Today, shortly after launch, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket exploded. The commercial space company’s CEO, Elon Musk tweeted that the rocket had experienced a problem. Astronaut Scott Kelly followed up with another tweet, stating simply that Space is Hard.
Sure, space is hard. In fact, rocket science is the epitome of hard. When we want to say that something is difficult, we compare it to rocket science. Maybe brain surgery is hard too. Definitely rocket science though. This isn’t rocket science, folks. Space is hard.
Why do we need to be reminded of this? Because we’re good. SpaceX launched 18 rockets without incident. Most of them didn’t even make the news at all, much less make front page coverage. In 2014, 88 successful launches took place, with only two failures. We’ve become immured to the idea that we can launch rockets into orbit.
We have lost our sense of wonder.
The most fun to be had this week was watching the scientific community react to Sir Tim Hunt, Nobel Laureate, putting his foot in his mouth.
For those who missed it, the brief blow-by-blow is this. In his audience in South Korea was a fellow British scientist, Connie St Louis. She tweeted that Sir Tim proclaimed himself to be a male chauvinist and then proceeded to outline the trouble with girls in the lab as “you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry”. When the story was picked up, his next statements did little to assure the “girls” that he meant them well. The spiraling was starting. And then something amazing happened.
The magazine Vagenda called on female scientists to post pictures of themselves with the hashtag #distractinglysexy. The hilarity ensued. The conversation changed from the outdated, offensive comments to a conversation about the wonderful, amazing, and — indeed, sexy — science being accomplished by women today and in the past. The mainstream media reported on it here, here, here, and here. A #distractinglysexy calendar has even popped up on Kickstarter.
The beauty of the response is that the scientists are showing their skill alongside their humor. Almost inevitably, when the issue of sexism is discussed, women are portrayed as being worse than wrong. They are cast as feminazis, as mean-spirited, as humorless, as Orwellian, as unable to face the truth. Indeed, many people have attempted to do so in this case as well.
This anti-feminism counter narrative falls flat in the face of all of the #distractinglysexy scientists who prove by their actions that they simply want to do science and have fun doing it.