“The first person on Mars is likely to be a woman,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine in an interview with Science Friday last week. Bridenstine also said the next person on the moon will “absolutely" be a woman.
His comments hint at major milestones for female astronauts ahead.
“So these are great days,” Bridenstine said. “We have the first all-female spacewalk happening this month at the end of March, which is, of course, National Women’s month. So NASA is committed to making sure that we have a broad and diverse set of talent.”
An American astronaut has not been on the moon since 1972, and if a woman is selected for the next expedition, she will then be the first female astronaut to have ever been to the moon.
These announcements could have ripple effects throughout the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields, which are largely male-dominated fields.
In the US, women make up 47% of the workforce but about a quarter of STEM jobs. Only 35% of chemists, 15% of engineers, and 11% of physicists are women, according to the National Science Board. This is partially because of the lack of female representation in the field and stereotypes which often discourage girls from pursuing STEM careers.
For example, between 1998 and 2010, about a half a million people around the world took a gender-science Implicit Association Test. Over 70% of the participants associated men with science and women with art and humanities. The stereotype that men are better than at science at women can create bias in the workplace, affect female students' test performances, and deter women from entering that field.
Many organizations have helped to close this gap by encouraging young girls to consider STEM careers, including Girls Who Code and GoldieBlox. In 2017, Legos released a Women of NASA toy set highlighting women’s contributions to science and technology. Barbie also released a Robotics Engineer Barbie, thus creating more visibility about women in the STEM field for your girls.
NASA has also worked hard to be more inclusive. In 1978, the first six women joined the organization’s astronaut corps. Today, women make up 34% of active NASA astronauts.
NASA’s all-female spacewalk is set to occur at the end of this month.
“NASA is committed to making sure that we have a broad and diverse set of talent,” said Bridenstine.