American Museum Of Natural History Scientists Say Future Moon Mission Should Have an All-Female Crew

Apollo 11
NASA/AFP/Getty Images

Astronaut Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, Jr. saluting the US flag on the surface of the Moon during the Apollo 11 lunar mission on July 20, 1969. 

Saturday, July 20 marks the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's moon landing.

At a time when the music business -- and the wider culture -- grapples with gender inequity, scientists in New York, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, have taken the issue to a cosmic level.

“The future of space exploration is probably going to be female,” says Ruth Angus, assistant curator and professor in the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Instead of another future manned flight to the moon, “we should have an entirely 'womanned’ mission,” says Angus. 

Angus noted that NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine “talks about sending the first woman and the next man to the moon. Why aren’t we sending an entirely 'womanned’ mission?” 

Among the 38 active members of NASA’s astronaut corps, 12 are women.

“To paraphrase my namesake [Supreme Court justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she said, we wouldn’t have gender parity until all nine members of the Supreme Court are women. [When we send] the next 12 people to the moon, why can’t they all be women? That would send a really strong message,” said Angus. “Space exploration is all about inspiration.”

A colleague affirmed her view. “I’m with you!” declared fellow astronomer, Jackie Faherty, a senior scientist and senior education manager at the museum.

The scientists made their remarks Wednesday (July 17) at a press preview of the museum’s Space Fest event taking place Saturday (July 20), exactly 50 years after Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the moon. Twelve astronauts in all have done so -- all of them men.

As he stepped off the ladder of the lunar module, at 10:56 p.m. EDT on July 20, with the world watching black-and-white television images, Armstrong declared: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind."

Angus reflected: “It’s actually kind of symbolic that Neil Armstrong chose to use the words ‘man’ and ‘mankind,’ even though at the time they were meant to be inclusive terms, today lots of people interpret those terms as being exclusive. Just to make it 100 percent clear, space exploration is for everyone. It would be really nice if we sent a woman of color to the moon next.”

Wednesday’s press preview featured experts from the museum’s astrophysics and earth and planetary sciences department and included a tour of the museum’s new Arthur Ross Hall of Meteorites, which includes three moon rocks and a newly acquired sample of a lunar meteorite which fell in northwest Africa in 2016.

At the museum’s Rose Center for Earth and Space, scientists presented an awe-inspiring, data-driven recreation of lunar images within the iconic dome of the Hayden Planetarium “seeing exactly what the astronauts themselves saw,” says museum president Ellen Futter. “Prepare to be dazzled.”

Fifty years on, the lessons of the Apollo 11 mission include the importance of a commitment to scientific research “especially when we face seemingly insurmountable challenges,” says Futter.

The new Hayden Plantetarium show also is part of Space Fest, which also will include family-friendly presentations, performances and hands-on activities about the moon, Mars and the universe beyond.

On Sunday (July 21), Faherty will host a conversation with musician and avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson about her new immersive reality experience, To The Moon, which makes its U.S. premiere at the museum during Space Fest. 

According to an announcement from the museum, during Anderson’s 15-minute work: “the viewer is shot out from Earth, walks on the surface of the Moon, glides through space debris, flies through DNA skeletons, and is lifted up and then tossed off of a lunar mountain.”

Co-created by Hsin-Chien Huang, who will also participate in the conversation, To The Moon will be shown at the museum through July 28.


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