2007 Musings

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"Science is sexy!"
Debra L. Davis

08.20.07 - Mars Needs Women
My love of astronomy grew its first roots in the B-rated medium of serials at Saturday movie matinees, feeding off an out-of-this-world diet of the adventures of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.

Since those days in the early 1960s, Mars has held a particular fascination for me. I've attempted to remember when this interest first presented itself and, to the best of my recollection, I think it lies in a science fiction novel. 

"Stranger in a Strange Land," by Robert A. Heinlein, is the only book I've ever read twice. I was mesmerized by the main character, Valentine Michael Smith, and his abilities, his metaphysics, and, of course, his "grok." Even more so, I was intrigued that he was the first human born on Mars. At the time I read this book, I honestly believed that a human would undoubtedly be born on Mars before the millennium.

The hoopla of Y2K is long past, without anyone being born on Mars, or the Moon for that matter, and today I wonder if I will live long enough to see a Martian birth. While I wait, I still read about Mars.

During my academic career at the University of Arizona, I took an "experimental" class on Mars. It was one of my two favorite classes (the other was a class on science fiction). There was no text book and the class was more a series of lectures given by the professionals at the UofA who were doing the actual study and real science of the red planet, beginning with Alfred McEwen, the professor for the class.

The speakers and topics included:

bulletRobert Strom, early Mars and glaciation
bulletJay Melosh, Martian geophysics
bulletBill Hartman, chronology
bulletDavid Crown, volcanology
bulletWilliam Boynton, GRS results, tour of his lab
bulletDavid Kring, impacts and habitability
bulletRobert Kursinski, current atmosphere
bulletVic Baker, history of water on Mars
bulletPeter Smith, Pathfinder, MER, Phoenix
bulletElizabeth Turtle, ice in the Martian crust

It was a fascinating class and a wonderful experience, with one exception. In case you didn't notice, there was only one woman speaker. Simply put, Mars needs women.

I've perused lists of the science team members on the multitude of Martian missions currently under way, and it's the same story. Less than 15% of the team is women, a ratio that is even less than the approximately 25% of professional astronomers who are women.

In the not too distant future, maybe in my lifetime, humans will be  colonizing other planets and those colonies will need men and women. Otherwise, if there are no women, or not enough women, then our venture towards the stars will become a campy B-movie like the 1967 film, "Mars Needs Women," where the male inhabitants on Mars travel to Earth looking for women to take back home because their population is dying out.

Okay, that may be a little over the top, but my point is that there needs to be more women in space sciences. And how is this accomplished? Encourage our daughters to study the subjects that will set them on a career path to the stars, support the women astronomers you know, respect their accomplishments and give them credit where credit is due. Let them know that science is sexy and smart is way cooler than Paris Hilton dumb.

And, of course, encourage them to read about women astronomers on this site and to sign up for our newsletter for all the latest updates. Mars needs women and this is a great place to start.

Until next time...

Clear skies!
Debra

07.07.07 - Ten Years and Counting...
Ten years ago during the Astronomical Society's 50th Anniversary convention at Copper Mountain, Colorado, the print edition of theWoman Astronomer debuted. The memory of it is so vivid. Still with me is the gentle breeze whispering through aspen trees, the fresh mountain air, the colorful splash of wild flowers, and my feelings of excitement, anxiety, and of hope. I never imagined where theWoman Astronomer would be today.

It certainly didn't go where I thought it would. And neither did I.

A lot has changed in the past ten years. I had envisioned publishing a newsletter that would be of benefit to the astronomical community, and would afford me a living. I was naive, but then I think I knew that when I started this venture.

I also knew that I needed an education if I were to be taken seriously, especially by the professional astronomers, and I had already begun taking classes the previous year at Arapahoe Community College in Littleton, Colorado. I obtained my Associate of Science degree in December 1999.

My next step was to obtain a bachelor's degree in astronomy, a program not offered at Colorado universities. So in August 2000, I sold my townhouse and my car, packed up the U-Haul and my cat, and moved to Flagstaff, Arizona, home of Lowell Observatory and Northern Arizona University.

And I hated it! Flagstaff was too cold and too small. I couldn't find a job to support myself. Though I did work as a tour guide at Lowell Observatory for a couple of months, it was part-time work with part-time wages. By the Spring of 2001, it was time for another change.

I moved to Tucson where I was accepted into the astronomy program at the University of Arizona. I began classes in the Spring of 2002, after establishing Arizona residency, and it didn't take me long to figure out that I would never be a professional astronomer, unless I wanted to keep going to school until I reached my "golden years." I graduated this past December, but not with a degree in astronomy.

Instead, I pursued a degree program which I thought would be of the most benefit to theWoman Astronomer, an Interdisciplinary Studies degree. It is a program where you choose three subject areas and tie them together. My three were astronomy, planetary science, and creative writing, with some women's studies classes thrown in for good measure.

During my pursuit of an education, theWoman Astronomer suffered. The print version ceased publication and updates to this site were sporadic. There just was not enough time left in my days after working full time, taking classes, and weekends full of homework.

Through it all, theWoman Astronomer has survived. I now have the time to renew my efforts in this site, to promote astronomy to women and girls, and to be of benefit to the astronomical community. Where will this lead? I don't know. I do hope you will be with me during the next ten years and we will find out together.

Clear skies!
Debra

Updated 01.01.2008
theWoman Astronomer 2001-2008

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