So I’ve heard a lot lately about Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper losing a gear bag on orbit in media outlets that normally don’t cover manned spaceflight, or only do so when we in the NASA community have a bit of a stumble. Shoot, it was in the top-of-hour NPR news rundown this morning, and it’s reputed as “one of the largest” losses of equipment in orbit—but, you’ll note, not the largest. [Who made the biggest mistake? Who knows outside NASA.]
Some will argue that losing $100,000 of taxpayer equipment is the story. Frankly, I’m afraid that it’s latent sexism, and that everyone wants to mock the woman who screwed up. That’s patently unfair—Piper is highly regarded in the EVA community for being one of the best; if she weren’t, she wouldn’t be assigned to fix the Solar Alpha Rotary Joint (SARJ) and be the lead spacewalker on a flight that has this many spacewalks.
As the project manager for some hardware that Heide will be working with on STS-126—including some contingency hardware I hope she never has to use ;)—I know that she’s got a hard job. Crew lose track of equipment from time to time, and in microgravity, what you drop doesn’t land at your feet. Is it a big deal she lost this hardware? Yeah, but she knows that. But the way I keep hearing the coverage, it’s more a big deal that she dropped it, and that sends a terrible message to any young girls and women looking to follow in her footsteps—that the media is going to make your life hell if you screw up, but is going to give the boys a pass.
Pisses me off.