Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Early Motherhood in a Majority Male Professional World

One thing I didn’t grasp from all my reading was that first trimester pregnancy can take the life out of you. I pride myself in being a very productive person, but pregnancy cut down my productivity by greater than half. For several weeks I had to adjust to living all day every day feeling horribly sick and unreasonably exhausted. I got done what little I absolutely had to, then resigned to sleeping long hours, vegging out watching Netflix, or if I was unusually alert, reading through book #3 of the Game of Thrones series A Song of Ice and Fire.

Even now at the end of my first trimester, I’m feeling more myself, but nausea still comes and goes. Increasingly common afternoon or early evening naps are my new reality. But I am feeling more energized, which means I get to catch up on things that I should have done a month or two ago that got pushed to the bottom of the to-do list, including write in this blog. It’s quite embarrassing digging up tasks and topics from early April when the symptoms began, but better late than never.

Entering this new stage of my life, I now wish that maternal issues would be discussed more openly in our culture. It seems that we largely ignore maternity unless we are directly impacted by it. I’m guilty of this as well. Although I’ve wanted children for years in an undefined future time, I didn’t pay much attention to it until now when my circumstances changed.

I hesitated to professionally announce my pregnancy. I didn’t know if I would be taken less seriously as a professional woman. I’m female and I have the blessing/curse of looking younger than my years which leads to the constant struggle to be heard and respected, a problem which plagued me in previous jobs. So far, everyone I’ve told has been very supportive and excited for me. In the months and years to come, I’ll remain the same intelligent, competent professional I am now and will hopefully continue to grow in my roles. But will I be respected when I’m bulging 8 months pregnant or when I have a crying infant to care for?

I spent all breakfast this morning thinking of all of the strong, successful women who I personally know and look up to in my industry. The vast majority of them are childless. A few are mothers to grown children. After a long while, I could only think of two – yes, two – mother role models in my profession who have children at home. Shocked at the rarity, I instantly wrote them appreciative notes. It’s hard enough to be a woman in a male-dominated industry, but to be a woman who is also a mother to young ones, and to still be successful – hats off to you!

Surprisingly, not many of my female peers are mothers, though there are a few. The importance of supporting not only young females in my field, but young female mothers especially has become apparent to me. Outside of my professional circles, I only have to look toward my own mom as a role model of a strong, successful mother. The feminist ideals I was raised with as a child had a huge impact on my successes in life. I hope to raise my children (boys as well as girls) with these same ideals.

Thank you to all of the strong, successful professional mothers out there who pave the way for future generations to follow the paths you carved out first!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

And the NSS Space Pioneer Award for Mass Media Goes To...

I have a loose connection to the National Space Society's annual conference, the International Space Development Conference. My first ISDC was in 2009 in Orlando as just an attendee. When I was an officer in the Huntsville chapter of NSS, HAL5, I was on the planning committee for ISDC 2011 in Huntsville. I served as VIP Relations during ISDC 2011 and ISDC 2013 in San Diego. In that role, I interfaced with, greeted, managed, escorted, and in many ways assisted celebrity and important conference guests.

My every-other-year involvement in ISDC broke this year when I realized that attending the conference in Toronto was not in the cards for me. Or so I thought! A couple months back, I got a call from one of the conference organizers who asked me to present an NSS award to a VIP guests who was suddenly unable to attend as well. The presentation would be captured on video and shown during one of the conference dinners. It just so happens that this guest lives 15 minutes from me. I speak of veteran space reporter and author Jay Barbree who won this year's Space Pioneer award for Mass Media.

Jay is an NBC reporter who has covered every single American human launch to space and has worked in the industry for 50 years. He currently lives in a beautiful house on a strip of Merritt Island with water on either side of them. His lovely wife showed me around the house which was an unusually beautiful white-painted rustic wood with Japanese d├ęcor with huge windows everywhere and a pool in the back – gorgeous. Jay's office is a home studio, his grandson is his cameraman, and his daughter edits the videos.

Jay and his wife were very warm, complimentary, and welcoming. We made a two-minute-long video where I gave him the award and he accepted it with a short speech. We did a few practice runs before getting it as we wanted it. The Space Pioneer awards – globes in the shape of a moon or a heavily cratered planet resting on a platform with three arms – were quite heavy, and after so many minutes of holding it up for the camera, our arms did get tired!

Jay already has several awards from his long career including an Emmy which you can see in the background on the shelf. Jay also kindly gave me three of his books which he signed for me: Moonshot, Live from Cape Canaveral, and Neil Armstrong: A Life of Flight. I look forward to reading them. It was a pleasure to meet Jay and to present the award to him on behalf of NSS!

