Women in History: Holding Up Half the Sky

NASA participated in a special event – Teaching Children to be Limitless — for Women’s History Month with Urban Zen and Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN).  I had the pleasure of participating in it.  We rotated through a series of tables answering questions from a group of school-aged children. 

There was one question that I got at nearly half the tables – do you want to go into space? The first time I got the question, my answer was, “No, I’m too old”.  Then a group, led by an 8-year old girl yelled at me irreverently, “What??? You can do ANYTHING you want to do!”  After that, my answer was YES.  There’s nothing like getting a taste of your own medicine by being yelled at by an 8-year old after you just gave them a dose of inspiration. 

When I was their age, I wanted to go into space.  But, I didn’t see anyone who looked like me in space.  By the time I graduated from college, I was convinced that an overweight, nearsighted African American urban girl could never be an astronaut.  But, had I done my part, and reframed my own beliefs, perhaps, I could have been a first.

In her book It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor, Rebecca Shambaugh challenges us to examine our beliefs checking them to determine if they are limiting us in any way.  She goes on to say that “…in order to reach your potential, it’s essential to acknowledge the beliefs that you hold about yourself, as well as your belief about other people and the world around you.”  Shambaugh reminds readers to examine these self-beliefs periodically.  This sassy 8-year-old reminded me that it was time to examine my own again. 

Bessie Coleman was an American aviator who became the first African American fe

male pilot and the first person African American tohold an international pilot’s license.

Picture of Bessie Coleman

 She challenged herself and the belief of others to lead the way for others. In a story about her life Queen Bess: Daredevil Aviator, Doris Rich, states that “… from the moment Bessie decided to become a pilot nothing deterred her.”  She “ignored all the difficulties of her sex and race, her limited schooling and present occupation.”

 “Because of Bessie Coleman, we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers.  We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.” — Lt. William J. Powell, Founder, Bessie Coleman Aero Clubs

A Chinese proverb says that “women hold up half the sky”.  It is important for NASA to inspire the next generation of all of the sky-holders — scientists, engineers, and explorers– to aim high and reach new heights for the improvement of humankind.  If we are going to do our part in holding up the sky, we have to get beyond the notion of a glass ceiling and change the self-limiting behaviors to reach these heights.  

2 thoughts on “Women in History: Holding Up Half the Sky”

  1. Cool! True. And not is easy, because the people have first idea look the errors. Not is easy to be You always. Happen you chance your form for are inside societ. But, in nature, you is very good. This is a virtue of child 8 years old. Look forward, we never can lose it. Lucky if your friend help you. Annimate you. See your virtues, and you back to your true I. Confidence. The world will be better if have confidence. We need work for this. And have faith. The good people united, can make. But, if you don’t put force, don’t work right, you suffer the bad fact of to be one loser. And, thanks God, the bad always lose. This is a natural law. The ignorance not is capable of happy, so, never will live. Are already dead. Moral of history: grow, but pure how as child. If you are wrong, at lest have kindding.

    (I write this comment without use translation)

  2. I was browsing through a copy of the Planetary Report (a Planetary Society publication) from last fall that contained a section of book reviews, one for children. I learned something that I never knew. One of the reviewed books there for teen/pre-teen was about the story of 13 female aviators in the early 1960s who were put through exactly the same training as the original seven Mercury astronauts. I’m not sure if it was a NASA program, but the doctor who evaluated and was involved with the Mercury seven had postulated that because of their lower body mass and more efficient body chemsitry processing of oxygen, that women would actually perform better in space. The book review said that the women kept pace with and in some aspects exceeded the performance of their male counterparts in that rigorous training. The review also said that unfortunately, the program did not result in those women ever being given the opportunity to fly in space. I too longed in my youth to join the astronaut corps. I was luckier than most, I think, in that I did work for NASA as a ground flight controller in the early 1980s and was exposed to some of the same simulator training and had the pleasure to work with some of our first female astronauts. But for all my knowledge and experience in the Aerospace industry, I never knew this story of the female “Right Stuff”. I think someone should tell their story more broadly, and it feels to me like there has to be a very successful motion picture in that story.

Comments are closed.