Popaganda Episode: Space Explorers


The modern exploration of space is often seen as macho endeavor. In films, TV, and often in our history books, the astronauts who head into space are the manliest of manly men. It doesn’t matter whether the stories are fictional or based on real-life, many of our pop culture space sagas center on brave, solitary men. But in reality, modern space exploration has involved some brilliant women and lots of collaborative work—not lone cowboys single-handedly saving the world.

So for this episode of Popaganda, we bring you three real-life stories of women in spaaaaaace!

Writer and bioethicist Elizabeth Yuko tells us about the forgotten history of women who trained to be NASA astronauts—but got shut out of the chance to fly into orbit. Then, we talk with author Margot Lee Shetterly about her research into the lives of African-American women who crunched the numbers that made space flight possible in the 1950s and '60s. Finally, we look to the future, talking with writer Jessica Franken about the women who want to be part of the first human colony on Mars (you can read her print article about the Mars One project in the Nerds issue). 





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Cheryl Green of Storyminders transcribed this episode. We're proud to make Popaganda accessible to people who are Deaf or hard-of-hearing.


SARAH: This is Popaganda, the feminist response to pop culture podcast. I'm Sarah Mirk.


As humans, we’re pretty obsessed with space. For all of our history, humans have looked to the sky as somewhere sacred—the home of the celestial spheres, to put it lightly—but also as a place that's useful. The stars have formed maps, astrologies, theologies. Charting the brightness of stars and the movement of planets is what revolutionized the way we think about ourselves and our Gods. Observations about the physical nature of the universe is what helped put humans in our place, what made us realize hundreds of years ago that no matter how important we may feel, we are not the center of it all. Stare into space, and you’ll know we’re just little specks of life on one little planet in one little corner of the Milky Way.

Space is also a forum for imagination. In science fiction, writers use space as a stage for playing out possible realities and for critiquing our myopic human cultures. But maybe because the cosmos makes us feel so dang insignificant, we’ve always had a desire to explore it for real, to understand it in any way that helps us wrap our tiny, puny, little heads around why the universe is the way it is. Fiction aside, we’ve been trying to make sense of the stars for millennia. In the face of the vast and beautifulness of space, we crave rational data. The very earliest human civilizations kept meticulous maps of the stars. 1,000 years ago, Egyptians and Chinese astronomers were recording the details of supernovas. In the past 100 years, we’ve launched probes and rovers and telescopes and humans into space to help explore the universe and explain it.

Some of this impulse to head to space is certainly about trying to explain and understand the vastness of space and who we are in it. And some of the motivations to head into space have shades of conquest and colonization. Americans were excited to plant a national flag on the moon, after all, and you all know that one line: 

[from Star Trek] MAN: Space: the final frontier.

[Star Trek music]

The modern exploration of space is often seen as a macho endeavor. In films, TV, and often in our history books, the astronauts who head into space are the manliest of manly men.

[From Armageddon, ♪♪]

MAN: United States government has just asked us to save the world.

MAN 2: We're talking about space, right? Outer space? This is like deep blue bureau stuff. I'm there.

MAN 3: I'm with you.

SARAH: And the scientists who send them into orbit are universally men, too. 

[from Apollo 13]

MAN: So you're telling me you can only give our guys 45 hours? That brings them to about there. Gentlemen, that's unacceptable.

[multiple voices at once]

MAN 2: Whoa, whoa, guys! Hang on! Power is everything.

MAN: What do you mean?

SARAH: It doesn’t matter whether the stories are fictional or based on real-life, many of our pop culture space sagas center on brave men.  

[from The Martian, spooky sound effects and banging]

MAN: This will come as quite a shock to my crew mates…and to NASA…and to the entire world. But I'm still alive. Surprise!


SARAH: There are some notable exceptions, of course.

[from Alien]

ELLEN RIPLEY: This organism gets off the planet, it'll kill everything. The company doesn't care about that. They just want it for their bio-weapons division, okay? So we can't let them come here.


