marie was such a pleasure to chat to. And what an incredible ambassador for her country and her company, Bosch. I couldn’t help but be enchanted by her absolute passion for science and physics. Where all were the women like this when I was growing up? Lisa Marie talked about being a fan of Star Trek and the way the female crew members took active roles in missions and conducted experiments. (I’m thinking this was probably more likely to be Star Trek: The Next Generation than the 60s repeats of the original show I recall from when I was growing up.)

I liked the international mix of characters from the original line up, but I was less than impressed with Captain Kirk’s penchant for chasing round after lady aliens, and female colleagues for that matter. Thankfully, his lady aliens of choice would normally be green humanoids rather than invertebrate blobs of goop, although I’m sure he would have had a go, given half a chance.

Another cosmic woman I spoke to is the lovely Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides, who is a space educator, communicator and consultant at Virgin Galactic. I felt like my mind opened up during the conversation, in part due to her brilliant observations about way to retain parents in the workplace and also in relation to her ideas about the ability of working together on space projects to bring different countries together.

I consider my mind now expanded. Likewise hearing from Lucianne Walkowicz nearly blew my mind. (In a good way, obviously!):

“…In many ways, understanding physics is like always having an extra layer of information projected like a hologram on the world around you – if you watch waves in a lake or ocean, or leaves drifting on the wind, you will not only see a pretty landscape, you will see the detailed underpinnings of why…”

Who knew this? Seriously. We’re always being told that knowledge is power, but how amazing is the gift of understanding how physics helps to explain the beauty that is all around us.

Wow, wow and wow. So, what we need to member is that whilst women are playing catch up in the gender space race, we have the power and ability to reframe the way we see our world (and what lies beyond it) by bringing our own unique insights.

So, you can never underestimate the power of your own viewpoint and the impact it can have. We’re all unique, so therefore, ironically, our own ‘uniqueness’, which comes from our own individual lived experiences, can unite us with others (who may be totally different to us) through getting people to think differently. This paradox has almost blown my mind … again.

Thank you to all the other amazing contributors in this issue too. I’ve learnt about ‘new space’, low earth orbit satellite constellations and CubeSats. And did you know there are nearly 100 nations with space programmes? Blimey.

The great news is that the space sector is growing, and fast. They’re crying out for more female talent, and not just to become astronauts, which is a pretty cool job, I grant you, but also in the thousands of jobs behind every mission. It’s also international and cosmopolitan, so, what are you waiting for? Let’s make a more gender balanced space sector the norm so there’s no need for women to be space oddities any more.

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