NASA’s new astronaut class is the first ever to have an even split of men and women. Of the eight new astronauts four are female. This is fantastic for space, fantastic for us dreamers and a fantastic inspiration for the next generation of space travellers.
I’d like to congratulate all eight new astronaut candidates (affectionately know as Ascans) on their selection. To get selected is no easy feat – I’ve friends who made it down to the last 400, and I can vouch for the fact that they would have been incredible astronauts, so NASA must have been spoilt for choice making their selection.
On Sunday I wrote about the 50th anniversary of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, and today is the 30th anniversary of the first American woman in space, Sally Ride. It seems fitting then that the announcement of the first fully balanced astronaut class came between these two anniversaries.
There is still more to be done though. Having celebrated Valentina’s day on Sunday I’m already thinking about what we can do next year. I think we should use it as a special day when we encourage scientists, astronauts, engineers and storytellers to visit a local school and inspire the children to reach for the stars. Perhaps we can match-make people who pledge to do so, with schools that would like to take part. It’s definitely something that I would like to develop.
We had some fun on Sunday – and here are a few of the pictures that people posted explaining what space means to them. Thanks to all my space friends around the who celebrated the day with me.
Fifty years ago today the first woman was launched into space by the Soviet Union. Valentina Tereshkova orbited our planet 48 times before returning to Earth, completing the final stage of her historic journey by parachute.
At just 26 years of age when she flew, Tereshkova was ten years younger than the youngest of the Mercury 7 astronauts, her flight forming yet another space “first” leaving the Americans trailing.
Today we celebrate Tereshkova’s flight – proof that women can indeed survive in space, but we must also remember that it was almost 20 years before the next female flew, and slightly over twenty years before Sally Ride became America’s first woman in space.
So why is that? Wasn’t the reason the Soviet Union put a woman into space to show that in a Communist state everyone is valued equally? That men and women both had the right to reach for the stars?
That sounds like an ideal situation, but as is so often the case: “I think you’ll find it’s more complicated than that”.
After Tereshkova’s successful flight, Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev was quick to celebrate the achievement, saying “Bourgeois society always emphasizes that woman is the weaker sex. That is not so”. But the political rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union came sharply into focus with his next lines. “Our Russian woman showed the American astronauts a thing or two. Her mission was longer than that of all the Americans put together.” He might as well have stuck his tongue out and said “ner nerrr, nen nerrr ner”.
Already the the emphasis had moved away from the idea that Soviet Women were equal and the hope that this could truly be the start of women in space, and returned to one-upmanship with America. Khrushchev held the purse strings for the space programme and sending a woman to space would help further his political aims.
And so it was that this young textile worker, lied to her mother about going to a special precision skydiving camp to cover up her secret training, found herself in space. Her Vostok-6, “Chaika” – seagull – flying at the same time as male cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky’s Vostok-5 – hawk.
That is not to take anything away from her achievement in the slightest. Politics has been the major driver for so many feats of engineering and exploration in space. The first satellite, the first man in space, the first people on the Moon – if it weren’t for politics would they have happened when they did? Even the decision to assign the first British ESA astronaut to a mission has probably more to do with politics than we’d like to think.
Tereshkova allowed us to dream. She opened the door for women in space, even if it did take another twenty years before others could pass through it. The dream is still alive, so thank you, Valentina “Chaika” Tereshkova.
We celebrate Yuri’s Night, to mark the first man (person) in space, which coincidentally falls on the same day as the first shuttle flight 20 years later. Today I’m going to instigate/celebrate Valentina’s Day – with a nod to Sally Ride – who flew 20 years and two days later. Will you join me? Hold up a sign that says what space means to you, and share the photo with the tag #valentinasday on Twitter, Flickr, Facebook – wherever! Do send me a tweet @SpaceKate and I’ll try to collect them up into a gallery.
It may have been about politics at the time, but let’s celebrate women in space, and see if we can inspire a few more to reach for the stars. Per aspera ad astra!
James Oberg’s Red Star in Orbit – The Flight of Valentina Tereshkova
Universe Today - Tereshkova ready for Mars
Encyclopaedia Astronautica – Tereshkova
Russiapedia – On this day, 16th June 1963
Enjoy Space - 50 years of Women in Space
It was just a few months ago that I wrote about Maj Timothy Peake after he spoke at the British Interplanetary Society. I had asked him at the time whether there had been any push-back from his colleagues at ESA on the basis that the UK hadn’t ever funded human spaceflight at the point he was selected. While he said that he’d not experienced any ill feeling from the people he worked with, it was agreed that the ultimate test would be flight assignment.
As I write now, I’m delighted to say that Tim Peake has been assigned a long-duration mission to the ISS in 2015. This is something of a turn up for the books, since it was originally rumoured that (if anything) he might be offered a short flight to the station.
But now that’s all changed. Could this have something to do with the fact that the UK put in a wad of extra money to ESA at the ministerial council in November 2012? Did our £16 million (“one-off”) pledge to the project that will see Europe helping out with NASA’s Orion module bump our Tim up the list? Who could possibly say for sure, though I’ve heard that David Willets “knows what he wants, and how to get it”.
NB: I’m in no way suggesting that Peake isn’t a superb candidate, eminently qualified and ready to take on the challenge. But decisions don’t always get made on simple merit in this world, and there was a nagging fear that he might end up being a victim of politics and Britain’s formerly standoffish attitude to putting people in space.
