The blue skies have always inspired the imagination of men and women.
It inspired them to fly high.
It later inspired them to probe beyond to dark outer space.
In this short speech I would like to focus on a few courageous women who dared to dream.
They challenged the sterotype roles imposed on women.
They boldly said that Space was not off-limits to women.
Through their brilliant examples, they persuaded us to leave our comfort zones and push beyond known horizons.
Some of the women like Kalpana Chawla the first Indian woman to go to Space inspired us. Her sense of awe for the heavens started when she was small and lying in her cot looking up at the skies during summer nights. It reminds us that every achievement starts with a vision of reaching there; where your heart is speaking you to go.
Her example like other women who went to Space
is a call to go from here to there;
from what is known to the unknown;
from what is seen to what is visible in the dark;
where noise is an eternal silence
and distance is simply vastness unending.
So listen to your heart.
But a lot of people never dare to try to achieve what their heart says to them. The reason is that they look at circumstances and they turn back. But what Sunita Williams, yet another Indian astronaut, who did a lot of spacewalks said should challenge us. She spoke from her heart when she said: “Don’t get bogged down by the notion of limits. There aren’t any.”
Now daring to dream doesn’t mean the journey is easy. Like any other adventure mission to Space also had its dangers. Some of the women met with tragedy like Christa McAuliffe, a high school teacher, who lost her life in the Challenger disaster in 1986. She was such an inspiration to the student community. The then President of the United Sates comforting a nation in grief concluded his speech by saying that the crew had “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”
Kalpana Chawala too lost her life when Columbia space shuttle broke apart during reentry to the earth’s atmosphere in 2003. In a glowing tribute from her high school it was said that “She always wanted to reach the stars. She went there, and beyond.” Their deaths while in the path of duty and action remind us that there is a sacrifice involved and a cost to be paid when you follow the dictates of the heart.
We also need to remember that our lives are better today because someone showed us the way ahead. Yes, they did so at great personal cost and sacrifice. They were in the relentless pursuit to better science and humanity. In this context let us look at some of the the pioneers among women in Space expeditions.
The Russioan Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space in 1963. This “First Lady of Space,” said “A bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women.” Her words reflect the fact that God made both men and women in his likeness and to complement each other; and not to fight with each other for supremacy.
Svetlana Savistskaya, became the first woman to walk in space in 1982. She was again the first woman to be sent to space twice. Eileen Collins, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force became the first woman to pilot a space ship in 1995 and later in 1999 the first female to command a space ship. These were small steps but giant leaps of inspiration to women in all walks of life. Women were proving themselves able to blaze new trails and lead with confidence.
Now there are questions of work-life balance being raised everywhere around the world. Especially with working mothers increasing in the workforce. Space exploration was no exception. And it was the American astronaut Anna Lee Fisher who became the first mother to go to Space in 1984 when her eldest daughter was barely two-years old. It was work away from home; the farthest distance possibly achieved by any woman.
That brings us to yet another notable point. Travel to space means spending a lot of time getting prepared for it. There is much physical and emotional stress. The challenges are many. Yet women who went to space took up that challenge; even the test of feeling isolated in the vastness of space.
Above all this, women broke all kinds of sterotypes by their travels to space. There was a time a few decades ago that women were thought best for careers in teaching, nursing, or banking. Today, women have challenged all those sterotyping and has made it big in Space programmes including Space tourism as well.
Let me conclude. In the light of dreaming big, making great sacrifices, showing pioneering spirit, achieving work-life balance, displaying leadership, enduring stress, and challenging stereotypes; women who went to space have impacted our thinking in a big way.
They have truly challenged us to move beyond our comfort zones, say goodbye to our excuses, and set out on a journey of exploration and daring adventure. They have truly reached for the stars and beyond and inspiring us continually to do the same.