Today was the 75th birthday of cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who, on June 16, 1963, became the first woman in space. After a gap of nearly 20 years, the second woman in space was Svetlana Savitskaya, in 1982, followed by the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, in 1983. This is a fairly decent article about Tereshkova’s journey and current life (though be warned of loud ads).
She also had space hair, but to be fair I think everyone did in the 1960s.
Tereshkova’s call sign on Vostok 6 was “Chaika,” or “Seagull,” incidentally the name of my second-favorite Chekhov play. Happy birthday to a brave woman, and here’s hoping both of us live to see man land on Mars.
The New York Times today has a Name That Scientist quiz today, accompanying their article on scientists engaging in politics.
I think you should take the quiz a) Because it’s only ten questions and it’s kind of fun, and b) Because my ramblings will make a little more sense then. So, go, click, guess. I believe in you.
First of all, the quiz wins points for its inclusion of 4 female scientists (out of 10 total questions). At first I thought it was a little light on the life sciences, but I suppose 3/10 is about as good as can be expected. The quiz also wins points for including Carolyn Porco, whose tweet brought it to my attention to begin with, and who is basically one of the coolest people alive. She has worked on Voyager and Cassini, has given two TED talks, was a scientific advisor for the 2009 Star Trek, and is a Beatles fan. If you ever need a role model, look no further.
Now, here is my problem with the quiz: recognizing scientists by sight isn’t exactly a perfect metric of one’s engagement with science, or of said scientists’ visibility to to the public. For instance, Lisa Randall. I read her book, Warped Passages, on plane rides to and from my college orientation week in the early summer of 2008. I had a cold so bad I could barely hear. And it was the first time I ever felt like I truly understood relativity. (To the extent that I can understand relativity.) But did I recognize her picture? No. I did guess based on the physics-looking chalkboard scrawls in the picture provided, though.
Fair warning: this is a blog post about science, geekiness, and feminism.
Right now, I’m listening to Lori Garver and Mike Massimino talk about the future of NASA. Someone asked the question that I ask myself daily: “Will there be a manned mission to Mars in my lifetime?” Not only did Lori Garver answer yes, but she added (and I’m paraphrasing slightly), “Not just a manned mission, but also some astronauts of the female persuasion.”
Unfortunately, only men walked on the Moon. That made me think: until the last few years, I never had many female role models. To be fair, until the last few years, all my role models tended to be dead white males. Tolkien. Nabokov. Faulkner. Thoreau. (Not that there’s anything wrong with any of the above.) I guess, in a pinch, I could have said Jane Austen, but she’s hardly a paragon of female empowerment for the 21st century.
My sudden acquisition of female role models coincides precisely with my approximately 3-year-old love of science. First it was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and then Carolyn Porco, whose Cassini images helped me survive 2009.
Saturn is pretty much the coolest. Sorry, Earth.