From the headmistress’s desk: 1 November 2019
On Tuesday, 22 October St Mary’s hosted an open day for the parents of Grade 0 2021 or, as these girls will be known to us on the other end of their passage through the school, the class of 2033. There is an elegant significance to the numbers involved: not only will the girls matriculate in 2033, but they will arrive in Grade 0 at St Mary’s in the school’s 133rd year.
The year 2033 is significant for other reasons too: it is the year that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the European Space Agency projected sending a human mission to Mars which is why I have come to think of this particular group of Grade 0s, or “naughties” as the rest of the Junior Primary calls them, as the “astronoughties”. My hope is that the world they inhabit and shape as women will no longer be celebrating events like the one that took place a fortnight ago on Friday, 18 October when US astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir ventured outside the International Space Station to complete the first all-women spacewalk.
What the celebration of Koch and Meir’s seven-hour mission to replace a failed power control unit highlighted is that, even though it is the 221st spacewalk performed in support of space station assembly, it’s the first in five decades to be undertaken entirely by women – an historically important detail that was lost on President Donald Trump when he congratulated the pair on “conducting the first-ever female spacewalk”. With her first spacewalk, Meir becomes the 15th woman overall and the 14th woman from the US to spacewalk; Russian astronaut Sveltana Saviskaya became the first and only Russian woman to spacewalk when she ventured outside the Salyut 7 space station for three hours and 35 minutes in 1984.
These figures will change, are changing, through the intentional education and empowerment of girls. As a NASA press release explained: “The all-woman spacewalk wasn’t something we purposefully planned, though, it was bound to happen eventually because of the increasing number of female astronauts. Koch and Meir’s 2013 class of astronaut candidates was 50% women.” It seems fitting that this historically significant step for women should occur in 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing – talk of the first moon landing leads to speculation about NASA’s return expedition, the Artemis program; in Meir’s words: “I would love to be the first woman on the moon. That would be my ideal mission.”
Standing in the Junior School amphitheatre addressing the parents of the class of 2033, my thoughts turned to gifts from the past to the future. The plaque from the Grade 7s of 2011 dedicates the amphitheatre to future girls and describes it as, “A place under the sky, to meet, to play, to dream, to perform and to grow.” In 2017, my first year at St Mary’s,
Lego launched its women of NASA set with the celebration of five notable women pioneers: computer scientist, Margaret Hamilton; mathematician and space scientist, Katherine Johnson; astronaut, physicist and educator, Sally Ride; astronomer, Nancy Grace Roman; astronaut, physician and entrepreneur, Mae Jemison. These women, like the generations of girls who have attended St Mary’s, have given our daughters space (and the pun is intended) to grow. We thank them for this extraordinary gift.
Dr Sarah Warner
Junior School headmistress