A preview of ‘The Future is Female: Women, Space and NASA’ with Reporter Megan Frank

Written by on March 10, 2021

A preview of ‘The Future is Female: Women, Space and NASA’ with Reporter Megan Frank

By Brad Klein

March 10, 2021

A promo image of “The Future is Female: Women, Space and NASA” that will stream online March 10 on PBS39.org.

WLVR’s Brad Klein and Megan Frank speak about Frank’s short film about women in the space program. “The Future is Female: Women, Space and NASA” will stream at 8 p.m. March 10 on PBS39.org.

It’s part of a larger documentary that will air this Spring on PBS39. 

Listen to the story.

Brad Klein

“Megan, you’ve been working on this project for the last year and a half. I know you’ve interviewed women who worked as scientists, rocket engineers, and NASA astronauts. What’s the connection locally to the Lehigh Valley?” 

Megan Frank

“So, I put it like this, when you see a NASA rocket blast off, parts of that spacecraft like the nuts and bolts, the electrical wiring and even the rocket fuel is actually made by companies based right here in the Lehigh Valley and all around Pennsylvania. 

“And even more exciting, NASA is working on missions that will send the first woman to the moon and another one that will put astronauts on Mars. So, our project, our documentary, explores all of that.”

Klein

“And luckily you started before the pandemic really got rolling, right? So, you were able to do these interviews in person?” 

Frank

“Yes, we were very fortunate. I think our last shoot was literally maybe the last week of February, right before the pandemic. And that’s when we were calling it a wrap. This was all in the can, and it’s just kind of been sitting there on the shelf, waiting for this kind of moment that has finally manifested.” 

Klein

“Tell me about one of the people you spoke to, Zena Cardman. She is a graduate of Nasa’s 2020 astronaut class, right?” 

Frank

“She was born in Virginia but she does have Pennsylvania ties. She was a Pennsylvania State University graduate research fellow, and she specifically trained for NASA’s upcoming moon missions that they call the Artemus program. And she’s one of the women who could be selected to go to the moon. I asked her about her training which takes two years to complete. Here’s what she said:” 

Zena Cardman

“You might be flying a T38 jet one hour and in a Russian language class the next hour. We learn all of the engineering systems on the space station, and we learn emergency procedures. We also learn how to spacewalk.” 

Klein

“NASA has been launching humans into orbit for more than 60 years. Zena, though, would be among one of the relatively small number of women who have traveled to space, right?” 

Frank

“Yes, there have been 565 people who have gone to space, yet only 65 of those have been women. The first woman went into space in 1963. That was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. But it took 20 years for NASA to catch up. And so the first American woman in space, of course, was Sally Ride. That was in 1983.” 

Klein

“Now, I’m old enough to remember Sally Ride, but the opportunities for women have changed enormously since the 1980s, and that’s true of the space program as well. Bring us to the present day.” 

Frank

“I think things have changed a lot. Sally had some interesting media questions asked to her right before her mission. There were different news outlets asking her if she was going to wear makeup on her mission and if she ever got so upset that she cried if there was a malfunction on something. I cannot imagine a reporter doing that at a press conference today. I think that would be pretty embarrassing for the reporter at this point, but just the fact that she faced that and did it so gracefully and stayed focused on our mission, I think it’s also something that a lot of women can relate to.” 

Klein

“So, one of today’s astronauts you met was Kathy Loftin, NASA’s deputy chief technologist. She’s a fierce advocate, in the documentary, of getting more women interested in STEM.”

Kathy Loftin

“The first day in class he said, ‘I want all you girls in the class to understand that girls generally don’t do well in chemistry.’ But instead of being discouraged, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah?’”

Frank

“Kathy told me that she has always kind of looked at challenges as opportunities, and I definitely think that’s how she ended up getting to where she is today.” 

Klein

“You know, a big part of the human space program, and I think we have to call the human space program rather than the manned space program, is this inspiration factor, the chance to inspire young people to go into STEM, to go see that the possibilities for them are sort of endless. What was your biggest takeaway from working on the project? I know this was a passion project for you.” 

Frank

“I’m also a fierce advocate that more women need to believe that they can work in all kinds of fields. Whether it’s being a journalist like me or going into STEM.

“The women I interviewed all had a common thread. They all recognize that we need more women in these STEM careers. Right now, women make up only a third of NASA’s workforce, so there’s definitely still a lot of work that needs to be done to get more girls and women into these fields.”

Klein

“And there’s nothing quite like the space program to do it, that’s for sure. Thanks so much for joining us. 

“‘The Future is Female: Women, Space and NASA’ streams at 8 p.m. March 10 on PBS39.org. Head to PBS39.org to register. And following the stream, Megan will host a live Q & A with a panel of guests, including a former astronaut Terry Hart who now teaches at Lehigh University.”

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