Tag Archives: ESA

The Spectacular Feat of Accomplishing Rendezvous With a Comet

This did make a bunch of headlines today, but I want to highlight just how phenomenally cool and under-appreciated this event is.  For the first time in human history, a spacecraft has made rendezvous with a comet.  It’s actually a lot of firsts/bests in one, in the rendezvous department – farthest object away, first rendezvous with a comet, I could go on and on.  Ok, I am going to go on and on here.  There’s going to be a bit of gushing, because this is really, incredibly exciting.

This required some serious planning, and some overwhelmingly complex orbital mechanics.  The European Space Agency pulled of an amazing feat here, and they deserve major kudos.  Rosetta has been on its way from Earth to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (Chury for short) for ten and a half years.  It launched when I was a senior in college, and now it has, after a very long and complex journey, arrived.

In order to get out to Chury, Rosetta made multiple maneuvers over the last decade.  It flew past the Earth several times, gave Mars a pass, and in an elegant and carefully planned dance, traveled billions of miles to intercept a body that’s on its own 6.5 year orbit around the sun.  The complexity involved in this whole endeavor is mind-blowing.  It makes the orbital mechanics for the Apollo missions look like child’s play.   The journey looked like this:

And they’re not even done!  For their next trick, the ESA will have Rosetta continue to orbit, and launch the Philae Lander – oh no, folks, rendezvous is not enough, studying the comet up close and collecting data isn’t enough, they are also going to put a lander on the comet.  Philae has all kinds of sensors, but also can drill and take samples.

These guys do not think small.  They are going big, and I will be waiting with breath held and fingers crossed when Philae goes to land.  That event is currently scheduled for 11 November, once a good landing site has been selected.

And if all my rambling doesn’t get you excited about this mission, this video should:

I expect Rosetta to continue with its pioneering firsts.  I can’t wait for the pictures and data and other new discoveries to start hitting the news in the days to come.  If you’d like to know more, there are some really great resources at the ESA Rosetta page, and this Guardian article is also quite good.

Did I mention I’m excited about this?

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Filed under Geeking out

So what exactly are the numbers for women in STEM?

I’ve always known that women were outnumbered in STEM fields in this country, but hadn’t really checked on what the stats are.  I know that in my particular job, which is a very tiny sub-field, we’re at about 9% and, thankfully, climbing (it was 7% just a few years ago).  So I found this info from the National Girls Collaborative Project very interesting.  It’s from June 2013 but probably pretty close to today’s numbers.

A couple other interesting stats, first from an ESA blog post from 2011 title STEM: where are the women?

Stats from the Economics & Statistics Administration from 2009

And this more recent one showing breakdown by generation, Economic Briefing April 24, 2012: STEM Across the “Gen(d)erations.”  The overall percentage of college graduates and of women in STEM fields is increasing.

ESA stats from 2010

The ESA stats go on to show that the bulk of women in STEM fields are in life sciences and physical sciences, and the tiniest portion in math.

The one that makes me really angry is the one showing the wage gap for women in STEM fields.  Even in specialized fields requiring degrees, and fields supposedly governed by things like logic and performance, this gap is maddeningly huge:

And finally there’s this graphic, which shows the fields where we have not made much progress in the last several decades, and in many cases have regressed, such as in computer sciences.

What do you think is holding women back from entering and competing in so many of these fields?  Why do so many more women go into life sciences fields (biology, medicine, etc.) than the computer sciences and engineering?

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Filed under Equality, STEM outreach