Sunita Williams, accomplished astronaut, extends gender equality via CCP role
Out of the 351 U.S. astronauts who have flown in space with NASA, only 49 of them were women. Sunita Williams is one of those 49 women who are breaking the boundaries for females and minorities in the spaceflight industry. This past November, Williams was awarded the Jerome P. Keuper Distinguished Alumni Award from the Florida Institute of Technology during their Homecoming Gala.
This award is presented to the university’s most accomplished alumni. The last recipient was General Ann Dunwoody, the first female 4 star general in the U.S. military. Williams received this prestigious award due to her achievement of spending 322 days in space, which gave her the rank of “number 6” in terms of the all-time U.S. endurance list and 2nd as a female in this category.
The devotee of the Hindu God Ganesha (erroneous reports had attempted to state she had converted to Islam) has also carried out seven extravehicular activities (EVA’s), but even this will not mark the end of her orbital career.
Williams was recently selected as one of the first four astronauts under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). Currently, she is the only female astronaut training for the first CCP test flights, which are scheduled to begin in 2017.
Under CCP, NASA is partnering with private companies to have NASA astronauts launch from U.S. soil—the first time they will have done so since 2011.
Williams will be joined by fellow NASA astronauts, Robert Behnken, Eric Boe, and Douglas Hurley. The quartet will work to successfully field SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation (CST) “Starliner” spacecraft.
Williams has broken the world record for women in terms of the number of spacewalks she has carried out as well as for the longest total duration of spacewalks. During her first mission, International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 14, Williams had four spacewalks that lasted a total of 29 hours and 17 minutes. At the time, this broke the record for most spacewalks for a female astronaut.
On her second mission, Expedition 32, Williams completed three spacewalks with a total duration of 50 hours and 40 minutes making her made her, once again, the world record holder in spacewalk duration time for a female astronaut.
In the 1950s, the space industry consisted entirely of white men, but thanks to women like Williams, this field of work has become much more diverse. The industry has seen this transition begin with the flights of those like Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, and Mae Jemison—the first female African-American astronaut. The diversification of the astronaut corps continued with other female minorities such as Stephanie Wilson, who was the second African-American female in space.
The space shuttle and ISS programs have even seen female commanders: Eileen Collins during STS-93, Pamela Melroy during STS-120, Peggy Whitson during ISS Expedition 16, as well as Williams during Expedition 32.
The accomplishments from women, such as Williams, have pushed forward dreams of careers in the space industry for female minorities, and will continue to shape the image of the next generation of astronauts.
Video courtesy of NASA Johnson
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Amoree Hodges is a SpaceFlight Insider Launch Correspondence volunteer who hails from the Florida Institute of Technology, where she is currently working to obtain her Bachelor’s degree in Astronomy & Astrophysics. Amoree loves telescopes and all things that are related to space, and NASA.
Hodges is planning on a career in public science communications, and will be using her internship with SpaceFlight Insider to gain greater science and engineering communications experience while she works on completing her studies.
Founded at the very dawn of the Space Race in 1958, the Florida Institute of Technology is the only independent, technological university located in the Southeast. Times Higher Education ranks Florida Tech in the Top 200 Universities in the World. The university has been designated a Tier One Best National University in U.S. News & World Report, and is one of just nine schools in Florida lauded by the 2014 Fiske Guide to Colleges. The university offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs. Fields of study include science, engineering, aeronautics, business, humanities, mathematics, psychology, communication and education.