NASA recently announced plans to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024. Part of the Artemis program, the moon landing will be preceded by several other missions that will test the Orion spacecraft. I am fascinated by this news as the United States has not had a moon landing with humans since 1972 – almost 50 years. Especially exciting is that several of the astronauts chosen and assigned to the Artemis program are women and some of these members could be on the first flight to Mars.

As CEO of Girl Scouts of Northern New Jersey, I am encouraged by this news and the attention it will shed on female role models who are achieving great things in the STEM arena, particularly space science. Women hold less than 28 percent of STEM jobs in the United States but make up more than 47 percent of the U.S. workforce. As a movement, Girl Scouts of the USA and its councils across the country have pledged to help fuel the pipeline for future women in STEM fields and decrease the gender gap. In order to do this, we need to invest in girls and young women and provide the social investment to mentor and encourage girls to pursue these types of careers.

Showcasing women role models is a key to this initiative. One amazing role model is the late Dr. Sally Ride, who was a physicist when she joined NASA in 1978. She went on to become the first American woman in space in 1983.

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“The women’s movement had already paved the way, I think, for my coming,” Ride said to the New York Times. At the time of her famous flight on the space shuttle Challenger, many media questions focused on the fact that she was a woman and how would she handle space flight. While some strides have been made in the past forty years, girls and young women are still not pursuing STEM careers at the same rate as boys and young men. Girls and women need to know they have the opportunity to choose to work behind the scenes on projects such as the Artemis program, and the importance of the analysts, scientists, and engineers are showcased in the book and movie, Hidden Figures.

After her retirement from NASA, Sally Ride wrote children’s science books to interest children in STEM fields. In 2001, she co-founded a company, Sally Ride Science that that creates entertaining science programs and publications for upper elementary and middle school students, with a particular focus on girls. Girl Scouts in northern New Jersey were once part of her Sally Ride Science Club and had the honor of meeting Dr. Sally Ride in person.

The U.S will need an estimated 1 million workers to fill STEM jobs in the next decade. With planning, encouragement and investment, young women can and should help fill the gap. We can only do that if we continue to shed light on women role models who are paving the way for the next generation of women leaders. I will be proud to see the first woman on the moon and know that many women behind the scenes helped to get her there.