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Edith Gustan's name appears in the fourth paragraph of a Seattle Times article from 1970, a skinny strip of text above a nearly full-page ad for Sears' Mother's Day sale that advertises, among other things, "incontestably female ... cardigans!"
Gustan was a biologist and longtime Boeing employee who conducted research on subjects at the nexus of biology and space travel. But while many stories from NASA's Apollo program are common knowledge, hers is nearly nonexistent. Do some digging and you'll find a 1985 Associated Press article describing her research on the viability of a space-station greenhouse under the headline "And Now, Vegetables in Space." You might read her name in aerospace and engineering industry journals, on papers examining subjects like closed ecological life-support systems. Addresses place her in Shelton and East Wenatchee. But a Google search turns up only a two-sentence obituary from 2017. We know she worked on collaborations between Boeing and NASA, but we don't know much about her.
Outcome - Women - Roles - Success - Apollo
This is an all too common outcome for many of the women who played crucial roles in the success of the Apollo 11 mission and, more broadly, the American manned spaceflight program. They wrote code, made complex calculations, and—in Gustan's case—envisioned a future where astronauts might even grow their own food during space travel. But in many cases, we're only uncovering their contributions now, half a century after humans first walked on the moon.
It's a pattern of "fits and starts" throughout the history of women in America, and it's one Margaret Weitekamp knows well. She's the author of "Right Stuff, Wrong Sex: America's First Women in Space Program," which explores the rise and disappearance of an early program that envisioned sending women to space. She also curates the National Air and Space Museum's social and cultural dimensions of spaceflight collection in...
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