Somewhere on this planet, two people are getting ready for the biggest trip of their lives: a weeklong, scenic loop around the moon.
On Monday, Elon Musk announced that his company SpaceX would send two space tourists on the journey next year, but said little about who they were. They’re not astronauts, they asked SpaceX to take them, they’re paying a lot of money for it, and “it’s nobody from Hollywood.” He wouldn’t even give their genders.
And this is where it gets interesting. Only 24 people, all Americans, have flown to the moon, and 12 of them have walked on its surface. They had one important thing in common: they were all men.
If even one of those mystery passengers is a woman, SpaceX would be making history.
Americans have not sent anyone to the moon in 45 years. To make a triumphant return with two dudes on board would make that return seem, well, less triumphant.
While the Apollo program was launching man after man into orbit in the 1960s and 1970s, a women’s rights movement swept more women than ever before into the workforce, including into the sciences, engineering, and other fields that contribute to human space exploration. In the last decade or so, the number of aerospace engineers inside NASA rose by 76 percent. And yet, many women in these male-dominated fields continue to be overlooked and underpaid. But times have changed in one respect. The idea of a female astronaut, considered by many to be ridiculous during the Apollo era, is now anything but.