Whilst one would think an ecology and molecular biology student would feel daunted and lost at an Astronautical Conference it has actually been both an enjoyable and educational experience so far (see our previous blogs). Admittedly, at the start it was a little bewildering trying to navigate around the labyrinth of exhibits plastered with unrecognisable words associated with space technology. In one incident we, Jess, Yasmin A and I (the only non-engineers in the GreenSat party attending the IAC), managed to find ourselves in a position where we could only slowly nod our heads in agreement as we had an exhibitor persistently tell us about his new advancements in thermal control systems for satellites. I shan’t even attempt to expand on what he explained to us.
However, it has been a very pleasantly surprising experience to have professionals within these industries and other students from other institutions being enthusiastically curious and willing to hear about the biological aspects of the GreenSat project. Whilst most talk sessions and presentations so far have been somewhat inaccessible to me due to their technical terminology and content, on Wednesday morning (at the begrudgingly early start time of 7am) I dragged myself to attend the ‘First Woman on the Moon-Diversity Breakfast’ talk session along with two other GreenSat members (who also happened to be other female members on the GreenSat team). Despite the excessive complaining I know I carried out about my lack of sleep and need for caffeine, the talk was undoubtedly an incredibly worthwhile endeavour. There is no sugar coating the reality of the situation either, this talk had the best gender balance ratio I have seen so far on the trip; with nearly-nearly, almost half the room being women!
Before launching into the session, the welcome started with the President of the IAF, Dr Jean-Yves Le Gall, talking about the potential historical significance of the first woman on the moon, but the questioning of what the first woman would represent really took off with Steve Durst, Founding Director of the International Lunar Observatory Association. He brought to everyone’s attention that there has been a total of 60 woman in space, but of those none have walked on the moon compared to the 12 men who have. He began to question what a female on the moon would represent, whether she would represent a nationality, a professional background or an age too, would it be another giant leap for mankind? Whilst he did not emphasise on a definitive conclusion, it was easily interpretable the unfortunate reality is the ‘great leap’ may be more of a ‘little pounce’ for the first woman on the moon. Professor Jan Woerner, Director General of the European Space Agency, dazzling everyone with vibrant and humorous slides even referenced that moon itself is considered to have a feminine identity (including ‘la lune’ in French being a feminine noun and he even referred to the Maya moon goddess).
The truly impacting ideas from the breakfast however came from the two final speakers; Danielle Richey from Lockheed Martin and Dr. Sandy Magnus, Executive Director of AIAA and astronaut. Together, these two prominent, inspirational and determined women simultaneously balanced the same conceptual thinking and complimented one other in a powerful way, conveying the very significant message of the necessity of diversity within not just the space industry but in all industries. They both, carefully selecting their words, created their own concept of equality and diversity to ensure as much inclusivity and cementing the idea that diversity does not just come from the fact that there is representation but from having a collectively rich source of experiences and knowledge. Their talks were greatly crafted as they both brought up how diversity within a team also includes more energy requirement, more stepping out of the comfort zone and more open-mindedness. A memorable part of the talk by Dr. Sandy Magnus was she said that a diverse team means: “a richer source of solutions…. because each person’s tackling of a problem is different…. creating a more creative and stronger community”. The key challenges that building a diverse team, community or industry faces is the “breaking down of stereotypes and most importantly being able to listen”.
It is safe to say that, even though I very much look forward to the days yet to come (especially since there will be many talks coming soon on astrobiology and biology), this talk was a highlight because whether it is the field of engineering, science, business or arts, these principles of equality and diversity are translatable to any area of life. It may not have been the most popular or technical talk at the IAC but I personally found it an incredible session as society and teams are what hold projects and progression together.