She’s spent about 40 days in space, and covered millions of miles. She helped kickstart the Australian Space Agency, and now she’s been sworn in as the Deputy Administrator at NASA – Meet Colonel Pam Melroy.
Melroy sent a message to the NASA workforce this week after taking up the mantle as second in charge at the United States’ space agency. The former astronaut was a US Air Force test pilot before she commanded the space shuttle in 2007 – one of only two women to do so.
She’s also spent a significant amount of time in Australia, inspiring the next generation of space venturers, working at Nova Systems Australia, and advising the Australian Space Agency.
Newly installed NASA Administrator Bill Nelson called her a “pioneer and veteran of NASA” and said she “will be an outstanding leader as we venture farther out to the stars”.
After thanking US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris for her appointment, Melroy told the NASA workforce that they would work “to turn science fiction into science fact”.
Melroy was herself inspired by the 1969 Moon landing, and takes up the position while NASA is planning the next Moon mission, Artemis, which will see the first woman walk on the Moon.
“We’re committed to leading NASA as a team with a shared goal, not just to lead today’s NASA but to look towards the future, to turn science fiction into science fact,” she said.
“And to uncover stunning developments and discoveries that will change the world as we know it.”
Melroy said she “always knew” she wanted to fly.
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“When I was a little girl, America’s big, bold mission was landing on the Moon as part of the Apollo mission. Seeing Saturn V blast off, and seeing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin land on the Moon inspired me and a generation of astronauts and engineers,” she said.
“Back in the ’60s, girls were expected to play with dolls not toy planes. But I always knew I wanted to fly.”
That’s a vision she’s been sharing with Australian school students for more than 20 years. Nova Systems’ co-founder Jim Whalley convinced her to get behind the plan for a new space agency.
“When he brought up the Australian Space Agency, I said, ‘Yeah, this is a big idea and not only does Australia need to do it, but it really matters to do it right. And make it successful’,” she said at the time.
This week, she talked about the scope and values of NASA, describing the workforce as its “most important asset”.
“It’s not just rocket propellant that launches spacecraft,” she said. “It’s people.”
Tory Shepherd is an Adelaide-based freelance journalist who has covered Space 2.0 for The Advertiser.
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