As a Navy pilot, NASA astronaut Susan Kilrain used decades of flight experience to deal with a space emergency.
Kilrain, then known as Susan Still, ran the space shuttle Colombia safe return to Earth after the mission was aborted in orbit on April 8, 1997. An erratic fuel cell forced the landing after just four days in space, a fraction of the 15 days listed on the mission manifesto.
Although she showed her skills under pressure, Kilrain faced decades of discrimination on the road to space. But those cat cries taught her to “compartmentalize” and focus on safety and other mission-essentials, she recalled in a recent maintenance (opens in a new tab) at Saudi Arabia’s Space Camp 2101 conference just before Women’s History Month in March.
“Maybe you had a bad day at home, or your dog died, or you have an emergency in orbit,” Kilrain said during an onstage interview at the conference, which took place on Saturday. took place at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology from 5 February. to February 9. “You put that aspect — the risk, the danger — in the back of your head. You handle the situation like you’ve been trained to do.”
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Saudi Arabia’s control over women has been extreme until recently. Male family members such as fathers, brothers, and husbands dictated a woman’s livelihood, clothing, or ability to leave her residence until 2019, says the New York Times (opens in a new tab).
That said, women activists are still at risk of being imprisoned or executed, and migrant workers are known to be victims of abuse, according to ABC Australia (opens in a new tab). Critics have also said that Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy that follows Islamic Sharia, is making only superficial changes to its laws to attract tourism.
But to celebrate advances in women’s rights, Kilrain spoke at the Saudi conference about how much things have changed even for American women in one generation. (The interview was short and did not touch upon aspects of ethnicity or other genders.)
“People respect women in engineering a lot more now than they did when I was there. [the Navy]”said Kilrain, who joined the service in 1985. She admitted that young women today have a lot more opportunities, but in her time she tried to ignore the critics.” aircraft does not know the sex of the person sitting on the seat. .”
Related: Women of color in astronomy face a greater degree of discrimination and harassment
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Kilrain and her spaceship the crew was lucky. They were going home because of flight rules; the three healthy fuel cells were needed for shuttle missions to generate power no matter what. Since the astronauts weren’t facing an extremely urgent event like a fire, they could somehow choose the time of their arrival for maximum success.
NASA also rebroadcast the entire mission later in 1997, with the same crew. Columbia was refurbished and the fuel cells worked perfectly during STS-94, a 15-day mission in July 1997 devoted to scientific experiments with the European Space Agency’s Spacelab module.
Retired from the Astronaut Office in 2003, Kilrain remains active as a space advocate and said she sees her role today as working for gender parity in the community.
“People like me play a big role in mentoring young women moving into traditionally male fields like engineering,” she said, “and also in moving women up…in the power structure. of an organization, like making them leaders.”
Women’s History Month was officially recognized by the United States Congress in 1987, but follows nearly a century of other commemorations in March relating to women, according to Britannica (opens in a new tab). March 8 also marks the United Nations International Women’s Day (opens in a new tab).
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller (opens in a new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Or Facebook (opens in a new tab).