SARAH: I love that Ellen Ripley. But in reality, modern space exploration has involved some brilliant women and lots of collaborative work, not lone cowboys single-handedly saving the world, but rooms full of people working together to find a solution. Despite rampant race and gender discrimination, women have worked—and continue to work—in the rooms of NASA's number-crunchers who figure out how to send people and machines into space. Despite being excluded from missions for decades, women have trained to be astronauts since the very first days of space travel. And despite being often left off the screen, women are an integral part of the space exploration teams today.

Today’s episode of Popaganda features three real-life stories of women in space.

First up, we hear about the forgotten history of American women who aspired to be astronauts, but never got the chance to go to space. Then, we hear about the African American women who worked as brilliant mathematicians at NASA in the 1960s. Finally, we talk with the author of an article about women who want to go to space today:  the crew of the future-looking Mars 1 mission. Stay tuned.


When Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon in 1969, he uttered a carefully scripted and immortal phrase:

NEIL ARMSTRONG: One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.

SARAH: But what if it hadn’t been one small step for a man, but one small step for a woman? Writer and bioethicist Elizabeth Yuko brings us the story of the women who wanted to become NASA astronauts in the 1960s and how they were shut out of the possibility to ever fly to the moon.


SARAH: That was writer and bioethicist Elizabeth Yuko.


You’re listening to Popaganda, the feminism and pop culture podcast. Today, we’re talking all about real-life women in spaaaaace [giggles]. Just this month, Barack Obama awarded the presidential medal of freedom—America’s highest civilian honor—to a 97-year-old mathematician named Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson. You might not have heard her name in history class, but Katherine did some life-saving work back in 1962. In her job at NASA, she calculated the trajectory for astronaut John Glenn's pioneering space mission:  the first-ever orbit of Earth. Katherine co-authored the research and equations that laid out how to send Glenn into orbit and how to bring him back home safely. Johnson is just one part of a cadre of African American women who did crucial calculations for the space workforce during the cold war. Author Margot Lee Shetterly tells the stories of these women in her new book Hidden Figures: THE AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN MATHEMATICIANS WHO HELPED NASA AND THE UNITED STATES WIN THE SPACE RACE.

MARGOT: My dad is, he's a now retired NASA research scientist. And so I grew up in Hampton, Virginia. And Hampton is the site of the very first installation of what would become NASA, but at the time, when it was founded back basically during World War I, it was called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. But my dad started work at the Langley Research Center in 1964 as a co-op and then 1966 full-time. And so I grew up around a lot of people who worked at NASA who were engineers or research scientists or mathematicians, and a lot of whom were African American, and a lot of whom were women, and a lot of whom were both:  African American women. So it sort of seemed normal to me. You know, I grew up in something that over time, I realized to be very unusual. But for me, as a kid, the face of science was quite diverse. The federal government and government-sponsored science proved to be robust and interesting and very good careers for a lot of African Americans and a lot of women and a great way to get a piece of that American dream and have a middle class lifestyle and bring up their kids–my generation–with a lot of the access to education and comfort and things like that, that everybody across America wants for their children.

SARAH: What kind of challenges did women working at NASA face at that time, and did they find community with each other in some significant ways?

MARGOT: Right, well, before we talk about the 1960s, we have to go back to the 1930s and 40s, which is really the most, probably even more, startling part of this story, which is that this story starts 20-25 years before the space program. So before there was space, there was aeronautics. Before there was the National Air and Space Administration, there was the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. And starting in 1935, there at the Langley Research Center, which was then called the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia, engineers said you know–this varies, you might imagine, a very mathematically intense process. They were testing planes, making planes better, improving planes. This was sort of the early part of the 20th century when the airplane was still relatively new. There was a huge amount of data associated with that. The engineers made the decision to perform kind of a human experiment, which was to see if a computing pool–the same way that there was a stenographic pool–and they'd have women who took different parts of typing assignments and things like that, if a computing pool might be an efficient way to process the data that came from aeronautical research. Well, lo and behold, the first five women who were in this pool were smart math graduates, former teachers in many cases. And it was a success. They steadily started hiring more women. And to that point, until 1943, they were all white women. What happened in 1943 is that the demands for computing power and smart female computing power were so great, and with men going off to fight and at the same time, there were skyrocketing demands for faster, better, safer airplanes, they hired a group of African American women. And this is after the pressure from a civil rights leader named A. Philip Randolph. He basically pressured Roosevelt into issuing something called Executive Order 8802, which said “thou shalt not discriminate in the war industries and the federal government.” So it was after that executive order, 18 months later, that the first group of segregated, segregated group of African American women mathematicians started working at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Hampton, Virginia. So this is all a very long back story. So those women, they did the same work as their white counterparts, but they were forced to use–as you might imagine in the segregated South–colored only bathrooms, colored only cafeteria. And of course, in the town itself, it was segregated; lunch counters, schools, hospitals, everything, every aspect of life was segregated. But this was an opening for those women.

