Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Women are from Mars (or at least want to go there!)

A couple of weekends ago our local ScienceWorks Museum hosted NASA's Exploration Experience, an interactive traveling exhibit that lets visitors embark on a simulated journey into space. As you can see, I got to pretend I was an astronaut! This got me reminiscing about whether I ever really wanted to be an astronaut. I don't think I did. I assumed that people of all sorts would engage in space travel, not just astronauts. I envisioned traveling to the Moon or other planets in our Solar System, or even beyond our Solar System. As far as career aspirations, I admired astronauts, but I admired engineers (the makers of things) and teachers more.

Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I said teacher. That was a safe choice for a girl in the 1960s. But the things I did for fun, in addition to teaching my little sisters, were pure engineer geek. I exchanged messages in secret code with my little brother, worked on the square root of 2 out to tens of digits (without, I must admit, realizing that this task would never end), tried to trisect a triangle, designed and drew mazes, read nerdy books, and practiced my viola.

Once we took an aptitude test (I think this was in 4th grade). The test said I should be a mechanical engineer. The other students made fun of me unmercifully! Next time we took an aptitude test I paid more attention to the clerical questions that were clearly geared towards making sure the female test-taker could show her aptitude for secretarial work.

I wonder if I had chosen to become an astronaut, whether I would have been successful. Wired Magazine has a fascinating article this month about women who trained to be astronauts in the late 1950s. The US government actually trained some women. They made good candidates because they were lightweight, hard workers, excellent pilots, and able to pass grueling endurance tests. The program was cancelled in 1961 though. Perhaps the women outshone the men! We can't have that! Back to the secretarial pool with you.

Well, it looks like I may never travel to space, but at least I can pretend, thanks to ScienceWorks and NASA. And thank goodness I have been able to become an engineer and teacher. I would make an abysmal secretary.

1 comment:

  1. You may make an abysmal secretary, but you're an ADORABLE astronaut!