Opinion

A remarkable woman breaking barriers

U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station heads to Soyuz MS-3 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last Thursday.
U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station heads to Soyuz MS-3 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan last Thursday. Associated Press

Divisiveness, tension and violence. That’s been our focus with the presidential election, U.S. relations with Russia and terrorism. But recently, a letter to the editor diverted my attention to a “momentous occasion,” a remarkable woman breaking barriers and a show of international cooperation, possibly foretold by a 1960s TV show.

Yes, we know the country is divided into red states and blue states, that California is divided into coastal blue and inland red. Some in the Golden State want to secede from the U.S. in a Calexit. Others want to secede from California and create a state of Jefferson.

During the presidential campaign, concerns grew with Russia’s attempt to influence the U.S. election and Vladimir Putin’s military aggressiveness beyond his borders in Syria and Crimea.

Yet last Friday, a remarkable collaboration between Americans, Russians and Europeans produced images that deserve a second look. Maybe it’s just a glimpse of what’s possible with international cooperation, maybe it’s just an anomaly. America’s most experienced female astronaut, a veteran Russian cosmonaut and a rookie astronaut from France boarded a Soyez spacecraft in Kazakhstan and rocketed to the International Space Station.

Late last Friday, after surfing the news channels, CNN then Fox News, I came across the NASA channel and watched footage of Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy and Thomas Pesquet, of the European Space Agency, climb into really bulky space suits in preparation for launch. The Russians and Americans working for International Space Station spoke passionately about the mission. The cooperation seemed strange in today’s world of tension and lack of trust.

After watching the NASA channel, BBC America caught my eye with reruns of the original “Star Trek” series. The crew of the starship Enterprise defeated “The Doomsday Machine” in the sixth episode of the second season in 1967. In Gene Roddenberry’s world, a cast of multicultural characters act as a team, and race and ethnicity matter little. The show shattered cultural norms in the 1960s.

In our world, Whitson’s achievements are unheralded, unfortunately. They are the stuff of legend. This is her third long-duration mission in space. She has completed two six-month tours aboard the space station, one in 2002 and as station commander in 2008, according to her NASA bio. On this tour, she will become the first woman to command the space station twice.

Whitson, who has a doctorate in biochemistry from Rice University, had accumulated 377 days in space before last week’s launch. On April 24, the Iowa native will set a record for the most time in space by any U.S. astronaut – more than 534 days. She walked in space six times, spending more than 39 hours outside the space station. And she is the oldest woman in space at age 56 and will have a birthday during this mission.

Need a different view of the world? Change the channel.

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