Shooting for the Stars: Paving the Way for Women in Space

Cover photo: Dr Anu Noorma, Director General of the Estonian Research Council at the event “Women in Space”. Author: Marja-Liisa Plats

The University of Tartu Observatory celebrated International Space Week with a “Woman in Space” day. According to the organizers, it is important to promote career opportunities in the space industry, as only 10% of all astronauts are female. Additionally, Estonia has several outstanding female scientists, engineers and leaders.

But why space? According to the Director General of the Estonian Research Council Anu Noorma, space has always been a part of our lives, although we didn’t reach it until 60 years ago. Or at least men did… “As a young girl, I didn’t even dream about becoming an astronaut. It was something only male pilots could achieve,” Noorma said. Luckily, today’s astronauts aren’t hired for their gender, but their sustainability, knowledge and skills.

One of Estonia’s proudest “space moments” is, undoubtedly, the launch of student satellite ESTCube in 2013. “It was extremely difficult, but you have to work hard to prove your worth,” says Noorma, the then-director of the University of Tartu Observatory. The successful launch of ESTCube made it possible for Estonia to become a member of ESA led to an Estonian working in space two years later.

As for Anu Noorma, she dreamt of becoming an astronaut throughout her youth. “For a woman, the next best thing was to study physics and my research eventually led me to the field of applied remote sensing.” Over the years, Anu has met several astronauts and has concluded that she hasn’t missed anything by not going to space.

From left: Dr A. Noorma, Director General of the Estonian Research Council, Dr H. Ramler, Research Fellow in Stellar Physics, Dr A. Olesk, Project Manager on Space Technology, M. Allik, Engineer and G. Talvik (on the screen), space industry expert at ESA. Author: Marja-Liisa Plats

On the other hand, young Gertrud Talvik’s wished to go to space all her life. She is a space industry expert at the ESA and a running candidate for an astronaut position for ESA’s space mission. “The most important thing is the courage to experience and gain knowledge from different fields and take on all the challenges life has to offer,” she explains.

How can you become an astronaut? “First, understand that astronauts are not experts in one field, but rather know something about everything. You need to have excellent problem-solving skills and be a fast learner.” While Talvik is often the only under 40-year old woman at the ESA meetings, she notes that the organisation is paying increasingly more attention to the gender balance among its employees.

“Big dreams and goals are scary,” adds Gertrud. “However, it shows me that my dreams are big enough and challenge me. No one can say that they have made only the right choices. No matter how many setbacks you have, you have to be above them. “

Engineer Mari Allik conducting experiments with young space enthusiasts. Author: Marja-Liisa Plats

In order for girls to become astronauts within the next ten or twenty years, we have to start today. In order to reach the stars, we should encourage everyone to study or develop their own knowledge in the STEM field. The consistent work of women in the space industry who haven’t had the opportunity to go to space, has paved the way for the current and future generations of women. We must continue to encourage these women, to reach for their goals and ambitions – both in space or on earth.

Author: Mare Vahtre, Science Communication Coordinator at Estonian Research Council

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