SARAH: So the job of “computer” isn't something that really exists these days. Can you tell us about what these women would've been doing at NASA?

MARGOT: Mmhmm. Yeah, so it's only relatively recently that a computer refers to a piece of electronic hardware and not to a person, who frequently was a woman. And the job title, as it indicates, is someone who computes:  a computer. They would simulate flights by having, let's say, a scale model of an airplane, put it in a wind tunnel, and instead of flying the plane through the air, they would have giant turbines that blew the air over the model of the airplane. They had all kinds of instruments, actually, that they designed themselves specifically to capture and record basically every aspect of either the plane or the model in the wind tunnel. And there was a huge amount of data that came out of this. So some of the women were in charge of looking at these instruments and recording the data. So imagine looking at some kind of instrument every two minutes or every 30 seconds or whatever the interval is, and taking recording and putting in a huge data sheet, just marking it down. And then some other women did more theoretical work. So instead of necessarily putting a plane in a wind tunnel and taking data and doing this empirical work, maybe they would take their knowledge of geometry and trigonometry and multi-variant calculus and physics, and using higher mathematics, would come up with theoretical ideas about how the plane would be better and how to make changes and improve the aircraft. So there was this full spectrum, everything from simple calculations to extremely high-level math that these women did over time.

SARAH: So for your book, Hidden Figures, you talked to some of the women who worked as computers at NASA during this time. How did they describe their feelings towards their job and the work environment?

MARGOT: Well, I mean the thing about it is–and I was saying that you look at Mad Men, or you look at the norms of the 40s and 50s and the 60s and what's acceptable then, it's simply not acceptable now. And it wasn't that they didn't acknowledge those issues. You know what I mean? And that people were fighting to change those. A lot of these women were very active in their communities, very active in organizations that were fighting for civil rights and that were working in their communities to make these changes. So there is simply, of course, the acknowledged these horribly difficult parts of going to work each day in that situation. But at the same time, they loved their jobs. I mean, this is sort of one of these things where it's glass half-empty/glass half-full because when these openings happened, when these jobs first started to become available, this was a new things for women and for African Americans, and particularly for African American women, where if you were a math graduate, and you were a talented young woman who wanted to make your mark in math or science, the way it was going to happen was in the classroom. This was the expectation for even the most talented of women coming out of school with an undergraduate math degree or even a graduate math degree, for that matter. And all of a sudden, here's a job where you're going to be a professional mathematician. You're going to challenge yourself and apply these things that perhaps you learned in college and actually work on something that is really exciting. I mean, John Glenn's flight, they're getting ready, they're counting down for his flight, which was in February of 1962. And as part of the final checklist before he took off for this pioneering orbital flight that really changed the balance in the space race and in the Cold War between the United States and the Russians, one of his checklist items was “have the girl”–and at this point, all of the women, regardless of color, were called girls–he said, “have the girl to double-check the numbers.” And the girl was Katherine Johnson. She had been there since 1953. If you ask her, it's about her experience over the years as a mathematician, it's exuberant. I mean, it's not that they don't acknowledge the difficulties; they do. But at the same time, these were people who took their work and their jobs and this opportunity very seriously and gave their all to it.

