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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of women in space 

 


Fly It Forward Titusville 2013: Helping Women and Girls Dream Big

Barbara Ganson, Florida Team Leader for Women of Aviation Worldwide Week.

Through teamwork, especially with key members from three chapters of the Ninety Nines (Gulf Stream, Gold Coast, and Spaceport) in combination with the International Women’s Air and Space Museum, we introduced 116 women and girls to aviation through providing free discovery airplane rides at a small airport near Kennedy Space Center on Saturday, March 9, in Titusville, as part of Women of Aviation Worldwide Week. Fourteen pilots and seven aircraft, including a powered glider,  were on hand to give 15 minute airplane rides over the cape on Saturday.   All of the pilots had flown in from outside of Titusville, mainly from South Florida, but one traveled as far away as Maryland.  Through networking with the FAA and NASA flight operations, we were able to visit the 15,000 foot runway where the space shuttles had once landed, as well as buzz the field if we chose to do so during our discovery flights.  It was an awe-inspiring experience, especially for those of us who flew that thrilling day.    

By invitation, some 68 aviators or aviation enthusiasts toured Kennedy Space Center on March 8. Many were VIPS, including members of academia, USAF, and the aerospace industry.  Among us was USAF Coronel Marilyn Ray who served in Vietnam and is Professor Emeritus of Nursing from Florida Atlantic University.  We also had Navy Commander Larry Linn and his wife, as well as an award winning Teacher from the USAF Association for the State of Florida, Virginia Knudsen.  We visited the immense Vehicle Assembly Building, a launching pad, and the shuttle runway, guided by highly trained technicians who have worked for NASA for over thirty years.   Tom Fries head of NASA Flight Operations joined us for our tour of the runway and an area at the end of the runway where NASA recreated the surface of the moon to conduct tests.  Younger pilots and teenagers in turn were treated to a special interactive educational activity conducted by NASA’s educational resource team, before being given free tickets to the Visitor’s Complex.  All participants in the end were kindly treated to free passes to the Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex good for the next several days.

On Saturday, we had a meet and greet with NASA astronaut Robert Springer who worked with IMAX cameras during his shuttle launches on Discovery and Atlantis. As it turns out, I learned that his own daughter had been discouraged from seeking a career in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M.   NASA KSC Deputy Director Janet E. Petro spoke with engineering students from Florida Atlantic University and students from the aviation program at Jacksonville University.  NASA engineers Wanda Harding, Anne Caraccio, and Clara Wright were on hand to talk about their research about NASA launches, failure analysis, and the conversion of space junk into something useful.  Terry Ryan, a first officer for Southwest Airlines who is actively involved with Southwest’s Adopt-A-Pilot Program, also shared her insights about working for the airlines.  American Airlines 757/767 Captain Kimberley Lowe was on hand too to share her thoughts about airline careers.  The EAA President of the Titusville Chapter Deborah VanTrueren demonstrated aspects of her ongoing project to build a composite experimental aircraft called a Twister with her husband. Finally, 99s Ruth Jacobs shared pictures of her round the world flight to all seven continents as a copilot, along with information about the early women trainees for the space program and women astronauts. Meanwhile, NASA’s Mr. Spaceman walked around to greet our young visitors.  NASA too had a special photographic machine, which printed photos of our visitors making them appear as though they were astronauts themselves, marking the date of our Women of Aviation event.

On Saturday night on March 9 at the Holiday Inn Titusville, aviator adventurer Gustavus “Gus” McLeod served as our Master of Ceremonies, having flown numerous passengers during the day, as well as serving as our chief pilot.  He wowed our audience by talking about humankind’s need to explore space. Although he was a hard act to follow, NASA KSC Deputy Director Janet Petro found her own stride to tell us about the role of NASA today, women in NASA, and its future dreams to reach the stars.  Jennifer Dittmer, a senior from the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) then presented Ms. Petro with a surprise mentoring award in what was a heartfelt and touching ceremony.   The sixteen women engineering students from Florida Atlantic University were in awe of this whole experience.  One came dressed like Amelia Earhart; another had designed her own 1950s style poodle skirt.  Many mentioned that they now want to become pilots!  

I have proudly served this past year as the Florida team leader for Women of Aviation Worldwide Week, and chair of the Florida Gulf Stream Chapter of the Ninety-Nines.  Through participating in Women of Aviation Worldwide Week in 2013, I discovered a new love and a sense of direction to engage more of our members in the aviation community to serve as mentors for other women and girls so that they could achieve their own dreams of flight. It is my intention this year to reach out to older pilots so that they could play a larger role in the lives of other women and girls.  I have already been invited now to visit the classroom of Virginia Knudsen, which is currently involved with rocketry experimentation.  Mentorship can definitely be rewarding.

I followed up this Fly It Forward Event by sharing photographs from our event at the Women’s Studies Leadership Conference at Florida Atlantic University on March 15, which explored women in Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics. There I met woman astronaut Jan Davis who was our keynote speaker.   I then traveled to Cleveland, Ohio, to attend a panel discussion on March 22, which included Kim K. de Groh, a Senior Materials Research Engineer at NASA Glenn Research Center.  Marcy Frumker, our women in space historian, also gave a preview of her talk about cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova and America’s Sally K. Ride.  Frumker was thrilled to have attended our Fly It Forward Event in Titusville, with her husband.   Interestingly, we learned that de Groh successfully presented a poster with the collaboration of high school students at a major science and engineering conference in the Netherlands.  Their poster placed second in the category under age thirty; even surpassing the posters of numerous graduate students in Europe. 

 

 

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