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NASA, SpaceX, and Diversity—When You're Not the Only One

Atlin Merrick Diversity in Fiction Shouty Encouragement

Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX Engineer & CEOJust watched the NASA Live: SpaceX In-Flight Abort Test, which is like so many things involving space, made me again feel like the kid who read all those sci-fi novels, who loved the Martian stories of Ray Bradbury, the moon stories of Robert Heinlein, the robot and tech tales of Tanith Lee.

Two other things struck me about watching today’s successful tests of the "Crew Dragon spacecraft’s ability to safely escape the Falcon 9 rocket in the event of an emergency during launch.” (Yes, quoting directly from NASA.)

The first was that of the two main voices heard during the test, one was Marie Lewis, a public affairs officer for NASA and a woman.

The second was learning that Lauren Lyon a mechanical and aerospace engineer and black woman is part of SpaceX.

The third was learning that the CEO of SpaceX is engineer Gwynne Shotwell.

Gwynne Shotwell, Lauren Lyon, Marie Lewis: Why They Are Important

Why are these three things so important to me? Because it’s fuckin’ lonely being the first, the only, the representative, or the sole voice, and to see women in this high tech world is a damned comfort to those who want to be there too. It tells the ten year old girl watching, the twenty year old woman studying science, it tells every person who's been a minority that they don’t always have to be the first, the only.

Diversity matters because it helps dreamers not only dream but to go ahead and do. You can say “I see that someone else did, so I know that I can.” Having the certainty that it’s possible gives strength when things are a struggle, helps keep one brave and moving forward. I know this for a fact because when I was a girl I dreamed of travel of writing of doing and with the aid of my family and friends, who always believed I could, I did.

The Crazy-Pants Importance of Diversity in Fiction

The main reason Improbable Press exists is to, in the form of great fiction voices, put women at the forefront of stories, to put trans people, black people, disabled people, LGBT+ people in their own stories. To share their joys and adventures, their mysteries and their passions.

I want so much to know who you are and what you’ve dreamed and done so we can share that with others, whether they’re disabled, female, Asian, autistic—or all those things or something more. I want people to know that someone else has done what they dream of doing.

I ask a hundred times, a thousand times, tell me here in the comments who you are and what you’ve done, so it’s there for the dreamers who want to do. Please?

(P.S. Comments moderated because o' spam bots; use a fake email if you'd rather not share a real one. Photo credit.)

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  • Jamie Ashbird on

    I was the only one in Prep with a name too hard to spell (name different to that on the tin), too hard to pronounce. I didn’t care, I was also the only one who already knew all my letters, and could read, and the only one under 5.
    I was the only one with stinky cabana in my lunch box but not the only one who liked it. Rare commodities are valuable in the playground snack swap market. I was not the only one told to go back to my own country but we banded together and had the best food.
    I was the only one (or was I?) in the junior campus not thinking about kissing boys. Or girls. Or anyone. It took another 20+ years to find out that I was not a broken member of the species.
    I was not the only female presenting person in physics, or maths, or meteorology, or geology, or advanced virology, medical microbiology, biochemistry, third year immunology. Maybe I was lucky. Or maybe we’d already started outnumbering by then rather than being outnumbered. I feel privileged that it never occurred to me it was a competition.
    Now I am one of the best at some of the things I do in a very tiny niche field. At the very least one of the best in my city, probably state, likely the country. I have never put this into words before, but I know that I am.
    I am not the only allotypical mind at work, my name is no longer the longest one. We all work better together for it. We fit. From outside, we must seem like aliens. But we’re diverse and weird together.
    I’ve never asked for much or expected much, so I’ve never felt like I’ve fought for much. But I have felt lucky to be where I am. I just excel at what I do and get on with it. I don’t know if that’s inspirational. It is what it is.

  • scatteredthoughts on

    While watching the event, I was also browsing NASA’s website, and came across the crew selection1 for the commercial flights for both SpaceX and Boeing programs. Nine astronauts selected among them:

    Captain Sunita Williams2 Lieutenant Colonel Nicole Mann3 Commander Victor Glover4

    I also found the “Women@NASA” website, highlighting the STEM and support personnel who are not astronauts!


  • S. H. on

    Ooh! Me! I’m agender but female-presenting, in forensic chemistry- toxicology, to be exact.

    It’s not easy. School was particularly rough. The old boys club in Uni thought they were VERY progressive by teaching women— of course, constantly treating us like dolls, sex objects, or amusing eloquent pieces of furniture was perfectly fine, because teaching us was progressive on its own merit.

    Work is better, but even with that, there is definitely a boy’s club, and I find that many of the people who have made it to and through grad school are men, so it’s women doing the actual work while they do paperwork in an office.

    I look up, often, to the women and queer folk in science who made it to a doctorate, with the goal of joining them someday. I also look around at those who are struggling to get to where I stand.

    Cause honestly? Where I stand? It’s pretty sweet. I can, if asked, write stories of how I’ve been treated or how cis white straight men have screwed with me— but I’d rather tell you the following:

    -I have studied overseas, and it was awesome.
    -I get to handle brains. It’s whacky.
    -That tox report on forensic files? ME.
    -If you pronounce drugs with an Italian accent, they sound like pastas.
    -Every lab has a mythos. In my lab, we know exactly who has favour with the sample gremlins, who the fridge likes best, and if you put one particular coworker on the GCMS that does volatiles, the curve works.
    -My coworker has, multiple times, informed me that the peaks on opiate curves were “erotic.”
    -I have fun.

    Honestly that’s it. That’s the goal. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in “did I make it— can I make it??” that I forget where I am, and what I achieved. I went from a little kid who looked up to my literary namesake (you get one guess, look at the initials) and now? Now I solve crimes about poisons.

    Live your dreams.

  • Rudbeckia on

    When I was an undergraduate studying Physics in the late 1980s, the proportion of girls in my class gradually rose because boys dropped out and I stayed. I was the only female-presenting student there to study Physics. So I know how it feels to be “out there” in a world designed for someone else. My bloody-mindedness paid off and not only did I graduate, I was invited to apply for a Ph.D. position. Honestly, I did it because I had no idea what else I wanted to do. Sexism was rife, although I didn’t see it for what it was. At the time, I bought into male-oriented ideas and, just like the “not like other girls” trope, I am ashamed I ever entertained it.
    As a student I was unaware of all the awesome role models I could have had. Caroline Herschel. Jocelyn Bell-Burnell. Vera Rubin. My lecturers were silent on their achievements in favour of their male colleagues, and even then I was aware that science seemed to be very… white. I don’t even blame them: people who are not white men in STEM have been sidelined and ignored for centuries.
    I have taken a role that is judged lowly in comparison to the BNS (Big Name Scientists), but that I hope can have a wide reaching effect. I teach high school physics, and I make sure my students hear about the Earth-shattering scientists who are not just dead white men.

  • Replying: Rachel Craig on

    Rachel, this is precisely what I hope people will share, so thank you! — Atlin

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