SARAH: And then of course, just this month is the really exciting news that Katherine Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work.

MARGOT: I mean, that was just so exciting to see her there.

SARAH: And so in your work, you interviewed a lot of women who worked in NASA's space program. And I'm wondering what stories resonated with you personally? Can you share with us another story of a specific woman that really connected with you?

MARGOT: There's a woman whose name was Dorothy Vaughn. And Dorothy Vaughn, so back in the days–the early days, the 1940s and 1950s particularly–the Black women were working in a segregated group. Originally, there was a white woman, sort of a section head and assistant section head. But the two managers were white women, and the women who worked in the group were Black. But eventually, a woman named Dorothy Vaughn, who came to Langley in 1943 and had been a math teacher for many years before that, but like so many people, she made her way to Hampton during the war. Dorothy Vaughn eventually rose to be the head of that group, the West computers. This was in 1951 that she was officially made section head of that group. And what that meant was that she was a manager. I've interviewed so many people, Black and white, male and female, and so many people have memories of Dorothy Vaughn as being both a very, very good mathematician but also a very good manager and somebody who was an advocate for not just the Black women in her group but also white women who were not in her group who perhaps were subject to the same thoughts about women and their limits and their capabilities.

SARAH: Why does that resonate with that personally? Why does she stand out so much, and when you talked to her or talk about her, what does it make you feel?

MARGOT: You know, I think it's probably the idea that back so long ago–I mean, when I first started my career, I worked on Wall Street, and I was an African American woman in a largely male and predominantly white workplace. I just imagine, as a woman in what was then like the 190s and 2000s in a workplace like that, what would it be like in 1943? Completely unknown, never having worked in an integrated situation, in a state where segregation is the law of the land, and having everyday courage, I guess I would call it, to take the slights:  to have to go to the segregated bathroom. But then to have the courage to really advocate for the women around you. That's the kind of thing that you kind of hope that you, in some measure, have inherited.

SARAH: I think that idea of having everyday courage, regardless of what job you work in, is a really special one. I think everybody has to kind of find courage to advocate for themselves and for other people even if they're behind a desk in any office or regardless of what your job is:  even if you're not a rocket scientist [chuckles].

MARGOT: When I think about these women–and there were hundreds of women all told. If you look at the total group, Black and white, hundreds of women doing this work. But I think it's the everyday courage to be in a new situation where the expectations are very low, perhaps, and to stick with it and just, through force of will and through your own talent, decide that you're going to defy those expectations. That takes a lot of guts. It takes a lot of guts and a lot of gumption, and I feel like I find these women to be role models. I've learned so much from their stories.


SARAH: That was author Margot Lee Shetterly. Her book Hidden Figures came out from Harper Collins in fall of 2016.

You’re listening to Popaganda, the feminism and pop culture podcast. Today, we’re talking about real-life women in space.

Ever since humans found out about other planets, we’ve fantasized about traveling there ourselves. Now, several groups are proposing projects that would send real-life people to Mars in just a decade or two, after they can work out the logistical details. Here’s the pitch from maybe the best-known of these projects, Mars One:


“It is Mars One's goal to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars. Human settlement on Mars is the next great leap for humankind. This exploration of the solar system will bring the human race closer together. Mars is the next step in the voyage into the universe.” Sounds pretty good, right?

To accomplish this first human colony supposedly launching in 2026, Mars One opened up their coveted future Mars-colony spots to anyone in the world who wanted to apply. The plan is to fund the trip primarily through advertising and by recording the whole experience as a reality show. This might raise eyebrows among skeptics (that would be me), but thousands of people jumped at the chance to be part of Mars One. This past spring, the nonprofit running the project narrowed down the applicant pool to 100 brave aspiring space-travelers.

Writer Jessica Franken interviewed five of the women who want to be part of Mars One for an article in the Nerds issue of Bitch. Her article is called MEET THE MARTIANS: Five Women from the Mars One Space Program Share Their Thoughts on Leaving Earth Forever. Oh yeah, it's a one-way ticket to Mars. Jessica has a deep interest in science; for her master’s degree, she studied the intersection of gender, fiction, and public perceptions of science. I called up Jessica Franken at her home in Minneapolis to talk about why so many want to go to Mars.

