Lesbians in Space

Is NASA Courting the Wrong Stuff?

Does it matter that Sally Ride, NASA’s first woman in Space was a lesbian? It wasn’t like the diminutive five-foot-five female astronaut was advocating or promoting same-sex lifestyles, or openly grooming young girls to become future female partners. No one outside a very small circle even knew about her sexual proclivities until after her death from pancreatic cancer.

Does it matter that NASA astronaut Lisa Novak was charged with the attempted kidnapping and murder of fellow astronaut William Oefelein’s girlfriend, or that “outed” astronaut Anne McClain was accused of identity theft and “wrongfully attempting to access the bank account” of her estranged wife, Summer Worden?

In the case of Novak, the charges were pled down to felony burglary and misdemeanor battery, and she was demoted and retired from the Navy under other than honorable circumstances. In the case of McClain, she was exonerated, and Worden was indicted for making false statements.

Astronauts, male or female, are people, and just like everyone else are subject to human foibles and frailties. But still, one would hope that NASA’s selection criteria are designed to minimize the expression of such foibles and frailties within their elite astronaut cadres. Of the tens of thousands of applicants competing for a spot in NASA’s astronaut corps, only a tiny percentage make it, and tax payers have a right to demand that these be “the best of the best.” They have the right to ask just what attributes are being cultivated.

The most recent Astronaut Class, the Class of 2017, drew 18,300 applicants.  Of those, 120 were “invited” to NASA’s “Manned” Missions Space Center for four months of “Phase 1” interviews, which eliminated half of the hopefuls. The survivors underwent two months of additional Phase 2 interviews and participated in medical and physical assessments. Medical evaluations were performed by doctors at the Flight Medicine Clinic for the Astronaut Long-Duration Spaceflight Physical, and more hopefuls were eliminated. Phase 3 subjected Phase 2 survivors to “team building activities,” which reduced the field considerably.  Only eleven astronauts made the cut: three “white” males, three “minority” males, three “white” females, and two “minority” females.

One would hope that these eleven astronauts, and those that follow, are indeed physically capable and mentally stable team players, unburdened with grievance industry attitude, rainbow elitism, or gender/race privilege. But there are disturbing signs that NASA has employed and is indeed accelerating the prioritization of gender and race to achieve “equity,” instead of focusing on the selection of the best qualified, regardless of sex or color.

Back in March 2019, astronaut Christina Koch was paired with astronaut Anne McClain in the International Space Station (ISS), and scheduled for the “first all-female spacewalk,” as a “fitting ending to Women History Month.” Koch and McClain joined the astronaut corps in 2013, graduating from an astronaut class that was 50 percent female. Even the more diminutive women were trained and certified in medium and large spacesuits, because that was all that NASA has. There are no small, or extra small sizes.

At the time of the spacewalk, the ISS only had one “medium-size spacesuit hard upper torso” and McClain balked at wearing a larger size, even though she’d been certified in one. McClain was returned to Earth and replaced by Jessica Meir (also Class of 2013). NASA tried again in October 2019, and Koch and Meir’s “first spacewalk of an all-women team” made “herstory.”

It might have been for the best. Training or no training, slopping around in over-sized suits makes work in the brutal, inherently dangerous vacuum of Space harder, slower and even more dangerous. If either of the women astronauts had become compromised, exhausted, or injured, their rescue would have placed their male crewmates at unnecessary risk. Just for the sake of a Women History Month First. The moral of this potentially tragic tale is (or should be): “Don’t hire small astronauts until you can build small space suits.”  

Last year NASA announced their list of candidates for the Artemis mission: nine male astronauts and nine female astronauts, of which nine are “white,” and nine are “non-white”—a rainbow painted with astro-mathematical precision. Named after Apollo’s female twin, the “logo” of the Artemis mission, depicting “Woman on the Moon” is telling: A round medallion portraying “a portrait of the Greek Goddess Artemis illustrated in the highlights and shadows of the crescent Moon,” her features squashed and distorted “so that all women can see themselves in her.”

Of course, it isn’t just astronauts.

Last February, NASA announced the graduates of their new Flight Directors Class of 2021: three white women, one white male.

In highlighting the “People Behind NASA’s Perservance Rover, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) showcased Heather Bottom, Katie Stack Morgan, Moo Stricker, Al Chen, Diana Trujillo, Eric Aguilar, and Michelle Tomey Colizzi. That doesn’t necessarily mean that there were no white males on the team, although white males are a minority at JPL, which boasts demographics of over 51 percent “ethnic minorities,” and 30 percent females. But if there are any white males on the team, they appear to have been canceled for the sake of optics.

Seriously, NASA needs to back away from radical wokeness and turn color blind and gender neutral. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. taxpayer dollars are committed to the selection and training of each and every astronaut. Billions of dollars are expended launching them into space – currently to the ISS, and hopefully, eventually, on to lunar missions and Mars exploration.

And it isn’t just the patent inequality or unfairness of minimizing or even canceling a white male presence from NASA’s astronaut and support staff cadres. The inevitable consequences of allowing bias and preferential HR practices to become institutionalized do not create some Kumbaya community of rainbow brothers and sisters reveling in harmony and unity in Space. Such intolerance cultivates division and feelings of inadequacy among the favored few, and resentment among the least preferred. Painfully aware that their selection was based upon gender or race and not demonstrable skills or superior competencies – the “winners” interact awkwardly with each other, as well as with their white male counterparts, themselves conflicted and compromised by the bewildering persecution.

It’s a lose-lose scenario. White males who buy into the “ally” collective guilt of being “historically privileged” are mentally scarred by a sense of unworthiness and lack of validity.  Those who “go along to get along” or feel obliged to fake their way through the indoctrination and screening processes, suppress feelings of outrage and oppression likely to rise to the surface under periods of stress.   

White males who buy into the “ally” collective guilt of being “white” and “male” and “historically privileged” will be dogged by a sense of self-doubt and even self-loathing.  

These are not dynamics that auger well for the success of long duration missions under claustrophobic conditions in the uncompromising and hostile vacuum of Space.

So, does it matter that NASA feels obliged to gamble on the mental stability and lack of physicality of their candidates if it means they can enhance the optics of inclusion?

Yes. Yes, it does.

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has traveled extensively in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and the South Seas – winning hearts and minds in and out of uniform – federal, military, and freelance.  Now working exclusively freelance, he is fluent in German and English, with survival skills in French, Haitian Creole, Russian, Standard Arabic, Swahili and Samoan.

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