As a woman in planetary science, I find the news of Natalie Batalha‘s promotion to Deputy Science Team Director of the Kepler mission really exciting. I’m of course happy when anyone I know is promoted, but I’ve only met Natalie once, so I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I was so psyched about her promotion.
Then I remembered. The statistics of women on missions are still so low that even small changes like a single woman’s promotion change the picture.
When Linda Spilker was recently promoted to Cassini Project Scientist (PS) and Amanda Hendrix took her place as Cassini Deputy Project Scientist (DPS), I had the same reaction. I was overjoyed when Louise Prockter was named in mid-2009 as Deputy Project Scientist on MESSENGER, even though she replaced Deborah Domingue. These changes, few though they may be, mean that the statistics in the following figure (from a paper discussing the historical representation of women on NASA planetary science mission teams) are becoming ever-so-slightly outdated.
In my opinion, that is a welcome change.
Source: Niebur, S. M. (2009) Women and Mission Leadership. Space Policy 26, November 2009, pp. 257-263.