NASA visits Wynberg Girls’ High

Wynberg Girls’ High School was privileged to have a presentation by 2 representatives from NASA. While one would be forgiven for feeling rather intimidated with the presence of these great minds in the school hall, the conversation was aimed at the girls, who were also invited to ask questions on pretty much anything relating to NASA and space travel.

Catherine Grace “Cady” Coleman is an American chemist, a former United States Air Force officer, and a current NASA astronaut. She is a veteran of two Space Shuttle missions, and departed the International Space Station on May 23, 2011, as a crew member of Expedition 27 after logging 159 days in space. She inspired the Wynberg Girls’ to continue their study of subjects like physics and mathematics, long after they have finished school.

Dr. Ellen Stofan is NASA’s chief scientist, serving as principal advisor to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the agency’s science programs and science-related strategic planning and investments. The Chief Scientist is the most senior science position at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The Chief Scientist serves as the principal advisor to the NASA Administrator in science issues and as interface to the national and international science community, ensuring that NASA research programs are widely regarded as scientifically and technologically well founded and are appropriate for their intended applications.

This is a report of the girls’ experience:

Space, the final frontier, is still for the most part one giant mystery to the general public.  While everyone has interests in a whole range of topics, ‘space’ is certainly a common theme. And why wouldn’t it, when questions scientists seek to answer about space include, “Are we alone?”

On Monday, 23 March, physics learners, Athena Society members and a select few from the other Wynberg campuses made their way to the hall, as Dr Ellen Stofan and Dr Cady Coleman, two representatives from NASA, visited Wynberg Girls’ High School.  Dr Stofan is NASA’s chief scientist, while Dr Coleman is an astronaut who gave Sandra Bullock advice on her role in ‘Gravity’.  While Dr Stofan took us through what exactly NASA does, and more importantly, why they do it, Dr Coleman provided her experience of being an astronaut, especially as a woman in a male-dominated field.

Both women’s accounts were highly informative.  However, what stood out, were not the facts and numbers, but the message that anyone, with any degree, can be an astronaut.  They showed us that it is not just about what NASA can offer you, but what you can bring to the table for NASA, and that following your interests is what will best prepare you for working for NASA.

Whether our learners want to become NASA employees or not, they were certainly inspired to reach for the stars.

A massive thank you goes to Dr Stofan, Dr Coleman, for the absolutely incredible talk, as well as Steve Sherman, from Living Maths, who assisted in organising it.

Nicole Wentzel