Four years ago, G and I took the kids to Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch a real live rocket launch. Not just any rocket–we got to see the launch that carried the Curiosity rover away from Earth on its way to Mars. For a geek like G, this was a once in a lifetime deal. (I thought it was pretty cool, too.) The kids? Carlos was 11 months old, Vivi 4.5, Victoria 12. They were mostly thinking about getting back to Disney World.
From the closest observation area, we looked out across a mile-wide lagoon to where the giant white rocket waited on its scaffold. The red countdown clock ticked each second as it passed. An announcer explained the built-in holds as each came up. They are cushions of time that give the team a chance to calibrate the launch to hit a specific window. After each hold, the clock started down again.
When the countdown clock dropped below 10 minutes, things really got exciting. As I put headphones on the little ones, the launch director started the “go/no go” poll of all the teams who had played a part in coordinating the launch.
Excitement swelled as we listened to the launch director call each team and its leader responded “Go!” Talker? Go! Timer? Go! FSC? Go! ACC? Go!
Years of work, billions of dollars, so many mistakes and so many victories–we got to hear it all distilled into two joyful letters–GO.
And I started to cry. A suburban mom standing there in the Florida sun with her kids gathered round and looking across the water at something that would leave this world and go to Mars. To get to witness people as they revel in the successful completion of hard work–what a privilege.
But what really got me crying was the fact that my daughters were hearing female voices declaring “Go!”
Want to be an astronaut? Go! Want to be an engineer? Go! Want to write a program that steers a robot on the surface of another planet? Go!
Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the surface of the moon in the summer of 1969, when I was about the same age as Carlos was that day we watched the Curiosity launch. My mom took me out into the yard to look up at the sky. “There are people up there!” She wanted me to participate in this historic event, even if I wasn’t old enough to comprehend.
I did something similar tonight. While Vivi used Scratch to code a game about cats, I switched the TV from Netflix cartoons to the roll call of delegations at the Democratic National Convention. We tuned in round about Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi. She poked her head up and said, “Is this for President?” I explained that this was how the Democratic party decided who they would back for president. “Sounds like Hillary Clinton is winning,” she said, her eyes already drifting back to the keyboard.
I walked into the kitchen to start dinner and found myself getting misty-eyed, just like that morning in Florida. The voices that stepped up to the microphone to declare for Sanders or Clinton–so many of them were female voices. One woman had been born before women won the right to vote. My daughter gets to hear people who sound like her cast their support in favor of electing a President that looks like her (albeit a little older and wiser).
We got to the moon before we got to here. But it’s progress.
I didn’t try to stop the tears. Rainbow leis in Nebraska. Puerto Rican accents. Black Lives Matter t-shirts from Wyoming. Native Americans recognized as sovereign groups by the delegates from New Mexico. Senator Sanders, a Jewish socialist, pulling us all together for the finale. All of those voices rising together to shout “Aye!” This is the country I want my daughter to see. This is the voice of America that I want her to hear.
Even if they seem busy with other things, our daughters are listening. I want mine to know that this is their space. Here. There. Everywhere. On the podium. In the laboratory. Pushing the stroller. Pushing the envelope.
Check out this photo of some of the women currently working on Mars (they tele-commute from Earth but they work on the Mars Science Laboratory):
One last thought from Sally Ride, the first American woman in space: