Saturday, September 10, 2016

More than One Way to Reach the Moon

Here's a women-in-STEM kind of trifle, inspired by the well-known image of Margaret Hamilton standing before the absurd stack of computer code it took to get the Apollo rocket where it should go.

We all should remember three things. First, while men did first walk on the moon, women helped get them there. Second, computer programming was once considered women's work, before it gained in prestige and become somewhat of a boys' club.

And, third, there's more than one path to the moon. 


""More than One Way to the Moon"

The picture wasn't all that impressive at first; just a smiling woman standing next to a stack of paper, as tall as she was. You found it in your big sister's schoolbook, along with a sentence. No, it wasn't that impressive. But what was written under it was.

Arcane symbols scribed in her hand
We would take them
Stack them high past her head.
We would climb them
To the moon.

That was all it took to reach the moon? To write words about it, stack them up until you had a ladder of paper that could reach the sky? You could do that. It would be not only easier than the cardboard-box rocketship in the garage, but more grown-up. You'd climb there on words.

This is how adults went to the moon. 

Words and "arcane symbols". You don’t know what that means, but you know how to draw the moon.

So you do.

It's fall, but still close enough to the summer that nights are warm enough to linger in the backyard as the sun sets. You don't know how to write "arcane symbols" nor, truth be told, do you know what they are. You do know how to draw circles.

That means that you can draw the moon.

So you do.

Each night a circle, or a circle with a sliver cut out of it. Those shapes and shadows that some say is a man  but you've never quite seen that way. It always looked like a broken plate to you, with weird stains that didn't quite come out in the dishwasher.

No matter. You drew it.

You drew it every night. A dozen times. You kept asking for more paper, and more. When it was cloudy you'd close your eyes and draw it from memory, but when the sky was clear and the moon was out, you'd stare.  You’d sometimes take the poor handful of drawings, set them on the ground and, carefully slip off your shoes to stand on them. When you did the moon seemed closer, bigger, lower in the sky. It felt like you could reach out and touch it if you could just get a bit closer.

Your mother never asked what you were drawing. If you were quiet, she was quiet.

Your father never asked what you were drawing. After his return from work it was dinner, the TV news, and then bed.

So it was your sister who found the drawings of the moon, after a week.  It was your sister who found all of the stacks of drawings of the moon, who asked the obvious questions.

"I want to climb to the moon. Like the woman in the picture."

This lead to confusion, to explanations, and to her telling you a sad truth.

The woman in the picture never got to the moon. Not with her own feet. She taught the great computers at NASA how to get a rocket there, so others could walk on the moon.

So men could walk there.

"What you saw in my notebook was a poem.  It was about her struggle to get us to the moon and about how, at the end of the day, she was left behind. I called it Tomorrow's Moses."

"So you can't really reach the moon by climbing a stack of drawings."

She shook her head. "I'm sorry. You're determined. I'm sure you'll get there someday."

It isn't until years later - that you realize that she was wrong. You don't need to get to the moon someday.

You already have.

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