Just recently, the 30th anniversary of STS-7, the Space Shuttle flight on which Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space, was celebrated. It came on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the day the Soviet Union sent the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into orbit for almost three full days in June 1963.
With the dates so close together, it's been natural to celebrate 50 years of women in space. While Ride's first flight came 20 years after Tereshkova's, it's Ride who really broke the barrier for women aspiring to be astronauts and engineers in the U.S.
NASA recently announced that eight new astronauts would be joining the U.S. Space program. Of the eight new recruits, four are women, making this the first time NASA has selected an equal number of men and women for an incoming astronaut class.
The greatest breakthrough is that women are becoming equal among the explorers and that it has become routine. Recently, I spoke about this to my friend, NASA Robotic-Mission Conjunction Assessment Manager Lauri Newman.
"Back in my college days, my classes contained only 10 percent women and when I got a job with NASA as a trajectory designer, I noticed a great lack of female role models" she said.
"However, I'm excited to see, as the years have gone by, that although fewer women than men still seem to be drawn to the engineering field, the scales are evening out a bit," she said.
Here in Hawai'i, we have a growing high-tech support infrastructure and our state's geographic position brings enormous potential in high technology for both men and women.
Through Maui Economic Development Board's (MEDB) Women in Technology program, Maui County's education workforce has strengthened by encouraging girls, women and other under-represented groups into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers.
"The goal of Women in Technology is to improve Maui County's capacity to educate, train and provide skill-based experience to improve the quality of life for women," said Leslie Wilkins, vice president of MEDB and director of Women in Technology. "We hope that through the joy of learning new things women will be encouraged to enter higher paying technology occupations."
"All members of the workforce--especially women--should be encouraged to reach their full potential, so Hawai'i can keep pace with the changing technological landscape," Wilkins said.
The result: Gender equality has become more than just a rallying cry. Women are filling extraordinary jobs.