SARAH: So Jessica, for your article, you interviewed five women who want to leave Earth to head for Mars on a future possible mission to Mars. Can you tell me about what got you interested in this potential future Mars exploration project to begin with?

JESSICA: Yeah, it's a fascinating experiment with some really remarkable candidates involved. So Mars One–I'll just give you a little overview–it's a little different than some of the other potential journeys to Mars that are out there. It's a nonprofit, and their goal is to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars with the first four-person crew leaving as early as 2026 or 2027. So they're not the only people with Mars in their sights certainly, but they've been getting a lot of media attention. And I think that there are several reasons for that. The funding model is definitely one. They're attempting to finance the journey largely through donations and advertising revenue. And second is that the trips to Mars are one-way. So they'll send additional four-person crews every 26 months, but none of the travelers will return to Earth. And another reason I think that people have been really picking up on this story is that they put out an open call to anyone in the world who wanted to apply to be an astronaut with Mars One. So there's this really wide variety of people who've made it to the current round of 100 finalists. And it's not just people with scientific and military backgrounds, and it's not just people from countries with established human spaceflight capabilities. So coming from a sort of feminist perspective, what interested me in the topic was exploring the philosophy of opening space up to people who haven't traditionally been able to see themselves there. And I think it's part of a larger discussion about democratizing space. So with the rapid rise of the commercial space industry and falling technology costs, the hope is that more people will have access to things like micro-satellites. So there's this, it's now within the realm of possibility for say a high school science class to raise enough money to send an experiment into near space on a micro-satellite. But human spaceflight is obviously much more expensive and complicated. Space tourism is set to become more common, but that will be at least initially restricted to people with pretty massive disposable incomes.

SARAH: What's interesting about the Mars One project that you mentioned is it's a more democratic approach, that there are people who wound up in the final 100 candidates that were chosen potentially for this future colony who wouldn't have ever been chosen by NASA or the Russian space program as the top cosmonaut. So can you tell us a little bit about the women that you interviewed and what makes them different, potentially, than the typical astronaut that we've seen?

JESSICA: Yeah, I mean it's like this idea of “ordinary people” getting the chance to settle another planet, even though when you talk to the candidates, they're not ordinary; they're extraordinary people who are really passionate about this cause. And so the five people that I talked to, they were really inspiring, and I had a contact high from their passion. They were great. I talked to Kenya Armbruster, who's a project manager for a pharmaceutical company, and Sue Ann Pien, who is an actress, and she works at a technology firm, and Sabrina Surovec, who's an English teacher and artist in Japan. So those were three people who were not coming to this with a scientific background. And then I talked to Kellie Gerardi, who's a business development specialist for a rocket technology company, and Laura Smith-Velazquez, who's a human factors engineer for an aerospace company. And so they were already involved in aerospace. So I really wanted to talk to people coming from a variety of backgrounds, including people who already work in space science and those who work outside of it.

SARAH: I mean, right now, this mission is all theoretical. It seems like missions to Mars are always 20 years out.

JESSICA: Yep [chuckles].

SARAH: And then next 20 years, we'll be sending somebody. But there are actually people going to space right now who are tourists who can afford to shell out for that. We've got reality show stars, we've got Russian billionaires, people who can pay a lot of money to get up into orbit. So I just think that's interesting to consider as we're looking forward to what is the future of space? Is it something that is gonna be a place for the super rich?

