Today is National Astronaut Day and, like the banners in the Discovery West neighborhood say – we think it is the perfect time to “Shoot for the moon.” Three of our Women of Discovery are astronauts who have broken barriers and we celebrate them today. Dr. Kathryn Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space in 1984; Dr. Ellen Ochoa was the first Hispanic woman to do the same in 1993; and Kalpana Chawla was the first India-born woman to go to space in 1997.
- Dr. Sullivan logged 532 hours in space over the course of three total missions. Over the past three decades, she has received multiple awards and honors, the most lauded of which included induction into the Astronaut Hall of Fame and being named assistant secretary of state under the Obama administration, among many others. She continues to receive honors to this day, the most recent being an inclusion on the list of the BBC’s 100 Women. What many may not know is that Dr. Sullivan is also an accomplished oceanographer, making her an explorer of both depths and heights.
- Dr. Ellen Ochoa went into space on the highly publicized 1993 voyage of the space shuttle, Discovery. She went on several missions throughout her career, logging more than 1,000 hours in space. Before exploring the skies, she made several breakthroughs as an engineer in the field of lasers and other optical devices, securing three patents for her work in the field of information processing (by the way, May is also National Inventors Month!). In addition to her engineering and astronautical work, Ochoa is an active proponent of women’s rights. She regularly gives lectures and talks to encourage students – particularly girls and young women of color – to enter STEM fields.
- Dr. Kalpana Chawla (1962-2003) was an American engineer and NASA astronaut, and was the first Indian-born woman to ever go to outerspace. She was passionate about flying from an early age, and this passion eventually led to her career as an aerospace engineer and astronaut. Unfortunately, this passion eventually led to her death when she was killed upon reentry into earth’s atmosphere after her second mission in 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia was destroyed. Her sacrifice was not in vain, she has served as an inspiration for “Indian school children and youth who see themselves reflected in her” according to Chawla’s husband of nearly 20 years, Jean-Pierre Harrison, who wrote a book about her life.
Happy Astronaut Day to our Women of Discovery, Dr. Sullivan, Dr. Ochoa and Dr. Chawla. Their contributions helped to pave the way for women everywhere to reach for the stars.