Friday Hoydens: Peggy A. Whitson and Pamela A. Melroy


[Image source: OC Register]

This is the first time in history that two female mission commanders have been in orbit simultaneously – and they’ve now met in space. The New York Times reports :

A hug today between the commanders of the space shuttle and the International Space Station commemorated the first time that women have served at the same time in both roles.

With shouts of greeting and hearty embraces, the crews led by commander Pamela A. Melroy of the shuttle Discovery and station commander Peggy A. Whitson met as the two vehicles made their way around the Earth at 17,000 miles per hour, crossing over North Carolina.

So Melroy and Whitson are our Hoydens for today!

Pamela Melroy

There have been only three woman pilots in the history of the US space programme. On October 11, 2000 Lt. Col. Pamela Ann Melroy USAF, aged 39, became the third woman to make her debut flight as pilot. She was promoted to Commander in 2006, the second woman ever to command a shuttle crew, just as Eileen Collins retired. Melroy had wanted to be an astronaut since she was a small child watching the Moon landing. Pursuing her goal, she went to Wellesley college on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, gaining an undergraduate degree in physics and astronomy, then achieving a Master of Science in earth and planetary sciences at MIT.

Originally planning to be a scientist astronaut, Melroy changed direction when the Air Force offered to train her as a pilot. From

She showed up at Air Force Jet Pilot training never having flown an airplane before. “And I loved it. It was a blast! I was very fortunate that in this goal of wanting to be an astronaut, I found all these things that were so much fun.”

Melroy became a senior instructor with the Air Force, and flew combat missions in the 1991 Gulf War. She became the third woman chosen for the elite test pilot programme, and after a medical setback, went from there to NASA.


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Again from

The one message that she wants to get out to people is, “Just don’t quit; if it’s really what’s in your heart, don’t quit. There were lots of opportunities when I thought that I had maybe bitten off a little bit more than I could chew, but I just didn’t quit, and so that’s why I’m here more than anything else. There’s nothing special about me. I just never stop trying. And so that’s how I achieve my goals. It won’t be that big a deal in a few years. But for now if someone looks at me and says, “Well if she can do it, I can do it,” then I’m happy about that.”


[Image Source: ABC news slideshow]


[Image source:]

I’d also like to share this excerpt from Pamela Melroy’s address to Wellesley’s graduating Class of 1998, which illustrates Melroy’s Hoydenicity perfectly:

Thank you so much for inviting me to share this special day with you. It was fifteen years ago when I sat in your seat; and I’m wondering how many of you are hiding a bottle of champagne under your robe to share, just like I did. Fifteen years ago, I listened to Susan Sontag advise my class to “be bold”. Excellent advice, although if she had known me personally she probably would have advised me to “be mellow!”
You may have heard: hold fast to your dreams. Also good advice, but I would remind you that because they are a reflection of who you are, it’s OK if your dreams change with time. As you grow and change, so your dreams will also transform and mature. Now, you might be thinking: if I dreamed of being an astronaut when I was 11 years old, and never changed my mind, does that mean I haven’t grown up? Absolutely! At various points, I did review and test my dream. But the sense of wonder at the universe, the desire to learn about the way things work, and the yearning to do something I believe to be of great value to all human beings – no, you can call me Peter Pan, but I haven’t grown out of any of that yet.

Peggy Whitson


[Image source: ABC News slideshow]

Born in Iowa, Peggy Whitson set her course for science. She completed an undergraduate degree in biology and chemistry at Iowa Wesleyan College, and a doctorate in biochemistry at Rice University. After some postdoctoral time at Rice, she began as a National Research Council Resident Research Associate at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, later becoming a professor at UT and at Rice, in biochemical and genetic engineering. She continued her research at NASA, and began her astronaut training in 1996, and continued working her way up the ranks. Whitson’s first stint on the ISS was a six-month tour of duty in 2002, installing equipment and conducting investigations in human life sciences and microgravity sciences. Whitson is currently serving as Commander of the International Space Station for Expedition 16.

From Peggy Whitson’s Journal at

The end of the training flow, with “final” exams and evaluations by a committee of engineering/design/instruction experts from Star City and Moscow, is a much more formalized process than we have in the U.S. While I was not worried about our skills or our ability to perform the tasks for the exams (or more importantly, in real life), the exams did serve to add some additional stress at the end of the training flow. I guess that I am a little more type-A than I like to admit, and don’t want to accept anything less than a perfect score!

And from Whitson’s first Letter Home, at NASA:

My pastime is seeing how fast I can fly thru the station. I get to do this a lot since intercom only works from the Russian segment to the US and not in reverse (they say the intercom volume is so low that they can’t hear me when I call…and it’s loud enough at times that I believe this). In any case, I can get some considerable speed up traveling between the two segments…but control is what I need to practice. Considerable style points are lost if stopping after a high speed run involves having my feet flip over my head!


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Ongoing Inequity

From here:

Melroy and Whitson are among 18 women of the astronaut corps at the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration, along with 73 men.

That means that women make up less than 20 percent of the astronaut corps, according to figures made available by NASA.

After the retirement in May 2006 of Eileen Collins, the first woman shuttle commander, Melroy is the only woman qualified for the task.

Here’s hoping we’ll be joining the space race in greater numbers soon. Bring on the day where such a meeting isn’t newsworthy.


Brickbats go to Gina Sunseri of the USA’s ABC News, for this snarky little wankfest:

Peggy Whitson is a lithe, brainy blond who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the space station, with a penchant for really cute shoes,


Pam Melroy, the commander of Discovery STS 120, has flown as a shuttle pilot on missions in 2000 and 2002. She has the personality of the girl next door, who also happens to be a highly decorated Air Force pilot who flew in Desert Storm. She loves to dance and watch funny movies with her circle of friends, dubbed the Tank Girls Film Society.

Yeah. Hardened combat pilots and top-of-the-line research scientists really want to only think about cute shoes and dancing, and we should dissect and examine their XXX-2K compliance before mentioning their achievements.

A few sources

New York Times: “Shuttle Docks With Space Station”

“Pam Melroy, Pilot STS-92 100th Shuttle Flight” at “NASA Names Second Female Shuttle Commander” at

Wellesley “Person of the Week”

“Pamela Melroy’s Address to Wellesley’s Graduating Class of 1998”

“Astronaut Bio: Peggy Whitson” at NASA

“Peggy Whitson” at Wikipedia

Categories: gender & feminism, history, Science

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5 replies

  1. I’m looking back over this post and the first photo makes me cry. They’re just made of awesome.

  2. They look so happy. It must be a life full of satisfying challenges.

  3. Pamela is SO incredibly HUMBLE!!! And on top of everything, she’s beautiful.
    They war is not over yet. Remember that there’s never been a woman on the Moon.

  4. Melroy’s Wikipedia entry says that it’s her goal to go to the Moon in the next staffed mission.

  5. Hello Hoydens,
    Today i saw a Disney film about a young woman explorer – Aliens of the Deep. It was great as it looked at underwater exploration and how that meets space exploration, and looking for life forms on Mars, and SETI. The young woman is so brave (says she who has a deep fear of sharks) (etc.) and the under water footage is amazing – biolo. and geol. it is really worth checking out. Truly inspiring just like Peggy and Pamela.

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