Shuttle launched: One giant leap for womankind
Collins being strapped into the shuttle Columbia before Thursday morning's scrubbed launch attempt
July 23, 1999
Web posted at: 12:37 a.m. EDT (0437 GMT)
Leveling the NASA playing field
By Carin Dessauer
CNN Interactive Election Director
CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (CNN) -- "Another giant leap for womankind," declared Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala in anticipation of the first U.S. space mission commandeered by a woman. The Cabinet Secretary, an advocate of women's' issues, was paraphrasing the famous comment of Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong as man first stepped onto the moon. Just several days after the 30th anniversary of that moment and with space shuttle Columbia just successfully launched, women believe that history has been made.
"This is a significant moment in women's history, but also in American history," said Shalala. This is about "the breakthroughs of the future." Shalala, a participant at a by invitation only women's conference of just over 100 women sponsored by NASA on the eve of the shuttle Columbia launch, was referring to the fact that up until now, a woman had not commanded a mission into space. Col. Eileen Collins will now be written into the history books.
"She has the right stuff," Shalala said. "And having the right stuff is not something that is exclusive to one chromosome or another."
"This is a significant moment in women's history" -- Shalala
Chromosomes do not matter
With this shuttle mission just launched and the playing field now nearly level, women involved in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) program are now focusing on continuing to do more to keep the field permanently level.
"This was the last astronaut job that was not (yet) done by a woman," said Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space and a member of the President's Commission on the Celebration of Women in American History. "Now with this milestone we can focus on the fact that what is important to succeed in life, it does not matter whether you are a man or a woman."
"It does not matter (that Collins is a man or a woman)," said Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space. "She earned her seat."
"I am so excited (about this mission)," said National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland. "For years the space program was not open to women."
"We have come a long way," acknowledged Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. "Since Kathryn (Sullivan) and I joined the (space) program, a lot more women have gotten involved." Still, Ride admitted, "the battle is never over."
"We have come a long way" -- Ride
Raise the awareness for women about NASA
"Now our challenge is to raise the awareness about the program and help women get the tools that they need to get involved, " NASA Associate Administrator for Public Affairs Peggy Wilhide said. Referring to the fact that only 20 percent of all astronauts are women and that 17 percent of all applicants to the NASA program are women, Wilhide pointed out that women need to be encouraged to go into math, science, and engineering.
How does NASA do that? Well for starters they hold a special program like this one with a diverse mix of women participants from women journalists to women in government, women involved in the space program, and women activists. The goal: get the word out beyond their normal audience. A descendant of the Wright Brothers was even invited to attend.
Jan Steeper Burkle, a licensed pilot herself, pointed out that her famous ancestors, the Wright brothers, were very much influenced by women. It was a woman who encouraged them to experiment and dream. "Their mother was the one who pointed out to them that they needed to do something to deal with friction when they invented their first sled," Burkle said. "She was the one who gave them the encouragement to invent and dream."
Burkle's grandmother, the brothers' niece (they had no children), actually flew with the brothers.
NASA, itself, will focus on training and education. NASA Administrator Dan Goldin commented that, although two women are on this five-person shuttle crew and a woman is the one in Mission Control communicating with the shuttle, more needs to be done. "This is great, but it is not enough," Goldin said. "We are prepared to develop training and do other things" to get more women into the program.
"The pipeline is not staying full," commented Donna Shirley, the first woman leading the Mars Exploration Program. "Fifteen percent of NASA's technical staff today are women. The question is, what will it take to stay full?"
Marta Bohn-Meyer, the first SR-71 female pilot, compared women's involvement in the space program to water flowing in a water faucet. Bohn-Meyer said that 25 years ago there was just a trickle of water and now there is a steady stream.
As the shuttle was about to launch on the first try earlier this week, the song "Brave New Girls" played in the background. Recording artist Teresa, also a friend of crewmember Catherine Coleman, wrote the song to honor the historic mission. The song included the words: "not afraid to take on the world, brave new girls. Hey guys it's a women's world."
Shuttle mission aborted seconds before launch
July 20, 1999
Shuttle to launch next great space telescope Tuesday
July 20, 1999
Apollo spirit: Female shuttle commander wants to 'get the job done'
July 13, 1999
Shuttle mission aims to make history
July 7, 1999
NASA shuttle mission HSF - STS-93
July 20, 1999 Space Shuttle Status Report
Chandra X-ray Observatory News
NASA Apollo 11 30th Anniversary
Chandra Xray Observatory
Chandra X-ray Observatory News
Note: Pages will open in a new browser window
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.