Every morning started off with a glass of Tang, and when I got a little older my grandparents surprised me with a trip to the Kennedy Space Center. Since then, I’ve kept up on various space missions, the Space Shuttle program, and was thrilled when one of my biggest inspirations from the art world, Laurie Anderson, was appointed NASA’s first artist-in-residence in 2002.
I hit the jackpot in March when I got to meet Dr. Karen St. Germain and some of the NASA team in their booth at Commodity Classic. That introduction resulted in securing St. Germain as the speaker for our first Women in Ag Tech (WiAT) meeting on July 24th in Des Moines, while her colleague, Dr. Alyssa Whitcraft, served as the keynote speaker for Tech Hub LIVE (THL) the following morning.
I also picked up a cool sticker at the NASA booth, which St. Germain graciously signed when I saw her again in Des Moines.
NASA nerd, I know.
Whitcraft’s THL keynote covered the NASA Harvest and NASA Acres programs, the latest developments in remote sensing, and how NASA is working more closely with agriculture to provide valuable data, analytics, and forecasting related to weather and climate, soil, water, and crop conditions.
Timing was also on our side. Last year, NASA conducted its first Space For Ag Tour, visiting ag retailers, farmers, and others throughout Kansas and Nebraska. In July, NASA embarked on its second ag tour in Iowa and Illinois. Let’s just say the stars aligned perfectly for the CropLife® and NASA teams.
The professional journeys of these women are noteworthy. St. Germain credits Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen, former Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, for making the phone call to her about an opening at the Earth Sciences Division. He believed a diverse team made for an excellent team. Zurbuchen also knew that hiring committees must also be diverse in order to mitigate bias. Yet, he didn’t waiver on choosing only the best candidate for the job, no matter the person’s demographic.
I thought of St. Germain and Whitcraft recently while watching the 2018 documentary Mercury 13 about the women pilots chosen by NASA physician William Lovelace in the 1960’s to undergo physical and psychological testing to determine their fitness for space exploration. Overall, the women performed better than the men. However, the program was eventually scuttled for a variety of reasons.
It took decades and plenty of cultural and societal change, but along with the rest of the world, I witnessed Astronaut Sally Ride become the first women in space in 1983, while Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle in 1995, with seven of the remaining women from Dr. Lovelace’s program in attendance to view the launch.
Ad astra per aspera.
Let’s get growing!