Presenting the NSS award to Jay Barbree, May 11, 2015 - Can you spot the Emmy?
Three of Jay's books which he signed for me - thanks Jay!
My every-other-year involvement streak may indeed be broken, however. There is already talk of me attending ISDC 2016 in Puerto Rico. ¡Espero!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Secret Spaceplane, Sun-Powered Spaceships, and Bill Nye the Science Guy Inspiration

Atlas V AFSPC-5 Launch - May 20, 2015

Late spring mornings make for great launch days! I was up at the Cape to witness the ULA Atlas V launch of the AFSPC-5 mission, also known as the Air Force's secretive Boeing X-37B Orbital Test Vehicle spaceplane. It was flawless.

I'll admit a weakness of mine: I have no sense of direction. I was staring at the wrong pad when this bird took off. By the time I realized it, the rocket was too high in the sky to get the pretty landscape shot I wanted. Next time! I do love rocket trails, though.

Late spring mornings are also lovely times to sunbath in the water. Some tourists speaking a foreign language pointed this big alligator out as I drove along the NASA Causeway and I couldn't resist pulling over for a look. I must admit, peeking out to watch the launch from the water sounds wonderfully refreshing.

Can you spot the gator eyes?
This rocket also carried the Planetary Society's LightSail spacecraft. When I was working at Marshall Space Flight Center, I had the pleasure of knowing a NASA scientist working on solar sail technology and touring his lab. Light is make up of photons, and these energetic photons can exert pressure known as radiation pressure. Photons from our Sun, for example, can push a spacecraft similar to how wind pushes a boat's sails, hence the name solar sail.

Future LightSail mssions will test this propulsion method. Today's launched LightSail spacecraft will test the satellite systems in preparation for the real thing, hopefully in a year. I had the pleasure of meeting the Chief Operating Officer of of the Planetary Society on Sunday who is in town for the launch. I wish the Planetary Society all the best!

The Planetary Society's more public face, Bill Nye, is in town as well, though I didn't catch him this trip. I've met him twice or thrice before, most recently at a Planetary Society gathering for the MAVEN launch to Mars in 2013. Admittedly I've never seen an episode of The Science Guy and had never even heard of the show until a few years ago, so I see Bill Nye as educator rather than a celebrity, but it's still neat to see how he inspires others.

In November 2013, Bill Nye gave a talk at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex before we Planetary Society visitors and guests gathered on buses for a Cape tour and up-close look at MAVEN's Atlas V. He had quite a crowd gathered around him at all times, people of all ages! That same evening I gave a public science talk at the Planetary Society's Science Cafe event following Bill Nye's impromptu remarks, and he's a hard act to follow! It's a beautiful thing when science celebrities can inspire the public. I may not know his TV personality, but I admire his dedication to science education and advocacy. 

MAVEN / Atlas V on the launch pad - Nov. 17, 2013

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

State of the Center Update with Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana

May 12, 2015 National Space Club Florida Committee luncheon

Today I had the pleasure of returning to the National Space Club monthly luncheon. It's always a fun time to catch up with my space peeps over lunch and hear a good talk. Today's presentation was the annual update from NASA Kennedy Space Center Director and former astronaut Bob Cabana.

Maybe because I've heard Bob speak so much recently, or maybe because all the upper management at NASA are saying the same things, but I didn't hear anything new or noteworthy in today's talk. It was a very standard NASA/KSC presentation including the intro video that I've seen at least twice before. Surprise remarks or new announcements make for a more interesting presentation, but there's something to be said for listening closely to the company message to hear the unspoken and note what's being deemphasized. For example, maybe I missed it, but I don't think the Space Launch System was mentioned once.

Bob's presentation contained lots of NASA PR catchphrases, the first one being: Time to be bold again! I don't think anyone on the planet outside of NASA management would use the word bold to describe NASA in its current state, but in its defense, the agency's hands are tied. I'm sure NASA would love to be bold again, if only it was left alone by its political masters.

Bob's presentation was a general overview of what NASA is up to these days. We explored the Moon with Apollo then left, but now is the time for pioneering, another current catchphrase. Through the International Space Station, humanity established a presence in low-Earth orbit, but now is the time to move on to establish a presence further in the solar system. And by that, NASA means Mars. With robots we've established a presence on Mars, but now we want to do so with humans. Bob spoke about the “pay as you go” method, building on robotic precursors. No additional details were given.

As an astronaut himself, Bob delighted in telling us about the Mark and Scott Kelly twin study. One twin (Scott) will fly on the International Space Station for a year while the other (Mark) remains on Earth, and after a year, their medical results will be compared. This project was controversial in my previous ISS job because of the questionable scientific merit, but it is good PR for NASA.

Bob spoke about the Orion program and recounted the EFT-1 launch in December. He noted that the general feeling at KSC was, “We're back,” and that he didn't expect the launch to feel as good as it did. I have to agree with him. Even though EFT-1 was way over-hyped compared to its actual importance, KSC did seem to come alive for that launch. I very much hope that EFT-1 doesn't mirror Ares I-X's fate.

