The United Nations can be a catalyst for getting more young women and girls to consider careers in math and science, particularly in space sciences, according to aerospace professionals who participated in a UN event on the eve of the International Day of Human Space Flight.
“It’s harder for women because traditionally in the critical junior high school years many young girls unfortunately do not necessarily have the encouragement, support and role models of other women who are in this broader stem career,” said Susan Chodakewitz, Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors, Women in Aerospace, and President of Tetra Tech AMT, an informational technology and aerospace company.
“One of the many things that the United Nations does so magnificently is really being able to begin the campaign of awareness, of education, and recognizing that there is a pool of other women who look like them. So it’s not that they’re just leaping into the abyss,” Ms. Chodakewitz told UN Radio.
This year’s theme, “Women and space” pays tribute to the 50th anniversary of the first female flight in space, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who piloted Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. The first person in space was Yuri Gagarin, who launched on 12 April 1961.
More recently, Anousheh Ansari, an engineer and serial tech entrepreneur, became the first woman private space explorer in 2006.
She said the life-changing experience taught her that all people are “crew members on Spaceship Earth” where everyone is a crewmate instead of a person from a specific country or religion.
“That’s one thing astronauts learn living together on the space station, that there are no borders, nothing separating us and we have more in common than difference,” said Ms. Ansari.
Ms. Ansari, an Iranian-American, said it is especially important for women in the Middle East to be encouraged to enter professions in math and the sciences.
“I hope my story and my accomplishment becomes a testament that women can accomplish anything they want to and anything they put their minds to and there are no limits to what they can achieve,” she said, adding that it’s not only possible for women to work in space sciences “but it is also going to be a lot of fun and an exciting career.”
Ms. Chodakewitz and Ms. Ansari spoke on a panel organized by the UN Department of Public Information, ahead of the International Day.
In addition, to pay tribute to Ms. Ansari and the extraordinary journey of other women and men who have flown into space, the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA) had launched its second edition of the online autograph album “Messages from Space Explorers for future generations,” which cites notes from international astronauts in English, French and Russian.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said on previous occasions that International Day of Human Space Flight “will remind us of our common humanity and our need to work together to conquer shared challenges. I hope it will also inspire young people in particular to pursue their dreams and move the world towards new frontiers of knowledge and understanding.”
The UN General Assembly declared the Day to celebrate the beginning of the space era for mankind, reaffirming the important contribution of space science and technology in achieving sustainable development goals and increasing the well-being of States and peoples, as well as ensuring the realization of their aspiration to maintain outer space for peaceful purposes.