Celebrating Women In Space – BBC 5 Live from the National Space Centre
Karen Nyberg on the ISS. Credit: NASA

Celebrating Women In Space – BBC 5 Live from the National Space Centre

18/04/2018Written by Tamela Maciel

Amazing stories from women in space at NASA and the National Space Centre.

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mascot Telescope Right
Rocket Tower. Credit: National Space Centre

Here at the National Space Centre our mission is to get people excited about space and inspire the next generation of space scientists and engineers.

We firmly believe that people inspire people, which is why we were delighted to host BBC 5 Live’s programme all about women in space – past, present, and future.

The 5 Live team got to go behind-the-scenes at NASA and chat with some incredible astronauts, flight directors, spacecraft engineers, and space food experts who shared their tips and stories about working in space. These people also all happen to be women, working in senior positions in a historically male-dominated field.

Their stories are deeply personal, inspiring, and fascinating for anyone with an interest in space.

NASA Women

NASA Women
NASA Women
Dr Gioia Massa. Credit: BBC 5 Live

Hear from Karen Nyberg, a NASA astronaut who spent 180 days in space between 2008 and 2013. When she first flew, she became the 50th woman in space. As of April 2018, there have been 60 women in space, but compared to nearly 500 men who have been to space, there’s obviously still a long way to go. These days, NASA’s astronaut classes tend to be about 50% women, and currently, NASA’s most experienced astronaut ever is a woman, Peggy Whitson.

As Karen Nyberg says in the programme: “Find what your passion is – when I was growing up, my passion was space. And find out what it is you need to do, to reach the goal you have.”

“A lot of times you’ll find that math and science and those type of fields will get you there. And they’re challenging, I’m not going to lie to you, but so rewarding when you reach that goal.”

Meet Gioia Massa who runs a veggie lab at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. She and her team are exploring how to grow fresh food in space. A plant scientist isn’t an obvious space role, but Gioia advises young people to “… be stubborn and follow your heart – and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do that.”

“There certainly were aspects where I was challenged, I wasn’t as great in math as some of my colleagues, my handwriting is terrible, so there are things that are not my strength, but when I fell in love with plants, plants were my strength and I really learnt and focused on that.”

Many of these women look forward to a future day when a programme about women in space isn’t needed, because diversity in the space industry will be the norm, but for now they were keen to share their experiences in the hopes of inspiring young girls and boys to follow in their footsteps.

Inspiration at the National Space Centre

Inspiration at the National Space Centre
Building a comet with Sophie Allan. Credit: National Space Centre

During the programme, 5 Live also caught up with young people visiting the National Space Centre. They met an international girls school who learned how to ‘cook’ a comet, and a Northampton school who were building and launching rockets.

These education workshops are a core part of what we do at the National Space Centre, as a way of showing young people that space science is both fun and something they can do.

As Sophie Allan, our Lead Physics Teacher for the National Space Academy, said on the show:

“Unfortunately, we do still find children coming in as early as 12-13 years old thinking they’re not a scientist. But they’ve not even had the chance to try science properly because they haven’t been encouraged to play with the same engineering or science toys, or maybe they struggled earlier on, so they’re missing out on their potential.”

“We really do need a new generation of space scientists and engineers to get beyond low-Earth orbit and back to the Moon and on to Mars!”

Credit: BBC 5 Live

Tune in on iPlayer to listen to hear even more stories from space and from the National Space Centre, including some behind-the-scene tales about the artefacts in our collection, including Helen Sharman’s launch chair and Tim Peake’s space food.

Women In Space from the National Space Centre – Available until 17 May 2018: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09z66mk

About the author: Dr Tamela Maciel is the Space Communications Manager at the National Space Centre.