A mandatory talking point over the past few years, Bob wrapped up by describing the ways in which KSC is becoming a multiuser spaceport and is transforming launch operations. I noted that Bob admitted that it's not happening as quickly as he'd like, “but it is happening.” He briefly mentioned the Shuttle Landing Facility hand-over to Space Florida, a very long time coming, and joked that he'd done all that he could and it was up to Space Florida now. Space Florida, of course, has the reverse opinion. Maybe we'll hear more from Space Florida CEO Frank DiBello when he gives his annual NSC luncheon update next month.

Bob's presentation allowed no time for questions, which was a shame because the most interesting and noteworthy information could have come from his answers to audience questions. He did make an off-the-cuff remark about how astronauts are so soft now, not like the explorers who roughed it in the olden days like Shackleton's expedition to the Antarctic. I ran into (nearly literally) astronaut Chris Ferguson after the talk and I wonder if he feels the same way about current astronauts versus the explorers of old.

KSC Director Bob Cabana - May 12, 2015

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Lunch with Astronaut Winston Scott

Time to return to blogging! Life has been crazy on my end and I thank you all for your patience as I return to my normal routine.

Today I had the pleasure of eating lunch with astronaut Winston Scott (STS-72 and STS-87), now Senior Vice President for External Relations and Economic Development at my undergraduate alma mater university, Florida Institute of Technology. The event was hosted by the Cocoa Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Citizens for Space Exploration.

It had been a bit over a year since I last chatted with Winston. He and I did business together in early 2014 when we organized a partnership and workshop between my previous employer CASIS and Florida Tech. It was great to catch up with him over lunch. He excitedly told me of the latest happenings with his office and astronaut Buzz Aldrin's ShareSpace Foundation.

Winston Scott - May 5, 2015

Winston's speech to the small luncheon audience was engaging. He was not at all afraid to share his opinions, though he wanted to be clear that they were his opinions and he encouraged open discussion of different opinions. His goal was to give his philosophical perspective and listen to our perspective.

His first point is that space exploration is not an option. The United States is a top country because our technology is among the best in the world, largely because of the space program. The U.S. must maintain leadership in space exploration or the rest of our country will fall behind – our technology, our infrastructure, our communications, our military, everything. Space is an imperative, not a luxury.

He expressed concern that the U.S. has lost its ability to put astronauts into space and we're now “playing junior varsity.” We must regain our capability of putting humans in space and lead, he stressed. He stressed that we indeed are in a space race with Russia and China. We must regain our ability to put humans into space to keep our technological prowess.

Winston points to the lack of passionate government leadership as the biggest hurdle. Our leaders understand space intellectually but they aren't passionate. Corporate training tells our leaders to be logical, not passionate or emotional. But he thinks the opposite is needed: we need to be passionate. “Our country isn't passionate about space or about anything except special media, the latest tweet,” he poked as I tweeted his words.

The audience question and answer session was diverse. The first asked whether robots can replace astronauts and whether human settlement of space should be a goal. Winston responded that we need to send people to space because that's who we are. We were born to explore. He agreed that colonization is a good end result.

When asked about whether Mars should be the goal of human space exploration, Winston took a different approach. The goal is constant expansion, he said. Mars is the current goal but shouldn't be the ultimate goal. We need to explore beyond Mars. His opinion is that we need to return to the Moon to set up a colony, then explore Mars, then set a new boundary beyond.

The next question asked him to explore the role between the government space programs and private industry. Winston insisted that both are needed. Business people make space travel affordable and available to more people and companies. But we also need a strong government to do the ground-breaking, expensive stuff. But Winston expressed concerns that NASA is currently not strong nor focused. The commercial side of the space industry is is passionate, he said, but he doesn't see the same passion in government leadership.

The topic turned to NASA's current human space exploration efforts with the Orion crew capsule. In some ways, Orion is a step backwards in philosophy, Winston argued. NASA is designing something without knowing what to do with it. Citizens for Space Exploration organizer and Lockheed Martin employee Joe Mayer disagreed, giving a passionate defense of Orion. If we had waited for a clear direction, we'd be years behind, Joe insisted. Better to do it this way than not to do anything. Winston seemed pleased with the discussion and agreed that leadership is space is severely lacking.

A college student asked his opinion on a one-way trip to Mars. “I'm not a fan of one way trip to anywhere,” Winston responded. He argued that we're not kamikazes and that suicide missions are against our values.

I asked Winston what he thought about Florida's role in the new and evolving space industry. “We can't rest on our laurels,” he responded. Commercial industry will launch to space wherever is economically advantageous to do so. We in Florida must look for new ways to do space business and adapt as it changes.

Winston wrapped up by giving advice to students: don't limit yourselves to one activity and don't pidgin hole yourself. If you want to be two different things, be both. Follow your passion! Thank you, Winston, for a great luncheon talk.

Winston Scott & Me - May 5, 2015