Out of This World
“I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama, where we were testing the engines for the Saturn V rocket that took us to the moon,” says Dr. Jan Davis, a Girl Scout alum and former NASA astronaut who has logged more than 670 hours in space over three flights. “As I grew older and [learned] what engineering was, I knew I wanted to be an engineer.”
Jan currently contracts with NASA, working with the team that’s designing the country’s biggest rocket ever at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
Now 67 years old, Jan says she believes not only that gender is not a limitation for women in STEM fields today, but that it didn’t hold her back that much in the early years of her own career.
“Maybe initially I had to work a bit harder to prove that I could do it,” Jan says. “But it has been a great career for me.”
“I was really lucky growing up in a town where we were testing rocket engines, so I knew some of the applications [for STEM],” she says.
For those who might not have grown up in Rocket City, Jan says that one of the best things that girls and young women can do is explore all the different STEM-related career options.
“Some girls may not recognize how much you can do with those STEM fields,” she adds. “And once they see how many great things they can do, then they might have a goal to work in one.”
Certainly, she knew her focus on science paid off in spades when she got a job at NASA.
“When I was working at NASA, [it] was the first time they picked women to go on the space shuttle. Before that, only men and only military pilots could fly into space,” she explains.
The first time that Jan went to space, she was struck by our impact on the earth.
“When I was traveling in space—it’s 90 minutes for one orbit—I noticed how thin the earth’s atmosphere is,” she says. “By observing the earth from space, you can really see how people have affected it. You can see water pollution and you can see air pollution. You can see the forests being cut down.”
“So by observing all of those things, you can tell people, ‘You can change your little part of the world. You can stop pollution in that area, because it will affect the rest of the world.’ It affects our atmosphere, and that pollution and not caring for the environment will affect everyone in the world because our atmosphere is so small.”
And while her time in space was a lot of work and an unforgettable experience, some of Jan’s most memorable moments were personal in nature. Jan says that though she ate a lot of freeze-dried food in space, her favorite snack was something she packed for the trip.
“My favorite food was Girl Scout Cookies that I took with me,” she says with a laugh. “It was a real treat to have a Girl Scout Cookie in space!”