JESSICA: Yeah, obviously there are immense costs associated with going. So I read this interview with Eon Musk, who is the head of SpaceX, and he's working on a Mars mission too. And he's sort of like, the first people who go will be the people who can afford to go. On one hand, you can understand why that is, but on the other hand, it sets up this situation in which the settling of a new world, like the first off-Earth human colony is just the richest people from Earth. And so when I was talking to Kellie for the interviews, she said something. She talked a lot about the importance of diversifying access to human space travel, and not just to sending satellites. And she said something like–maybe I can find it. She said, “We can't expect to have a super productive future in space if there's no current relation between normal citizens and the space industry.” And she said even though we know conceptually that technologies we use like GPS, things like that, those come from the space program, and they're a benefit to us from the space program, Kellie says that it's difficult for people to really buy in unless they can imagine themselves as part of it. And I should say just briefly that NASA looks incredibly different from how it did 50 years ago. So I think that there are people who can see themselves as NASA astronauts now that maybe wouldn't have thought of it if they grew up a generation ago.

SARAH: Looks incredibly different, meaning there's more women, there's more people of color at NASA than there were in those photos of the NASA space room in the 1950s.

JESSICA: Yes! For sure. Yeah, so the most recent astronaut class at NASA from 2013 is the first that achieved gender parity, and so it was four women and four men. So I think that there are a lot of people who see people who look like them working on the international space station, and that's a relatively new thing.

SARAH: Well, and the importance of representation in thinking about and conceptualizing space travel, I think some people might think that sounds kind of silly because we're not sending a lot of humans to Mars any time in the next few years. But it kind of relates to an interest in science and math and technology. The people who you might not ever aspire to go to Mars if you don't see yourself as an astronaut. But if you don't see yourself as an astronaut, you also might never wind up thinking about being a physicist or a mathematician or getting into science in that realm. And I know that you've done some work in a master's program on the relationship between gender, fiction, and public perceptions of science. So can you talk to us a little bit about how pop culture images of space travel and science fiction images of space travel help shape our ideas of who can actually work as a mathematician and a physicist or an astronaut?

JESSICA: Yeah, and I think this is something that's definitely been talked about in Bitch a lot and really well, probably better than I could do it here. But just like the importance of representation, it really, really matters. I'm probably gonna get into trouble for talking about The Martian Chronicles, but I read it for the first time this summer.

SARAH: That's the series by Ray Bradbury, the classic sci-fi series, The Martian Chronicles, yeah.

JESSICA: Yes, yeah. And so I know that every time I talk about sexism in science fiction from that era, I just get attacked about like you can't hold it to the same standards as today, etc., etc. But if he can imagine this Martian race where people cook dinner in this silver lava, and they have dust that cleans the house for them, all these things, but he couldn't imagine that one of the crew members was a woman, like that kind of thing. And I think it's like so all these waves of men go up to Mars in that book, and then there's one line about like everybody knew who the first women would be. And they send up a rocket full of prostitutes so [laughs]. So anyway, I'm going off on a tangent, but I think that many diverse roles for women is really important.

SARAH: I guess I feel two ways about it, that both talking about Mars and space travel is really important for fostering an interest in science and thinking about the world beyond our own, and then on a personal level, I'm like who has time to think about space when we have to worry about making rent this week or having enough food and having all sorts of real-life practical issues that are happening in our lives right now? Thinking about issues about equality in space in a future possible trip can seem so far off and so distant.

JESSICA: Yeah, and I sort of brought that up in my interview. I was asking does focusing on this very long-range, huge project in outer space take away from the urgency of problems on Earth? And all the candidates that I talked to were really clear about how, well first of all, it's not one or the other. We can work on multiple things at once, which we find in feminism. Like, just because we want to work on gender pay equality doesn't mean that we can't fight sexual assault, things like that. We can work on multiple things at once. And it's also not like we can just take that lump sum of money that's going to space right now and put it into pre-K education or something. That's not how it works. And also, the candidates I interviewed talked a lot about the benefits that we get from the space program here on Earth, like all the medical technologies and everything that's come from the space program. Sue Ann talked about any colony on Mars is gonna have to be extremely sustainable, and sustainability looks different on Mars cuz the resources are different. But there's a lot of research going into hydroponic crops and sustainable ways to grow food and to produce fuel. And so thinking about those things and how they might work for a Mars colony, that research will benefit Earth as well.

