NASA Launches Datanauts Corps Program To Encourage More Women To Join Their Astronaut Program


There are many programs, campaigns and initiatives to close the gender gap in STEM today (science, tech, engineering and math). Google, Microsoft, Apple and many other large companies as well as smaller organizations like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code are working to get girls interested in STEM subjects from a young age given that if kids are not equipped to master the digital age of tomorrow, they will most certainly be left behind. And this should not be a gender issue, but unfortunately we are still slowly exiting the social climate of a male-dominated workforce across the board.

But a closer look at a certain aspect of the STEM world shows the gender imbalance isn’t as bad as we may think. A PBS Newshour article shares a study that outlines which STEM strands are more equal.

“When we look at the percentage of STEM bachelor’s degrees awarded to female students for the last two decades, based on NSF statistics, we find that there is no gender difference in the biosciences, the social sciences, or mathematics, and not much of a difference in the physical sciences. The only STEM fields in which men genuinely outnumber women are computer science and engineering,” writes Denise Cummins.

Interestingly, Fast Company recently shared about how for the first time, half the astronaut class at NASA is made up of women, and now they are capitalizing on the growth of women in STEM with a program designed to engage young women called Datanaut Corps. Fast Company says NASA continually gives women a platform to create conversations about the need for more women in leadership and the women at the company who now make up 50% of their astronaut class are evident that they are not just all talk.


The chief scientist of NASA is Dr. Ellen Stofan. The chief technology office for IT is is Deborah Diaz. The person responsible for running one of NASA’s largest facilities in the US where rockets are built is Teres Vanhooser. The person managing the science programs aboard the International Space Station is Dr. Tar Ruttley.

And now Datanaut Corps, a new user community, is looking to expand the gender equality further throughout the company.

Since 2012, NASA has been holding an International Space Apps Challenge where thousands of citizens across the globe work with NASA to design innovative solutions to global challenges. After the 2014 challenge, data gathered showed NASA that they needed to engage more women in the data space – the most one of the agency’s most valuable assets.

“After conducting more than two-dozen interviews and additional research on women in these emerging fields, we focused on ways to empower, equip and honor women who are making a difference in the emergent field of data science,” outlined the Datanauts website.

“We created three streams of effort based on what we learned in our research: 1) the Data Bootcamp as a pre-event to the 2015 Space Apps Challenge weekend to welcome newcomers to the hackathon experience, 2) the Datanaut program with leaders from the communities we wish to reach, and 3) the conceptual stage of NASA’s (Graduate level) Data Fellows Program.”


One of the key aspects allowing the Datanauts program to help NASA be a leader in closing the STEM gender gap is that they understand the immense value of diversity when it comes to leadership roles and creating effective teams. Data has no gender bias, and neither should the sciences.

“For women in science over the centuries, our contributions to so many fields are there, but they are not talked about as much as they should be,” says Dr. Ellen Stofan.

“So while most women in science have persevered by making significant contributions to every field, I think women in science today need to and are speaking up louder and louder to say, ‘We are here, we are doing amazing science, and we are the role models for the next generation of STEM girls.’”

Fun fact: NASA’s Datanaut Corps Founding Member is a woman named Jennifer Lopez! Her aim is to inspire future engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, and young people to learn more about data science and collaborate with NASA.


“We’re providing the tools and the outreach to enable more women [and men] not only in STEM to collaborate and utilize NASA’s open data, but we want the world to know everyone has access. You don’t have to be a developer or a coder or a scientist to participate. The more diverse the participants, the more opportunities we will have to find newer, more innovative solutions and approaches to using the data,” she told Fast Company.

The Datanauts Program, who are dedicating 2015 to Women in Data, are wanting to pave new pathways and mentor other young women to engage in traditionally male-oriented tech fields. We love hearing about initiatives like this because it can be easy to focus on the dominant conversation where women are outnumbered especially in the industries traditionally dominated by men.

But as the Datanauts website states, over 13,500 gathered in 133 locations from 64 countries in six continents for this year’s International Space Apps Challenge. The Data Bootcamp was held the Friday before Space Apps in New York City. The intent was for the women to begin teaming before the ratio shift for the hackathon event the following weekend. For the inaugural bootcamp, 75 attended with 73% women, 30% under the age of 21 and another 30% under 35.

If young girls can’t be what they can’t see, then with this data in mind (pun intended) we get a sense of optimism knowing that although there are many areas where women are still fighting for gender equality and equal representation, there are industries who have successfully created pathways to make this happen.


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