Scientific careers of any kind are becoming ever more accessible in the 21st century and the future looks promising and bright for aspiring girls and young women of the world. As we observe International Girls in ICT Day, hosted by the International Telecommunication Union, we take a closer look at education and its role in empowering the future generation of girls everywhere to reach for the sky.
Advocating for women to be equal players is crucial if we are to achieve gender equality. Without gender equality today, a sustainable future for all will remain beyond reach. History has shown how women have already made their mark in exploring what the universe has to offer. One of these trailblazers in the space industry is the distinguished former NASA astronaut Dr Sandra Magnus whose achievements continue to inspire the younger generation to create a brighter future for women.
Woman on a mission
Just like the rest of us when we were young, Dr Magnus had a dream: “I wanted to fly in space, I wanted to explore, and I wanted to see the Earth from orbit. I wanted to be on the edge of what we can do as human beings.” Fuelled by her desire to go to space, she knew access to education was key. The former astronaut earned degrees in physics and electrical engineering and later obtained a PhD in materials science and engineering, which was supported by a fellowship from the NASA Lewis Research Center. From then on, the sky’s the limit.
At age 31, Dr Magnus joined the NASA Astronaut Corps and flew a total of three shuttle missions, spending more than 150 days – nearly half a year of her life – living in space. She also served at the NASA headquarters in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate. Acting as the deputy chief of the Astronaut Office was her last duty at NASA.
Dr Magnus left the agency after being appointed as Executive Director of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), the world’s largest aerospace technical society. Awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal in 2002, 2009 and 2011, she also earned the highest distinction that may be bestowed by the agency, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, in 2009. She was then awarded the NASA Exceptional Service Medal in 2012, recognizing her sustained contributions to its programmes and initiatives.
To date, women make up just over 10 % of human space travellers.