Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Are Times a Changin?

There is a side of me that is celebrating the many advances of my female colleagues in recent months. As a former NASA employee I am truly heartened by the leadership roles taken by women in two of my favorite projects, the Fermi Gamma Ray Observatory where the NASA Headquarters Program Scientist, the NASA Goddard Project Scientist and Deputy Project Scientist are all women and on the new Gravity and Extreme Magnetism SMEX (GEMS) mission where most of the leadership roles are occupied by women.

Then we hear that Space shuttle Discovery launched recently to deliver spare parts and science experiments to the international space station contains among its crew three women.

With its crew of seven astronauts, this mission is carrying supplies and science equipment for the international space station's laboratories. The 13-day mission includes three planned spacewalks, replacing an ammonia tank assembly and retrieving a Japanese experiment from the station's exterior. NASA said Discovery's mission will mark the first time four women have been in space at one time: Three women -- mission specialists Stephanie Wilson, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger and Naoko Yamazaki -- comprise part of the Discovery's crew, while NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson is already at the space station.

I cannot help but ponder the question. Is something going on here? I know over half of these women and I am here to tell you that they were selected based on merit and competence, without question. These are not connected events and yet it would seem to be a significant advance. My overwhelming reaction is to be disappointed in myself for even wondering about it because just perhaps we are getting closer to the point where the gender of the participants will no longer hit the consciousness of male old timers like me. Then why is NASA making such a big deal out of it? Maybe I should be wondering why the latest Shuttle crew only contains three women if I give it a thought at all.