It's appropriate for NASA that the theme of this year's Women's History Month celebration is "Women of Character." The women of our nation's space program have made countless sacrifices to advance our nation, and their expertise and dedication have been crucial to our many successes in exploration.
I was fortunate to fly to space twice with the distinguished Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, NOAA Administrator, and we formed a bond that we will share all our lives. The addition of women to our astronaut corps has only enhanced and strengthened what we can accomplish. Our latest group of astronaut candidates is 50% women, the highest percentage ever, and we look forward to continuing to raise these numbers. It is no secret that the requirement that our earliest astronauts be military test pilots essentially precluded applications from women. It was not until 1983 that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space as part of the Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L mission to deploy communications satellites. Since then, there have been 43 NASA women astronauts who have taken that leap and proven, as Amelia Earhart once said, that men and women were equal “in jobs requiring intelligence, coordination, speed, coolness and willpower.”
At NASA, women are not only astronauts, they are principal investigators of science missions, engineers on our many spacecraft, program managers, budget analysts and communicators. They serve in every capacity and provide their unique insights and perspective, helping to shape and improve the aerospace field, which has been historically male-centric. Aerospace careers are not easy, not in the training, nor in the actual day-to-day work, and it takes character to stick with it.
NASA is a major employer of women in STEM fields and one of our priorities is inspiring young women to pursue an education and career in the STEM pipeline. From 1993 to 2013, our agency experienced a ten percent increase in the proportion of women in our workforce. In that same time frame, the proportion of women in senior positions increased by 380 percent. Right now in the ranks of senior leadership, among many others throughout the agency, our Chief Financial Officer, Chief Scientist, and the directors of two of our field centers are all women.
The women of NASA to me represent character of the highest order. From those who lost their lives in the cause of exploration, to those who are working on tomorrow's missions and training to travel to new destinations where we've never been, our future in space depends on them.
One of the things I like most about my job is the opportunity to talk to young men and women, boys and girls about empowering themselves to break barriers, follow their dreams and push themselves to possibly do something no one has ever done. We are committed to nurturing and celebrating women of character, and continuing to break barriers of possibility on Earth and in the sky.
Charles Bolden is the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration