Interview with Science and Space Writer Sue Nelson: “Women were ready to fly a spacecraft 60 years ago. It is the world, the society that is still not ready”

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Sue Nelson is a passionate science and space writer. She has always been interested in space. When she was a teenager, she wrote to National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and asked them how to become an astronaut. What she did not know back then, in the mid-70s, NASA did not admit women into their space program. As she was watching the launch of brand new spacecraft called Dragon into space, she was delighted! But she also adds that she “would have liked it even more if instead of Bob and Doug, there was a woman going up there too.” 

On Saturday, 30th of May, the spacecraft belongs to SpaceX, called Dragon made it to space with two NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley. Amidst all the joy and congratulations, I found myself thinking “Oh there is no woman?” No. There was no woman. But actually, there are women, there are many women who contributed a lot to the humankind’s discoveries in space.

Sue Nelson’s book, titled Wally Funk’s Race for Space, was published in 2018 in which she told “the extraordinary story of a female aviation pioneer” Mary “Wally” Funk. Funk was 22 years old when she read an article about the Woman in Space Program run by William Randolph Lovelace, a doctor who had worked on Project Mercury, NASA’s drive to put a man into orbit around the Earth. Lovelace launched this privately funded program to discover if women were as able as men. Funk contacted him, detailing her experience and achievements. Despite being underage – the women were supposed to be between 25 and 40; she was 22 – she was invited to take part. 

The program, however, was abruptly cancelled. Funk went on to become the first female air safety investigator for the National Transportation Safety Board. But even after all these years, she hasn’t given up on her astronaut dreams, hoping to be on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic Spacecraft

The more Nelson learned about the stories of women who contributed to space discoveries and how persistent they were in their dreams, the more she felt inspired. She says, “If you do not see women like you, then it makes you feel like you do not belong there. And if you go ahead and do what you want you do anyway, it can be quite an isolating experience. It is always good to know that there are others who have gone before you and that is why these women are worth writing about.”

Sue Nelson underlines something very significant when it comes to what kept women from being on the frontlines. “Women were ready, both physically and mentally able to fly a spacecraft 60 years ago,” she says. It is the world, the society that was and is still not ready to see women on the frontlines of space discoveries, “We need to read about these women, we need to learn about them, and encourage young women.” Nelson adds.

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