Be it Willets’s negotiation skills, or Peake’s prowess in ground-training, it’s excellent news.
That said, I still have some concern about the level of politics that could come into play around his mission. The Prime Minister’s team were quick off the mark to publish a photo of David Cameron showing the blue-suited Peake up the stairs of Number 10 – almost too eager to claim him as a UK success, despite the fact it’s European-, not UK, Space Agency funds that paid for his selection and training.
The UK is very particular about the way it approaches space. It appears to be a purely business venture, with hard cash leading the way, as opposed to a desire to inspire a new generation or support emerging scientific opportunities like biomedicine. With Peake’s assignment to fly, and the UK’s recent signing up to ESA’s European Life and Physical Sciences in Space Programme (ELIPS), could that be about to change?
I have my doubts actually. Satellites and telecommunications. We excel in these areas and they bring home the bacon. Space is seen as ‘just another industry’.
But where is the magic in that? Where is the inspirational value that could coax a wave of young people to follow science, technology, engineering, and maths careers? Where is the UK’s place on the cutting edge of new discoveries in space?
Will Tim Peake be our poster boy while he’s up there and then fall off the face of the Earth when he’s back? Will the UK feel a surge of pride and excitement as we did with the Olympics, but then go back to life as normal when his mission is over? How can we ensure that we use this opportunity to a new generation and convince the government that there is more to space than big businesses making money? These are all questions that we need to think about, and plan for.
I’m aware that 2015 happens to be an election year. Another coincidence? Or could there be some political hopes pinned to the feel-good feeling that Peake will bring to the country?
We’re all abuzz with the amazing job that Chris Hadfield did in space, making it real for people, sharing his adventure in space with us. Do we risk putting too much pressure on Peake to replicate this? Whilst Hadfield sang of Major Tom, we’ve got our very own Major Tim, so how do we best support him on this adventure? We have to remember, after all, that Hadfield is a seasoned space-flier, while for Tim this is an entirely new adventure.
I’d like to start coming up with ideas now, ideas that will last beyond his flight, so that we don’t lose the opportunity of putting the UK on human spaceflight map. So that we make the most of his time in space to inspire as many people as possible. Ideas of how to link into schools and education and researcher challenges. Ideas of how best to share his stories. Ideas of how to show those on high that there is more to life that telecommunications, and not only should the UK be part that, but we need to be.
T-10 is the officially the “Most Inspiring App” in the 2013 NASA International Space Apps Challenge! The team are extremely proud to have won one of the top accolades internationally, and this post will tell you a bit more about the app itself.
Designed to save astronauts time in space, T-10 allows astronauts to select the places that they would like to photograph and get an alarm at T-10 minutes before they fly over them so that they have time to get their cameras ready. The cool bit is that the app checks the local weather conditions on the ground before sounding the alarm, so if there are too many clouds, they don’t get bothered.
On top of this, when the astronauts signal that they are going to take a photograph, T-10 sends a message to all of the people using the Earth version of the app in that location telling them to smile!
The idea behind the app is not only to save astronauts time, but to better connect them with people on Earth. The Earth app lets people know when the space station will be visibly passing overheard, and alerts them at T-10 minutes. If they press the button to say that they’re going to wave, the astronauts get a message to tell them how many people are waving from down below.
We will plot the waves on a map so you see where people are waving from (building on the idea behind #ISSWave in 2010), and encourage the astronauts to take photos of waving hotspots to reward people for their efforts.
The app was initially produced over a busy weekend at Space Apps London and consequently won a palce in the international judging. The small team, which consists of Kate Arkless Gray, João Neves, Ketan Majmudar and Dario Lofish have continued to develop the app and provisionally hope to launch it in July. Getting the app into the hands of the astronauts may take a little more time, but that is the aim.
We’re incredibly excited to have won one of the International Space App Challenge top awards and will continue to work on the app and negotiate with the space agencies to see if we can get it into orbit.
Future ideas for the app include connecting it with ISS Live so that the astronaut’s schedules can feed directly into the app and prevent the alarm sounding at times when they are busy, alerts for iridium flares and interesting whether conditions. We also hope to set up a system that allows you to easily share you photographs, and give you bonuses for the certain numbers of waves. Perhaps in future, we can arrange for those people who wave at a particular mission the most to receive mission patches and lithographs of the astronauts.
In just less than 30 minutes time Colonel Chris Hadfield will handover the reins of the ISS to Russian Cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov. In honour of his time as the first Canadian ISS Commander, I wrote a few lines. In about 24 hours time Chris will be leaving the space station and heading home in a trusty Soyuz capsule. I will be watching with my heart in my mouth wishing him the softest Soyuz landing ever.
I love to look up at the sky and think of you, to know you’re up there.
I love that you enjoy every moment of life on the ISS and you share it passionately.
I love that in the serious moments before sending your crewmates out into the void of space, your skill, professionalism and humour all shine through.
I love that you love the experience of space as much as I ever dream that I would.
I love your photos, your insight, your special roly-polys.
I love that you got to be the first Canadian Commander.
I love that you’re the commander of a real-life spaceship, and yet you’re one of the most down to Earth guys I’ve ever met.
I’m proud and honoured that you’re my friend Chris.