by Laura Sillerman | bio

One went to a Roman Catholic High School and an all women’s college. She enjoys theater, tap and jazz dancing and cooking. She’s a big reader. She was born in 1961, which means she missed the Sixties with a capital “S.”

The other was born in 1960, so she too missed the psychedelic era and Vietnam War protests. She grew up in Iowa and went to undergraduate school there. She likes to bike and water ski in her spare time.

Sound like they might be planning to bring casseroles to a pot luck supper, don’t they?

Well, the first gal brought the second one something this week, but it’s not tuna noodle. Instead, it’s a 17.5-ton solar array segment to boost the power grid of the space station.

Pamela Ann Melroy, 46, is commanding the Discovery Space Shuttle that is undertaking space work that has been described as “audacious.” One part of her mission took her to the International Space Station, where Peggy Whitson has just begun her six-month stay as the orbital laboratory’s commander.

Meet today’s middle-aged women –- women who walked in the world that feminism prepared for them and then took off.

Discovery Commander Melroy is a retired Air Force colonel with more than 200 combat and combat support hours in U.S. operations in Panama and Iraq. A test pilot until her selection for the astronaut program, she flew on the Discovery shuttle mission in 2000 and the Atlantis mission in 2002.

ISS Commander Whitson worked as a research biochemist and served as the deputy chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office.

Not only did these women ignore glass ceilings, they also haven’t let the pull of gravity or the issue of gender get in the way of their careers.

And they’re completely low-key about this historic turn of events. “It’s really just coincidence that this is happening at this point in time,” said Whitson. “But I do think it is meaningful in the sense that it is the first time it happened, but it just is an indication of where we are heading and where we are going in the future.”

“That’s what we mean when we say it is just a coincidence,” adds Melroy. “We are very lucky. We are very blessed to have born in the years we were born, and have the doors open ahead of us so we could walk through them at the right time. It isn’t about us. It’s more about our culture and society and the fact that this is just where we have headed and this is where we are now, and this is neat.”

If you’ve got a piece of jewelry with stars or moons or planets on it, you may want to wear it for the next couple of days. With luck, someone will mention it, and you can say you’re wearing it to celebrate a couple of middle-aged women.

Better yet, give a star or moon or planet pin to a little girl. Tell her it’s because she has role models in outer space, and you want her to know she can shoot for the stars, too.

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  • Cecilia October 28, 2007 at 7:59 am

    You made my day with this piece. These two extraordinary women seem so personable and down-to-earth, as they shrug their shoulders and head off into space. This is life as it should be. I would not be surprised if one of them also makes a great tuna noodle.

  • Faith Childs October 26, 2007 at 7:06 pm

    Imagine all the cures, inventions, and devices, currently nonexistent, that will have us exulting in thirty years when women, who might be today’s young girls, become tomorrow’s trailblazers on the path forged by astronauts Whitson and Melroy.

  • Christine October 26, 2007 at 5:07 pm

    Kavan, what a nice write-up at TGB — thanks so much! And thanks for also letting readers know about Changing Aging — a very interesting and useful site.

  • Elizabeth Hemmerdinger October 26, 2007 at 4:53 pm

    Laura — sensational piece on defying gravity… speaking of which Jane Anderson wrote about a woman astronaut in a somewhat aging and yet timely play called, “Defying Gravity.” I’ve gotta go now — have to find some planet pins for my granddaughters!

  • Kavan October 26, 2007 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks for capturing their humility and, frankly, refreshing nonchalance regarding this extraordinary achievement. I came across your site just now writing some reviews for Ronni Bennett’s TGB — Click here to read it — I edit Dr. Bill Thomas’ new blog and added you to his list of blogs that are “Changing Aging.”