Apollo 11 credit: NASA
When you think of famous scientists, you immediately think of Albert Einstein or Stephen Hawking. Why do we do that? Why do we automatically think of famous men before women?
Aren’t women equally qualified ?
Did you know, women behind-the-scenes of STEAM ( the acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics) are rarely discovered, simply because they don’t think of themselves as the conventional ‘heroes’ of science. Or could it be possible women are overruled in a political male dominant arena?
Do you know any women behind-the-scenes in the Space Program?
Unless you personally worked with one, they are hardly noticed. Whatever the case, female scientists, space engineers, chemists and inventors across the world seem to fall through the cracks, leaving their achievements unannounced.
How’s that possible, you may ask ? Let’s take a quick history lesson.
Do you know the woman who wrote a paper on reversed aging ?
Either did I.
In the 1950’s scientist Wanda Ruth Lunsford claimed she reversed aging. Unfortunately it was the only scientific paper she ever wrote because the dominant male scientific community didn’t believe her. They even publicly shamed her by calling her Dracula and Frankenstein. Wanda’s claim to reversed aging was apparently to much for the male ego at the time.
Fortunately today, the same experiment was preformed by Harvard, Stanford and the University of California. What they found is incredible. Not only is reversed aging possible, but Wanda was right!
Wanda Lunsford is a very small example of a female scientist, who was never recognized for her “genius” status. A friend of mine would quote this as,”…It’s a testosterone thing, I think.” In fact, throughout the centuries, undetected by time, there are thousands of unsuspected women, who have shaped the lifestyle, you most commonly take for granted today.
So today, let’s make this assumption fade away into our past, and begin recognizing the intriguing intelligence of a woman. After all, it’s the women behind-the-scenes, who have helped make important decisions for past Presidents of the United States. And, to make it easier for you, I just so happen to know of one remarkable woman who’s hiding in plain sight right now.
Roberta “Robyn” Villavecchia
photo credit : Robyn
, former NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration engineer and formation aviation pilot. This rocket chemist is sure to get you to the moon and back.
Robyn’s mission was to help develop the engines, a crucial part to get the astronauts to the moon and bring them home safely. By her own words,”…I was with NASA at the height of the Moon Program from Apollo 1 through Apollo 12, where we were developing the engines for the lunar landers…”
Robyn is without a doubt, legendary!
A behind-the-scenes chemist helping NASA shape our future in the space program. As said by DJI,”…at the height of the Moon program, Robyn was developing fuel for rockets. Since then, this pioneering rocket scientist has never stopped pursuing her love of flying.” Today, Robyn is retired, but that doesn’t mean she’s RETIRED. It’s common place to find her tinkering and flying the DJI Phantom series.
“When your young, nothing seems impossible to you…,” Robyn claims.
Robyn is first to tell you, women are an important part within NASA and the technology mainstream, and never should gender be a deterring factor. In fact, women should be considered as equals to men, providing generations of incredible scientists. So, it’s more important then ever for younger women of today, to give it all they got with STEAM, and begin the exciting journey with NASA or other scientific adventures.
This week, I had the privileged to talk to Robyn. Here’s our conversation:
ME : What would you say to encourage girls to pursue a career in the STEM ( Science, Technology, Engineers and Mathematics) field?
ROBYN : Encouraging girls and young women to pursue a career in STEM (and I must change that somewhat to STEAM, for Art is an integral part of the answer) is much easier today than in the past because the image of the “homemaker/housewife” has largely gone the way of the Dodo.
ME : I’m enjoying the analogy, “…the image of the “homemaker/housewife” has largely gone the way of the Dodo.” So true! LOL. Please continue…
ROBYN: Men, I believe, tend to attack a problem exactly that way…attack, throw muscle or dollars or blunt force of numbers to solve a problem. It is a testosterone thing, I think. On the other hand, women tend to solve problems by finding much more elegant solutions. Rather than the bull in the china shop approach, they innately seek a solution based on finesse. Just my opinion of course. Fortunately, our more enlightened educators and human resource people are beginning to realize this.
ME: So, what you are saying, women add a touch of finesse and should be encouraged into the field of STEAM, to even out the testosterone. Would that be a fair statement ?
ROBYN: Yes, definitely. Women generally contribute a alternate way of thinking about a problem or an issue. They can often mitigate the thinking in such a way as to make the proposed solution, shall we say, more elegant…more refined.
ME: Do you think privatization of the space program is the key to success?
ROBYN: For some reason, most folks suffer under a misguided opinion that NASA was the only entity involved in Project Apollo. I must emphasize that all NASA programs have been and always will be a partnership between industry and the government. I give you this: Though I was intimately involved in our going to the moon, I never received a dime of pay from the Federal Government. It worked this way. We were a contractor personnel with the knowledge working under the watchful eye of NASA’s quality control people. We used to laugh that the job stayed the same, the only change was the color and logo on our paycheques!
ME : Do you think NASA should have continued on with the moon project ?
ROBYN : To this day, that is a “hot button” issue with me. Everyone is familiar with Launch Complex 39. LC-39A and B are still with us. But did you know we were already moving dirt in the construction of LC-39C and D? LC-39C was designed to be the launch site of Apollo Applications Program, the follow of the moon landings. And, hang on to you pen Bari, because LC-39D was to be the launch pad for the manned Mars landing program, and we were well on the way to proving the engines for the missions. You might want to look up “Nerva“. Being a propulsion chemist/engineer, that was pretty damned close to my heart.