SARAH: So talk to me more about the women who want to be on this Mars One trip. I mean, these are people who will have to not only orient their entire lives around someday leaving for Mars, but as you mentioned, it's a one-way ticket. They're saying good-bye to their whole lives here. What motivates people to do that?

JESSICA: Yeah, I think something that Kellie said really struck me cuz people ask them a lot about, “but it's forever. You're doing this forever.” And Kellie was like, what does forever really mean for me? By the time I go, it's maybe 30 years. So she just thinks about it like someone who retires to Florida and doesn't go back to Brooklyn again. It's like people are like, “you're gonna die on Mars,” and they forget that hopefully there are these years in between where they're setting up this research outpost and contributing to something that they really believe in. Cuz everyone I talk to feels very strongly that it's important for the human species to be a multi-planet species, and they have various reasons for feeling that. But they would be really honored to be a part of that. They're not being callous about leaving, and they're gonna leave people they love and they're gonna leave the Earth they love. But they feel like this is a way that they can really contribute and that they have the right personality to be successful.

SARAH: Let's talk about one more thing before you go, and that's the way that this program is funded. So we talked at the beginning about how the Mars One system is looking for people who aren't traditional astronauts to get a more diverse mix to make a potential, actual Mars colony. And so the way that the trip is gonna be funded is by producing a reality show that will be back here on Earth and advertising associated with that reality show around the trip. This, to me, sounds like such a science fiction idea [laughs]. It brings to mind sort of a dystopian future where we're all sitting and watching a reality show about people potentially dying in space and wondering who's gonna murder who on the spacecraft? Are they gonna live for the first day on Mars? What do you think about turning all of this, in the one hand, it's a real boon for science. On the other hand, it's gonna be turned into a reality show.

JESSICA: Yeah, and I think that Mars One is sort of trying to change how they talk about it, to like it's a documentary. And I mean, hopefully it won't be as dramatic as all that you said [laughs]. But I think there is some precedent for the media documenting astronaut training, and I know that the Canadian Space Agency has put some astronaut training videos on their website before, as they go through simulations and trials. And Kellie, in the interview, even talked about it as George Mallory did a summit of Mt. Everest that was financed by a documentarian. So that was his way to get there. But you know, not everybody I talked to was super jazzed about that part of it. It depends, I think, on their personality and how private they are. But they did talk about how it'll be a really great way for people to see what it really takes to get ready to go to space and to see all the different things that you wouldn't think about that you'll have to deal with in micro-gravity, and to be really invested in how hard people are working and the things that have to be overcome to get people into space.


SARAH: Thanks to writer Jessica Franken. You can follow her on twitter @Jes3ica. Her feed is weird mix of science insights and rants about women’s basketball. 


So human space travel to Mars or galaxies far, far away seems like a dream these days, especially when we have so many day-to-day problems to grapple with right here on Earth. But it’s still interesting and important to think about space. Humans have always looked to the sky as a way to understand our world, whether we’re using hand-built telescopes or pure imagination. [music] Whether or not we ever get to Mars, it matters right now who gets to be a part of that consciousness, who we think of as capable astronauts and rocket scientists, what possible worlds we can imagine existing generations from now. Women have often been excluded and erased from the history of space travel. We need to make sure we’re an integral part of the future.


[theme music]

SARAH: Hey podcast listeners! Have you noticed that we don't shy away from tough conversations and that we cover just about every topic you can think of? That's because, as a non-profit, independent media outlet, Bitch media is entirely supported by thousands of folks like you, not some big corporation or deep-pocketed donor with a hidden agenda. If you love tuning in each week, please pitch in at Bitchmedia.org/podcast and be sure to mention Popaganda or backtalk when you donate. We'll read some of our listener love on the air during the next shows. Popaganda is produced by the team here at Bitch Media. Our jingle is by Mucks and Owen Wuerker. Additional music was provided by Blue Dot Sessions. Look up their creative and minimalist sounds by going to Google and typing in sessions.blue. And the show is produced by Alex Ward at the studios of XRAY FM, an independent radio station in Portland, Oregon. Thanks for listening.

[theme music]

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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