NASA’s new Artemis program will land the first woman on the moon. However, given the fact NASA has provided equal opportunities for women in the past, is it still necessary to identify astronauts by their gender?
In five years, America could be heading back to the moon. NASA’s new mission, planned for 2024, aims to land the first woman on the lunar surface.
“Fifty years after Apollo, the Artemis program will carry the next man and first woman to the moon,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.
While the mission is exciting, the announcement sounded awkward, at least to me. I have never seen a person’s gender attached to their job before. Having grown up in a fairly equal world, I have never met a “female scientist” or a “male nurse.”
It is wonderful to know NASA recognizes the importance of gender equality. However, distinctly highlighting the gender of those on the mission is unnecessary.
Gender Equality in NASA History
Some of the astronauts in the space shuttle program were women. There are currently two women on the International Space Station. By 2019, there is nothing to suggest that NASA would not choose a woman to be part of the Artemis program.
The only people to walk on the moon have been white, male Americans. The Apollo missions took place in the 1960s and 1970s, so it makes sense, given the culture, that only white men were astronauts.
While NASA did not send a woman into space until 1983, women did work for NASA during the time of the Apollo program. Mary Jackson became an engineer for NASA in 1958, the first black woman to do so. In 1960, Katherine Johnson became the first woman in NASA’s Flight Research Division to be credited on a research report. Both women were featured in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures.”
NASA’s first female astronaut class was in 1978 and included Sally Ride. Ride flew on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983, making her the first American woman in space.
Earlier this year, NASA canceled the first all-female spacewalk. They made the decision not because a crew member was sick or because they required more instructions on their task. The ISS simply did not have enough equipment that fit both women, who wear the same size.
NASA’s image has changed quite a bit in its sixty years. It is no longer surprising to see women sitting in mission control when a new Mars rover lands. Little girls now have plenty of role models to look up to when it comes to working in aerospace engineering.
Gen Z and Gender
NASA’s decision to specifically point out that a woman would be landing on the moon took me aback. It was surprising because you just do not hear that in 2019. Gender no longer dictates a person’s career opportunities.
This is not to say that gender inequality no longer exists. The wage gap still needs to be addressed and no woman has served as vice president or president.
But the concept of gender has drastically changed. When NASA was formed in the late 1950s, gender was based on the physical features of a person.
There were very clear gender roles in those days. Women were the stay-at-home parents, teachers and flight attendants. Men went to college and financially provided for the family. Older generations may not think twice about hearing “first woman” because, in their time, it was not uncommon to identify someone by their gender. Gender was concrete and a defining characteristic in a person’s life. It was noticeable when a flight attendant or nurse was male.
To Generation Z, gender is not solely defined by any physical characteristics. There is an emotional and mental aspect with gender identity. It is also not as important or defining in an individual’s life as it was to a Baby Boomer.
NASA has been sending women into space for 25 years. What was once historic is now ordinary. The gender question still exists on job applications, but its importance to new generations is disappearing. There are so many examples and role models that kids nowadays have no reason to say that their gender limits them in their future job opportunities.
Why should gender dictate who NASA chooses for the Artemis program? It makes perfect sense that they would have a gender diverse team. The most qualified astronaut for the job could be a woman. It could also be a man.
By specifically pointing out that they plan to have the first woman on the moon by 2024, NASA is placing whomever they pick in a box. They feels a need to show off their equality. Yet that damages the significance of the moment, which could possibly happen in 2024. People may wonder if the astronaut was only picked because of an uncontrollable physical characteristic they have. It is counterintuitive to the message NASA is trying to send: that gender does not matter.
While it is important to recognize trailblazers, like the first woman on the moon, this sounds almost like a publicity stunt. NASA needs something big and monumental, like the Artemis program. The new space race is not between countries, but billionaires. Despite ongoing success on Mars, NASA is falling behind. They now look to a woman to help them.