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NOTEBOOK: Whitson: Female role models help women pursue NASA careers


Record-breaking astronaut Peggy Whitson was in Iowa last week to speak to classes and to headline a gala for the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs. I interviewed her briefly at the Iowa Historical Building, near a display containing one of her International Space Station flight suits. 

Rather than spend much time asking her how long it takes her to regain her walking ability after a long trip to space (she stood after an hour back on Earth the last time, but “puking was involved”), or her feelings about the forces of nature (“Gravity sucks”), I asked for her thoughts on the state of STEM education, meaning science, technology, engineering and math. She’s spoken widely about STEM, and the need for female role models in science, like the late astronaut Sally Ride. 

“I think probably the biggest indication of STEM change during the course of my career is that when I graduated from high school was the first year that they picked female astronauts,” said Whitson, who grew up on a farm near Beaconsfield. That was 1978. “Over the course of time, we now have 25 or 30 percent of the astronaut corps is female at NASA. When I first started working at NASA, I was fortunate enough to have some female role models who were my mentors and helped me get started. It was fantastic.”

Continue reading to learn Whitson’s tips for young women interested in NASA. Full Notebook story

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