Hillary Clinton wrote a letter to NASA in 8th grade and they said they don’t hire women in response
It's common to see heartwarming stories about children sending letters to NASA go viral. However, what about heartbreaking responses from NASA? It's one thing for young boys today to aspire to work for the space tech industry, but for a young girl 55 years ago, the situation was not so optimistic, to put it lightly.
With films like Hidden Figures, the role of women in space history has been expanded into the public view. Everywhere, women and their historic achievements are becoming more and more visible. Women of color particularly are finally coming into the cultural respect they've already earned.
Hillary Clinton has been a bit of a lightning rod for every ideology under the sun. Folks on the socialist left who want a more ambitious New Deal, righteous Republicans who hate Democrats, straight-up misogynists and lifelong centrists who love the Clintons all rally around her name. There's a million reasons to hate her or like her, but it's worth remembering that she wasn't always this public figure.
Once upon a time, Hillary Clinton was just an ambitious young girl with an interest in political science - and being an astronaut. In her new book What Happened, chronicling her take on the 2016 election and the surrounding chaos, she brought up a time when, as an 8th grader, she had penned a letter to NASA expressing interest in being an astronaut. In her own words:
"Like in 8th grade, when I wrote to NASA to say that I dreamt of becoming an astronaut, and someone there wrote back: Sorry, little girl, we don't accept women into the space program."
That was at least 18 years before the first female astronaut would work for NASA, in 1978. Being denied an opportunity due to your race or gender is surely one of the worst feelings possible. Without the pretense of meritocratic achievement, the American Dream falls apart.
NASA, understandably embarrassed by this, said that the letter they sent was "a reflection of the early 1960's culture when astronauts were required to be military test pilots. We believe NASA today embraces the race and gender diversity that reflects America and its values."
This statement is loaded with a few ideas. For one, the mutation of space exploration into a military venture, and the exclusion of women from the military, seemed to be the basis of their decision. How sad is it that space exploration is only supported by the government if it has ultimate military motives?
Lastly, it seems that Clinton proved NASA quite wrong - but more importantly, millions of women proved those retrograde sexist attitudes wrong. It's too large a burden to place all of feminism on any one person's shoulders, least of all someone with the strange political situation of Hillary Clinton.
By seeing Clinton as an avatar for all women, don't we degrade the billions of actual women out there, doing their own thing? We don't see Donald Trump as an avatar of all men, and that's for the best. Individual women have big dreams, and individual women will succeed in those achievements.
It's tragic that she lost in 2016 for so many. But the light at the end of the tunnel is that there will be other women, more than anyone can count, who will surpass expectations and break glass ceilings. And that's the best thing possible.