Meet The Beautiful Women Who Send Rockets Into Space

Anne Mills

Photo: [email protected]

On June 18, 1983, a 32-year-old physicist from California shattered the gender barrier, becoming the first American woman in space aboard the shuttle Challenger. That brave lady was the late Sally Ride.Since Ride’s historic flight, the face of the space program has undergone a literal transformation as it works toward narrowing the gender gap that persistently plagues the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths, or STEM. 

See the Women of NASA > 
“I honestly believe the view of women in STEM fields has changed positively, even it is a slow evolution,” says Mamta Nagaraja, the manager of [email protected], a program created to highlight the success of female scientists and engineers.  

Over the last decade, the number of female supervisors has increased by 59 per cent for a total of 30 per cent women supervisors. The number of women aerospace engineers has made an even greater leap. Today, 20 per cent of NASA engineers are female, which represents a 76 per cent increase since the early ’90s.  

Overall, about 6,000 of NASA’s 18,000 civil service employee workforce are now women, says Nagarja. 

Here are some of their stories.  

Anne Mills — Archives and Records Management

Job Title: Records Manager and History Officer
Education: B.A. in History from Baldwin-Wallace College; Master's of Library Science from the University of Maryland at College Park.
NASA centre: Glenn Research centre

Mills was 16 years old when she scored a summer internship in NASA's Procurement Division. Seven year later, after pursing a graduate degree in library science, Mills landed a full-time job in archives and records management at the space agency's research centre in Cleveland, OH, where she 'ensures that all documentation created at the centre is organised, accessed, stored, and dispositioned in a way that meets federal and state regulations, NASA regulations, and quality standards.'

Source: [email protected]

Jennifer Cole — Aerospace Engineer

Job Title: Chief of the Aerodynamics and Propulsion Branch
NASA centre: Dryden Flight Research centre

As a young girl growing up near Willow Grove Naval Station outside of Philadelphia, Penn., Cole was by fascinated by 'anything that flew.' She dreamed of flying in the Navy, but was held back by vision problems. The self-confessed 'nerd' began working at NASA as a student intern and is now living out her childhood passion as an aerospace engineer.

Source: [email protected]

Ginger Kerrick — Flight Director

Job Title: Flight Director, Mission Control centre
Education: Masters in Physics from Texas Tech
NASA centre: Johnson Space centre

When Kerrick's childhood dream of becoming an astronaut didn't pan out due to health issues, she sought out the next best thing: teaching astronauts. The Texas-native began her career at NASA in 1994 as a Life Support Systems Instructor for The International Space Station. In 2001, Kerrick became the first non-astronaut Capsule Communicator, the liaison between Mission Control and the flight crew. Four years later, she became a Flight Director and so far has support 13 International Space Station and five shuttle missions.

Source: [email protected]

Sabrina Thompson — Safety Engineer

Job Title: Safety Engineer, Occupational, Safety and Health Division
Education: B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from SUNY Stony Brook; Masters in Aerospace Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology
NASA centre: Goddard Space Flight centre

Thompson didn't let growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Long Island or her high school physics teacher's doubts stop her from going to college for maths and science. She became the first in her family to earn both a bachelor's and master's degree and now works with safety experts at the agency's flight centre to identify, analyse and mitigate potential hazards in the workplace.

Source: [email protected]

QuynhGiao Nguyen — Materials Scientist

Job Title: Materials Scientist, Research and Technology Directorate
Education: Ph.D in Clinical-Bioanalytical Chemistry from Cleveland State University College of Science
NASA centre: Glenn Research centre

Nguyen didn't speak a word of English when she immigrated from Vietnam to the United States at age 7. Twelve years later, after developing her reading, writing and pronunciation skills, Ngueyen was offered a intern position in NASA's Environment Durability Branch. This opened the door for a full-time gig in material science where she now works to analyse high-temperature materials for aircraft and re-entry vehicles.

Source: [email protected]

Jennifer Eigenbrode — Biogeochemist and Geologist

Job Title: Flight Director, Mission Control centre
Education: Bachelor's in Geology from James Madison University; Master's in Geological Sciences from Indiana University; Ph.D. in Geosciences from Penn State University
NASA centre: Goddard Space Flight centre

As a member of NASA's 2011 Mars Science Laboratory Mission, Dr. Eigenbrode was an integral part of the successful launch and landing on Mars of the car-size rover Curiosity in early August. Dr. Eigenbrode specialises in detecting organic compounds in rocks, sediments and ice.

Source: [email protected]

Tiffaney Miller Alexander — Electrical Engineer

Job Title: Transition and Retirement Project manager, Safety and Mission Assurance Directorate
Education: B.S. in Electrical Engineering and a Master's in Industrial Engineering from the University of Central Florida
NASA centre: Kennedy Space centre

In 1999, Alexander was hired as systems engineer for The Boeing Company at Kennedy Space centre. Just three years later she became the youngest and first woman to be a top-10 finalist for the Boeing Florida Space Coast Operation Engineer of the Year Award. In lieu of the Shuttle Program's retirement, Alexander, who joined NASA as a civil servant in 2007, now manages all retired space vehicles, ensuring that they reach their final resting place.

Source: [email protected]

Gwendolyn Young — Mission Support

Job Title: Director for Mission Support
Education: B.S. in Elementary Education and Master's in Public Administration from Bringham Young
NASA centre: Dryden Flight Research centre

To escape the hardships of growing up in a military family, constantly moving from place to place, Young buried herself in maths and science schoolwork early on. She started her career at NASA in 1983 as an intern in the comptroller's office at NASA Headquarters. 20-eight years later, following a six-year term as Dryden Flight centre's Chief Financial Officer, Young directs all of the centre's mission support offices, including acquisition, finance, facilities and protective services.

Source: [email protected]

Mary Ann Esfandiari — Associate Director of Flight Projects

Job Title: Associate Director For Exploration and Space
Education: B.S. Astronomy/Physics from the University of Maryland at College Park; Master's in Computer Science from George Washington University
NASA centre: Goddard Space Flight centre

During Esfandiari's more than 30 years at NASA, she has worked on everything from analysing data sent back from space missions to developing flight software that operates onboard the spacecraft. In addition to her duties at NASA, Esfandiari has also been an officer in the Naval Reserve for the past 23 years.

Source: [email protected]

Diane — Legal Technician

Job Title: Legal Technician, Office of Chief Counsel
Education: Bachelor's of Fine Arts from Louisiana State University
NASA centre: Stennis Space centre

NASA does much more than launch shuttles and build rocket engines. It also needs women like Diane Sims, who joined NASA as a legal assistant in 1998 after working for several law firms in New Orleans. Today she helps negotiate new agreements and mediate ethical matters.

Source: [email protected]

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