ME: Were you part of the NERVA (Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application) Program ?
ROBYN : No. I was not a part of the NERVA Program, though I was aware of it and followed it’s progress. I was a Hypergolic Propellant chemist. Fancy name for chemicals that go boom and spit fire on contact. I did “bench chemistry” analysis on the density, viscosity and purity on a day to day basis using test tubes, pipettes and the like. Gus Grissom once introduced me to a group of touring suits, as “Old Fearless” 😊
ME: It’s amazing to hear the LC-39D was meant to be the launch pad for the manned Mars landing program, way back in 1963. To think about it, a manned Mars Landing Program, over 53 years ago. Wow!
ROBYN : I did say,”hang on to your pen Bari.”
ME: You did too. Did you enjoy your work?
ROBYN: It was fun. Lots of challenges, and lots of rewards. The really sad thing is that no one has ever told the story of so many who were in the trenches. Pipe fitters, carpenters, steel workers, women sitting for hours at a time staring through microscopes counting and sizing foreign particles in the gasses and liquids used in the vehicle.
ME: The Apollo missions were scraped by the stroke of a pen. That must of made your blood boil. I know I was extremely disappointed.
ROBYN: Makes it boil to this day. Nixon destroyed our “better angels”. With the stroke of the Presidential Pen, Nixon scrapped the last three Apollo missions, all of Apollo Applications and the Mars Program. Seems he need the money freed up to bomb the crap (pardon the language) out of the North Vietnamese…and I thing we can all agree on the idiocy of that particular decision. Remember what I said about the testosterone method of problem solving?
ME: Had things been different, would we have a colony of families on the moon by now?
ROBYN: I don’t think so. There would be no, or very little, financial incentive to do so. Maybe if a hoard of diamonds had be found perhaps. But certainly manned cadres of scientists, much like today’s ISS would probably be contributing to our store of knowledge and that, Bari, is priceless.
ME: You were telling me you witness the Saturn V launch ?
ROBYN: I lived on a canal off of Sykes Creek in Merritt Island. No one knew what to expect when the first Saturn V was launched. Our folks were moved from the Lab back to the area of the VAB. After the launch when I got back to the lab, my phone was ringing off the hook. It was my sister, living with us at the time. Sounding panicky she almost shouted, “What blew up?” I told her nothing, why? She then told me all the windows in the house facing the launch area were broken. The sound waves were that violent and strong.
ME: That would have been awesome to see. What’s most frustrating in the Space Program today ?
ROBYN: What do I personally see as the most frustrating, and I might add, tragic things I see today regarding NASA ? In a nutshell year by year funding. Without multi year and multi administration funding, there can be no long term planning, no long term funding and no setting of long term goals. Without these, the dreamers will still be dreaming, but the dreams will never come to fruition.
ME: So true. Thank you Robyn for spending time with me answering some hard questions about the Apollo Program, the direction of the Space Program and most importantly women of tomorrow reaching for space.
I had a great time talking to Robyn and curious if NASA’s future will truly hold the key to mankind’s destiny. Robyn is indeed a women behind-the-scenes during the NASA Apollo missions, but I must add, one of the most valuable persons. Without a chemist, you wouldn’t have rocket science. Take a minute to hear Robyn for yourself, on DJI showcasing her remarkable achievements. Our friend, Robyn, who’s much loved by all.
In short, it actually is rocket science and Robyn ROCKS!
In my books Robyn is a HERO for her achievements as a pioneering chemist with the space program. Never under estimate the will power and intelligence of a woman.
Bravo Robyn – To the Moon and back!
As a grandfather of three grandchildren, with two granddaughters, I foresee a bright future for all of them, possibly in space exploration. Fortunately, NASA’s latest astronaut class has finally reached the 50 percent mark for female astronauts.
I’m reaching 60 and it really is my hope and dreams a manned Mars Landing Program becomes a reality before I die. As a kid I always dreamed of space exploration, flying around our solar system in my well constructed spaceship made out of cardboard.
Going to school, reality set in. I just wasn’t smart enough for NASA.
But I realized my imagination and storytelling turned out to be my real asset. I’m part of STEAM after all, the Arts of science-fiction.
In final summary, I would like to say,” Oh please, lets get back to the Moon and begin exploring Mars.” With over seven billion people on earth using up our resources at a staggering rate, we just might run out of time. It’s about time we take the leap and adventure forward, before mankind becomes a statistic. And while we are at it, let’s make sure we recognized all the women in the space program, including women sitting for hours at a time staring through microscopes counting and sizing foreign particles in the gasses and liquids used in space vehicles.
It was a real pleasure Robyn, aka “Old Fearless” Thank you!
By Bari Demers
About Bari : a freelance writer and screenwriter. His past time is enjoying Vegas and Hawaii. He’s originally from the Okanagan Valley, in a small town of Vernon, British Columbia. He graduated from VSS, Okanagan College in Kelowna BC, and Cariboo College (now named Thompson Rivers University) in Kamloops, BC. Presently, Bari’s writing screenplays and an assortment of stories and interviews. You can learn more about Bari HERE.