by Hanna Bobrowicz
In the 50 years since Apollo first landed on the moon, the importance of racial and gender representation has occupied the national consensus. The New York Times published an article about Ed Dwight a man who was once set to be the first African American man in space. You have to read the article to find out the reason this history didn’t occur, but the New York Times emphasized what an opportunity it was to progress both scientific and racial barriers in one space mission. At Pacific Atrocities Education we have decided to commemorate the Moon Landing by studying the accomplishments of Asian American women who have dedicated their lives to space.
Chawla was born in India and moved to the United States to complete her education and eventually her space training with NASA. She was the first Indian-born woman in space and completed several space missions throughout her career. When she returned from her first space mission in 1997 she reflected:
“I never truly thought of being the first or second someone. Or being a small-town girl. This
is just something I wanted to do,”
Throughout her career, Chawla spent over 30 days in space completing 2 missions. In 2003 Chawla and her team of Astronauts boarded a Space Shuttle Columbia to embark on another mission to space. Upon reentering the atmosphere, the space shuttle exploded killing all members on board. Despite her early death, her accomplishments make her a celebrated figure in both India and the United States.
Pham describes her job as a ‘spacecraft dressmaker’ at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. She was born in Vietnam and immigrated to Los Angeles in the 1970s where she began work as a lingerie seamstress. In addition to her work as a seamstress, she also took night classes at a trade school. Pham’s skills got her recruited at NASA, and she worked on terrestrial vehicles and space satellites.
In 2000 Pham began to construct thermal blankets, a vital aspect of safety for space travel. Pham explains; “A thermal blanket has to provide just the right amount of heat — not too much and not too little — for the spacecraft to operate correctly.” She still makes thermal blankets for space missions, she believes her career demonstrates that it is “ never too late to learn and take classes. There are a lot of people at JPL who didn’t start in science or engineering, but almost all of them have the drive to learn new skills or search for training.” She continues her work at NASA today.
Santiago-Bond is a Filipina-American, who began her career at NASA in 2004 as a graduate intern at John F. Kennedy Space Center. Today she is a Systems Engineer and Head of the Advanced Engineering Development Branch. She has developed new space technologies and worked on the LADEE Lunar Mars mission. Santiago-Bond is also an innovator she invented the branch she is now in charge of, she acts as a supervisor and mentor for engineers and interns in the space program. She reflects “I always feel that I am valued not only for my engineering and leadership skills but also as an Asian American and as a Filipina American, who brings a unique set of experiences and ideas to the table every day.”
The legacy of Asian American culture exists within the walls of NASA and other space programs throughout the United States. While many glorify the men who were the first to walk the moon, it is important to recognize the people of color and women who continue to transcend the barriers of science while also breaking social barrier in their country.
Dr. Kalpana Chawla: Quiet and Modest but also Determined. The New York Times. Lydia Polgreen, February 2003.
A Woman’s Place is In Space: Meet 8 Asian American Women Reaching for the Stars. KCET. Teena Apeles, July 2019.
A Woman on a Mission: How this Fil-Am Engineer Rose through the Ranks at NASA.
The Asian Journal. Christina M. Oriel March 2019.
100 Women: The Women who Sew for NASA. The BBC. Mary Hiltion, November 2017.
Ed Dwight Was Set to Be the First Black Astronaut. Here’s Why That Never Happened. The New
York Times, Emily Ludolph. July 2019.